This morning it wasn’t a movie theater or a school but a shopping center where gun violence thrust itself in America’s face. The killing of two journalists will shock people because of the setting and because it was caught on tape, but it really oughtn’t be any more or less stunning than the 720 shooting incidents in New York City so far this year.
There now will be a familiar discussion over whether something could have been done to prevent this morning’s killings. Recently, the mainstream of debate in America has been over how to prevent the mentally ill, felons and others deemed unsafe from getting guns—not about whether the overall supply of guns ought to be reduced or restricted. Many anti-gun violence advocates have shunned the old term “gun control” because it’s so politically unpalatable.
Among the many challenges to preventing “bad people” from getting guns, however, is the sheer number of guns out there. In 2013, according to statistics from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. gunmakers churned out nearly 11 million firearms, the most in recorded history and most than twice the annual average over the preceding 27 years. America exported 400,000 of those guns but imported another 5 million.
And it’s not like the 160 million guns manufactured or imported, less exports, since 1986 (the year ATF statistics start) are all scrap metal at this point. Many of those are out there, too.
All told, our collective gun cabinet swelled by more than 2 million shotguns, 5 million rifles and 8 million handguns in the latest year for which we have numbers.