They are two people separated by decades and thousands of miles, but united in one tragic fact: Both made national news in January after authorities said they committed horrific gun violence.
The contrast — like many facts about America’s gun epidemic — is both striking and predictable. This doesn’t happen in other countries, experts say. It happens all the time here, but often hidden from public view. Children, in particular, are far more likely to shoot themselves, a friend or family member accidentally, usually inside a home.
“It’s the guns. It’s always been the guns,” said Lisa Geller, a public health researcher at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University.
While other wealthy countries have similar levels of interpersonal violence, the United States stands alone when it comes to shootings. An average of 110 Americans die daily from gun violence, far above the rate of gun deaths for any comparable nation. The U.S. has about 12 gun deaths for every 100,000 residents, almost four times the rate of the next-highest country, Switzerland, according to experts.
A child. A 72-year-old man. Authorities say both used guns in January attacks.
On Jan. 6, a 6-year-old student at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, pulled out a handgun and shot his teacher. The shooting followed several reports that day the boy had threatened people with the gun, according to the injured teacher’s attorney. The boy took the gun from home, according to authorities. Teacher Abigail Zwerner has notified the school district she plans to sue.
And on Jan. 21, a 72-year-old man attacked a Monterey Park, California, dance hall he used to patronize, according to authorities, killing 11 people. Witnesses say he may have been angry at some of the dancers he used to know, and that he used a modified pistol with a high-capacity magazine to shoot 42 times into the crowd.
Who commits gun violence?
Americans of many different ages commit gun violence, but not all of that violence occurs in public or receives media attention.
News coverage often focuses on shootings committed against other people — particularly random public shootings and those committed with assault weapons. But that’s only part of America’s gun problem.
- Murders are often committed by people age 17 to 30, according to David Hemenway, professor at Harvard School of Public Health.
- Most mass shootings were carried out by white shooters, according to the informatics group Statista. Mass shootings are just a small subset of all gun violence though.
- Gun-related suicide deaths are typically older white men, Hemenway said. Data shows these deaths are far more common than public shootings. While men and women attempt suicide at roughly similar levels, men are more likely to use a gun, and thus more likely to die before someone can save them.
- Accidental shootings, at times deadly, are often perpetrated by children, according to the gun-limits group Everytown for Gun Safety. Last year children committed at least 321 accidental shootings, killing 143 people.
- More than 100 kids die accidentally from guns each year, a 2015 study by Hemenway found. Almost all of them were male, and typically inside the home of family or a friend.
Are there racial differences in gun violence?
Two mass shootings in California — the Monterey Park attack and the killings at Half Moon Bay — brought national attention to gun violence committed against people of Asian descent.
Nationally, gun violence within the AAPI community is significantly lower than the average, with the community accounting for about 7% of the overall U.S. population but just 2% of total gun deaths. However, that number is rising, according to the Giffords Center: From 2016-2020, AAPI gun deaths rose nearly 10%, driven largely by significant increases in suicide deaths.
When it comes to victims, Black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to die from gun violence and 14 times more likely than white Americans to be wounded, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Although there have been significant numbers of public mass shootings in the past few years, gun-related suicide deaths among Black Americans has also risen rapidly: While suicide deaths by guns among white Americans rose 1% from 2016-2020, it rose 25% among communities of color, according to the CDC.