Updated June 3, 2022
Following gun violence tragedies, familiar myths get recycled and recirculated—myths that distract from effective solutions and create smoke screens around the essential problem: We’re more interested in protecting sellers and buyers of guns than the public, Daniel Webster, ScD ’91, MPH, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said in an interview.
A few myths that have surfaced in recent days:
MYTH: Urban homicides falsely inflate statistics on U.S. gun deaths.
FACT: “The common trope is that places like Baltimore or Detroit or Chicago are the reason we have so many gun deaths in this country,” Cass Crifasi, PhD ’14, MPH, the Center’s director of research and policy, told the Chicago Tribune. “And yes, those places … have unacceptable rates of gun homicides. But the places with the highest rates of death are not Maryland, Michigan, and Illinois. They are Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, and Alabama. The places with weaker gun laws have higher rates of death.”
“More people died from guns in Texas than Illinois, when suicide and accidental shootings are included,” she added.
MYTH: Mass shootings, like the ones in Texas and Buffalo, are the result of mental health issues.
FACT: While motives in the Uvalde massacre are still unknown, “increasingly, we are seeing people who are frustrated, angry and hateful and using firearms take that out on a particular group,” Crifasi told MarketWatch.
But there’s a distinction between this and a diagnosable mental health issue. It’s also dangerous and irresponsible to link gun violence and mental health. For one thing, mental health issues are far more common than mass shootings: More than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives, according to the CDC.
Fixating on motives and the mental health of those who perpetuate violence distracts from more actionable approaches to reducing gun violence, Crifasi said.
MYTH: In most mass shootings, perpetrators do not know the people they kill.
In a study published in 2021, Geller and colleagues found that in over 68% of mass shootings, the perpetrator killed at least one partner or family member and had a history of domestic violence.
Restricting access to guns by people with a history of domestic violence could curb the occurrence of mass shootings and fatalities, the study suggested.
MYTH: There are more gun deaths in the U.S. because America is a violent society.
FACT: “Most countries don’t have a problem with fatal mass shootings,” Webster told Fox News in LA. “Most countries do not have anywhere close to the rates of homicides that we do. It’s driven principally … because we have decided to make guns readily available to almost anyone, and our interests seem to be more in protecting those who sell weapons and want to own them as opposed to the broader public.”
MYTH: We don’t know what to do to curb gun violence.
FACT: Data collected by researchers about mass shootings show discernible patterns and opportunities for intervention. The data also suggest that many of the ways we’re currently trying to prevent gun violence are wrong—but the good news is that we now have evidence-backed solutions to do better.
MYTH: More guns in more places will make us safer.
FACT: “If firearms everywhere made us safer … we would be the safest place in the world,” Crifasi said in an episode of Public Health On Call.
“We have more guns than people in this country, yet we are the only country that continues to experience exceptionally high rates of firearm homicide and fatal mass shootings occurring with regularity.”
MYTH: There's a huge divide by gun ownership or politics on policies that work to reduce gun deaths, and that's why we can't enact the kind of change needed to prevent gun violence.
FACT: “Many Americans, including the majority of gun owners, support evidence-based policies,” Crifasi said during a recent briefing on gun violence solutions.
Research has shown that most Americans support gun laws that include background checks, permits, and minimum age requirements. A law requiring gun purchasers to first get a license from law enforcement, for example, is supported by more than 75% of Americans, 63% of gun owners, and 70% of Republicans, Crifasi said.
“Many people agree that there are certain situations where it’s dangerous for an individual to have access to firearms. … Many Americans also recognize that there are spaces that are too sensitive for people to legally carry firearms,” Crifasi said.
Lindsay Smith Rogers, MA, is the producer of the Public Health On Call podcast and the associate director of content strategy for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.