#29: Gun Violence in 2023—No Relief In Sight

393 Million Guns Aimed By Or At Just 335 Million People

2023 was a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, hateful example of what can happen when gun sales outsell wedding ring sales in America. In the entire year, 2022, about 4.5 million wedding rings were sold.[1] Comparatively, about 17.4 million guns were sold between January 1, and May 31, 2023.[2] We have about 20 million AR-15 rifles in circulation. We have more guns than people—estimated at 393 million guns[3] spread out over 335 million people.[4]  

The why question is harder to pose, much less answer. “Americans are rightly anguished by gun violence and the question of what’s motivating the young men who have committed a succession of horrific mass murders. We seem to be fumbling around for answers: Is it racism and radicalization, or untreated mental illness, or toxic video games, or too-easy access to guns? All of these may be parts of the problem, but equally none of them makes complete sense outside of the larger context: The gun industry’s modern marketing effort did not just arm these shooters; in a very real sense, it created them.”[5]

Ghost Gun Laws in 2023

On August 3, 2023, to the surprise of many, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a request to temporarily reinstate a federal regulation aimed at reining in privately made firearms called “ghost guns” that are difficult for law enforcement to trace. The court put on hold a month-old decision by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas that had blocked the 2022 rule nationwide pending the administration’s appeal. The decision was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining the court’s three liberal justices to grant the administration’s request. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh dissented from the decision.[6]

Individuals make ghost guns at home. They use unfinished frames or receivers, the piece of the firearm that contains the operating parts of the firing mechanism. That’s the part of the gun regulated under federal law. However, when a frame or receiver is “unfinished” by a small fraction, it is unregulated. Ghost gun kits include the necessary components to turn the unfinished frame or receiver into a fully functioning gun, which once assembled looks, feels, and functions like a traditional gun, whether a handgun or assault weapon, and is just as deadly and dangerous in the wrong hands.[7]

The rule, issued by the AFT targets the rapid proliferation of homemade weapons, bans “buy build shoot” kits that individuals can get online or at a store without a background check. The rule clarified that ghost guns qualify as “firearms” under the Gun Control Act, expanding the definition of a firearm to include parts and kits that may be readily turned into a gun. It required serial numbers and that manufacturers and sellers be licensed. Sellers under the rule also must run background checks on purchasers before a sale.[8]

70% of Americans support requirements that ghost guns have serial numbers and be produced only by licensed manufacturers. “The idea had bipartisan support among respondents, with 80% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans in favor. There were about 20,000 suspected ghost guns reported in 2021 to the ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations – a tenfold increase from 2016, according to White House statistics.”[9]

Those fighting the ghost gun control regulations include “Various gun owners, parts manufacturers and two gun rights groups, the Firearms Policy Coalition and the Second Amendment Foundation, filed suit to block the rule in federal court in Texas. They claimed that the rule violated the Gun Control Act, portraying the policy as a threat to the long history of legal private gunsmithing in the United States.[10]

2023 also saw efforts by other state-actors to oppose ghost guns and support regulation to some extent. “Philadelphia is now on the list of municipalities suing ghost gun manufacturers. Experts and law enforcement say these homemade firearms are increasingly being used for violent crime. Ghost guns are untraceable firearms with no serial numbers that can be assembled at home, usually from a kit containing parts or made using a 3D printer. Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against ghost gun manufacturers Polymer80 and JSD Supply.[11]

California is America’s largest state. It is also the epicenter of what Giffords.org calls a devastating and fast-ghost gun crisis that exploits loopholes in the definition of the word ‘firearm’ to sell unfinished do-it-yourself gun build kits carefully designed to get around that state’s strong gun laws. “In 2022, California built on some narrower laws by enacting comprehensive legislation to strongly reform and regulate the ghost gun industry and address this crisis. Many of California’s new ghost gun reforms took effect immediately when the Governor signed AB 1621 into law on June 30, 2022, while some other critical provisions will become effective on January 1, 2023. Critically, these laws will ensure that the sale and manufacture of both completed and unfinished frames and receivers (called “firearm precursor parts” in California law) are subject to the same critical gun safety laws as fully assembled guns, and that many more unlicensed gun manufacturers must obtain standard manufacturer licenses and comply with stronger safety requirements in order to lawfully produce firearms in the state.[12]

California’s law defines unfinished frames or receivers more broadly to include “any forging, casting, printing, extrusion, machined body or similar article that has reached a stage in manufacture where it may readily be completed, assembled or converted to be used as the frame or receiver of a functional firearm, or that is marketed or sold to the public to become or be used as the frame or receiver of a functional firearm once completed, assembled or converted.”[13]

How Many And Where

U.S. News reported there were 346 shooting incidents  across the country, meaning the U.S. averaged nearly one incident every day and saw its highest total on record since at least 1966. California and Ohio tied for the most incidents among states last year, at 25 each, while Texas saw 23 in that period. Nationwide, the incidents resulted in 248 victims either wounded or killed, not including the shooter. Texas saw the highest number of casualties among states, at 21 victims in 2023, followed by Maryland (20) and California (18). Before 2018, the number of incidents had never reached 60 in any given year, and totals in the 1950s were rare. The number of incidents in 2023 was about six times that threshold, while both 2018 and 2021 in particular saw notable spikes, with the number of incidents doubling year over year. The tally has continued to climb since.[14]

ABC News upped the 2023 ante. That was as of December 4, 2023. Their data source is the Gun Violence Archive. They reported the obvious: “Though mass shootings don’t make up the majority of gun violence incidents in America, their impact on communities and victims is evident.” They briefly reported on incidents in Lewiston Maine, Nashville Tennessee, Buffalo New York, and Uvalde Texas. The deadliest occurred in Lewiston Maine with eighteen dead and thirteen injured.[15]

K-12 Drive reported 2023 as the record high, outpacing the previous year’s record for the third year in a row. With a little less than two weeks remaining in the year, some 340 school shootings had been recorded as of Dec. 20 by the K-12 School Shooting Database. The database, one of the leading projects tracking gun violence on school grounds, counts any time a gun is fired or brandished with intent, or when a bullet hits school property, regardless of the number of victims, time, day, or reason behind the incident. The Covenant School mass shooting in March in Nashville, Tennessee, remains the deadliest this year as of Dec. 20, with six dead.[16]

Data Summary—Colleges–1966 to 2004

Since 1966, there have been thirteen shootings at colleges where more than three people were killed. Outside of mass shootings, there have been over 300 instances of gunfire on college campuses, killing ninety four people and injuring 215. Researchers have found that gun access on college campuses may increase the risk of suicide and make aggressive incidents more deadly. Most college students surveyed say school shootings impact their sense of safety on campus (65%) and favor stricter campus gun policies (63%).[17]

Everytown.org reported on a datapoint for school shootings: “Three out of Four School Shooters Acquire the Gun From Their Home; At Least 4.6 Million Children Live in a Home With at Least One Unlocked and Loaded Firearm.”[18]

Guns At Home

And it gets worse. “When it comes to how students are exposed to gun violence, gunfire at schools is just the tip of the iceberg. Firearms are the leading cause of death for children, teens, and college-aged people in America. Every year, nearly 19,000 children and teens are shot and killed or wounded and approximately three million are exposed to gun violence. Witnessing shootings – whether in their schools, their communities, or their homes – can have a devastating impact. Even for those who haven’t experienced gun violence, the trauma of experiencing active shooter drills and swatting incidents – which are happening with increasing frequency – leaves students, teachers and parents across the country experiencing firsthand the impacts of the gun lobby’s ‘guns everywhere’ agenda.[19]

 

The Student Perspective On Gun Violence

“When lawmakers offered thoughts and prayers but little meaningful action after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, high school, and college students across the country came together to make our voices heard. Students Demand Action started in 2016 as a pilot program and, with a sense of urgency, we launched it as a national initiative within two weeks of the Parkland shooting. Because what could be more urgent than fixing the errors in our system that have cost so many young people their lives? Students Demand Action now has more than 600 groups across the country and active volunteers in every state and D.C.”[20]  Their voice screams—”We’ve grown up in the midst of America’s gun violence crisis. In fact, we’ve been called the “school shooting generation.” Now we’re rising up and organizing in our high schools, colleges, and communities across the country to demand action to end gun violence.”[21]

The State of America’s Children—2023 Gun Violence

The mission statement for the Children’s Defense Fund is simple—Leave No Child Behind. That elegant goal is constantly challenged by gun violence. “As our nation slowly regains a sense of normalcy on the other side of the pandemic, another epidemic remains prevalent and continues to decimate communities, especially communities of color. Gun violence remains the number one cause of death for children ages 1-1991, with the gun death rate for children at almost 5 in every 100,000 in 2020. Babies born the year of the watershed Columbine massacre are now 24 years old. No youth today knows a world without the threat of sudden deadly gun violence. The pandemic only exacerbated their skepticism that something like a safe space exists anywhere in their communities. In 2017, the CDC reported that 3,410 children and teens were killed and 18,201 were injured with guns. In 2021, fatalities increased nearly 40% to 4,739, accounting for 13 child deaths daily related to gun violence, the highest annual number ever recorded.”[22]

Even as these numbers go up and continue to gain recognition across a national stage, Congress and many states remain stagnant on enacting adequate gun violence prevention measures, resulting in the loss of young lives and holes in families and in communities that will never be repaired. With the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, we cannot afford to now normalize the more persistent public health crisis of gun violence. Communities of color and children of color in particular suffer gun violence at rates disproportionate to that of their White counterparts: In 2021, Black children and teens were six times as likely to die from gun violence as their White peers. Of the Black children that died from gun violence, a vast majority are boys, who are dying at much greater rates than White children. Black children and teens had the highest gun death rate in 2021 (20.5 deaths per 100,000 children). This is up from 2019 where Black children and teens also had the highest gun death rate (11.9 per 100,000). American Indian/Alaskan Native children and teens followed at (7.2 deaths per 100,000). This is also up from 2019 where American Indian/Alaskan Native children had a gun death rate of (6.4 per 100,000).

Gun-related deaths rates were the lowest for White children (3.3 per 100,000). Gun-related deaths among children and teens are growing, and no state is exempt from the impact and effects of this growing epidemic. The past 10 years of trend data (2011-2020) illustrate disparities across and between the states, illuminating the places where swift and immediate action is urgent, needed, and dire. Half of all child and teen gun deaths occurred in just 10 states: Texas, California, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. Gun-related death rates are highest in Alaska. Alaskan children and teens have been killed with guns at 9 deaths per 100,000 children. Gun-related deaths occur at more than twice the national average in Louisiana, where more than 8 children per 100,000 have been shot and killed over the past decade. Massachusetts has the lowest gun-related death rates, with 1 gun-related child death per 100,000. Other states with relatively low rates—rates that are less than half the national average—are New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.

Children deserve the opportunity to be children. Our nation’s young people deserve the chance to have a childhood free from violence and a country with leaders who make sure they are safe in their schools, neighborhoods, and communities. Elected national, state, and local officials have enabled this violent epidemic to grow and ravage communities, specifically communities of color. It is well past time for action that ensures our children can thrive and not just try to survive.”[23]

Gun Violence Scares Off International Students

Campus shootings have become a major concern for those from abroad, particularly Asia. For many, a U.S. education is still worth the risk—but experts say each incident makes recruitment harder.[24] Three students were killed and another five were injured in the Feb. 13, 2023, shooting at Michigan State University, including two international students from China—one of whom, 20-year-old John Hao, was paralyzed from the neck down. Another student said the tragedy was a wake-up call, an all-too-visceral reminder that the plague of gun violence he’d read about in the news was a frightening reality in the country where he’d chosen to study.

The fear of being caught in a mass shooting like the one at MSU has become a major factor in international students’ decisions about whether to study in the U.S. According to a fall 2018 survey by the Institute of International Education, the issue with the biggest year-over-year increase in concern among international applicants in 2017–18—a year in which U.S. institutions saw a decline in international enrollment—was their “physical safety in the U.S.”

It’s also a daily concern for many international students already studying in America: according to a 2019 survey by the World Education Services, a quarter of international students in the U.S. expressed worry about gun violence at their institution; that number jumped to 37 percent when they looked at their college’s broader host community.[25]

“It’s not just campus shootings driving safety fears. In November 2021, Shaoxiong Zheng, a Chinese international student at the University of Chicago—a dream destination for many international students—was shot and killed in a street robbery. A week later, hundreds of students, many of them international, marched across campus to call for stricter gun legislation, holding signs reading, “We’re here to learn, not to die” and “Who’s next?”[26]

Giffords Statement on Shootings at High School Football Games

Unquestionably, the loudest and most incisive voice in America on gun violence is Gabby Giffords. She was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona when she was shot in an assassination attempt in Tucson, Arizona on January 11, 2011. Jared Lee Loughner ran up to in a crowd listening to her speak, and began firing a 9mm pistol with a 33-round magazine. He hit nineteen people, killed six, including U.S. District Court Judge Roll and a nine-year old child.[27] After her shooting, Giffords became an advocate for anti-gun-violence causes. In 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Giffords and her husband founded the nonprofit and super PAC Americans for Responsible Solutions to support pro-gun control candidates. In 2017 the organization was reorganized, becoming Giffords.[28]

Her 2024 message is “No more excuses. Nor more thoughts and prayers without action. No more delay. Together, we can save lives.”[29] She calls out all gun violence, not just limited to campus gun violence. She says we can save laws by passing responsible legislation. The research is clear: gun laws work. The nation’s courts agree that gun laws are fully compatible with the Second Amendment. And the American people have spoken, our weak gun safety laws are killing nearly 40,000 Americans every year. Something must change. Gun laws work. (2) Gun laws are fully compatible with the Second Amendment. And the American people have spoken: our weak gun safety laws are killing nearly 40,000 Americans every year. Giffords knows something must change. And she knows both the law and the history of guns in schools.

“Guns have no place in our nation’s schools. The tragedies that took place at Sandy Hook, Robb Elementary, Columbine, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Virginia Tech, and other schools across the US demonstrate the devastating effect guns have on our school communities. Calls to arm teachers or to allow college students to carry guns will only lead to more gun deaths and injuries, not fewer. By contrast, laws that prohibit guns in schools and impose harsh penalties for gun possession help keep students and educators safe. The presence of guns in higher education classrooms also burdens the First Amendment right to academic freedom of speech—guns can impede the candid discourse that is critical to the collegiate experience. Allowing guns on campus poses a grave threat to people employed by schools as well, making the workplace more dangerous for university staff and faculty.”[30]

Media Reports On 2023 School Shootings

The Clarion Ledger posted an AP report on Sep. 23, 2023, titled, A List of Mass Shootings In the United States in 2023. “[In 2023] a total of 171 people have died in killings, which are defined as incidents in which four or more people have died within a 24-hour period, not including the killer — the same definition used by the FBI. So far this year, the nation has witnessed the highest number on record of mass killings and deaths to this point in a single year. According to the database, there have been more than 560 mass killings since 2006, in which at least 2,900 people died and at least 2,000 were injured.”[31] Almost all killings were by gun.

The Numbers

The Wikipedia 2023 School Shooting page is painfully stark. [32]  Fifty-eight schools suffered campus shootings. They were located in thirty-seven states. Thirty-one students or school staff died. Many more were injured. The shooter always fired first. In one case the shooter was shot by police.  Four student shooters committed suicide at the school after killing or wounding fellow students. The actual shooter was always reported in the media as a “suspected” shooter. The youngest shooter was just six years old. He shot his teacher, but she survived.[33]  In all, thirty-nine people died, and ninety one were injured. Shots were always fired, but no one was wounded or died in twelve cases.

The Covenant School Shooting—Nashville, Tennessee—March 27, 2023

The Covenant School is a private Christian school in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville. It educates students from pre-kindergarten to the sixth grade. It was founded in 2001 as a ministry of Nashville’s Covenant Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America; its enrollment is about 200 students. Its mission is elegantly simple; “Shepherding Hearts, Empowering Minds, Celebrating Childhood.[34]

One of its former students was heartless, deranged, and forget his childhood when he went back to his childhood school armed with two rifles and a pistol on March 27, 2023. “He arrived at the school at 9:54 a.m., and sent an Instagram message to a friend at 9:57 a.m., saying he anticipated dying that day. Twenty-eight-year-old Aiden Hale (born Audrey Elizabeth Hale) a transgender man and former student of the school killed three nine-year-old children and three adults before being shot and killed by two Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officers. It is the deadliest mass shooting in Tennessee history.”[35]    

The six victims, three students and three staff were killed at random.[36] Five were pronounced dead at a hospital and one at the scene.[37] Hale was a Nashville resident with no criminal record. According to a former headmaster of the Covenant School, Hale attended the school when “around 10 years of age.” MNPD Police said Hale was under care for an emotional disorder and had legally bought seven firearms, including three recovered from the shooting scene, between October 2020 and June 2022.[38]

As a matter of course, this mass shooting quickly rapped up into policy debates, protests, and increased gun control.

In response to the shooting, President Biden said, “We have to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart, ripping the soul of this nation, ripping at the very soul of the nation… we have to do more to protect our schools, so they aren’t turned into prisons.” He ordered flags on all federal buildings to be flown at half-staff. Nashville Mayor John Cooper called for the state to enact risk-protection laws and take action on gun safety. And Tennessee state representative Bob Freeman, a Democrat from Nashville, called for gun reforms in the wake of the shooting. Protestors called for increased gun control in reaction to the shootings. On March 30, thousands of protestors gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol to call for stricter gun control laws. Some children held signs saying, ‘I’m nine’ in reference to the age of the children shot. Within the chamber of the capitol, three state representatives, Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson led the public gallery in chants of “no more silence”, “we have to do better”, and “gun reform now”, demanding that lawmakers strengthen gun laws. This protest delayed a hearing on a bill which would expand gun access. On April 5, thousands of students across the United States demonstrated in a walkout to call on lawmakers to end gun violence. The student group March for Our Lives organized walkouts across Tennessee and a march to the State Capitol.”

But as predicted, Tennessee did little to advance the fight against gun violence; it is a deeply red state.[39] The AP headline said it all; “Tennessee Lawmakers Abruptly End Tumultuous Session Spurred by School Shooting.”[40]

The Collapse Of The NRA—January 2024

           While “collapse” is not quite accurate, the NRA is structurally and morally so corrupt that it’s foundations are moribund. The January 8, 2024, JD Journal  headline is damning: NRA Corruption Trial Set to Commence Following LaPierre’s Abrupt Resignation. “In a Manhattan courtroom on Monday, the high-profile corruption trial involving the National Rifle Association and its longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre, is set to commence, marking a critical juncture just days after LaPierre’s sudden resignation as the chief executive of the prominent gun rights organization. New York Attorney General Letitia James initiated legal action in August 2020, alleging that the NRA funneled millions of dollars towards luxuries for top officials, including extravagant travel expenses for LaPierre to various resorts. James further accused NRA officials of bypassing board approval for conflicts of interest and insider transactions, securing no-show contracts for associates, and retaliating against whistleblowers who raised concerns about financial misconduct. . . These actions violated state laws governing nonprofits. . . Founded in 1871, the NRA staunchly denies any wrongdoing, asserting that it has undergone significant reforms.[41]

The New York Times’s headline blared, N.R.A. Leader Accused of Unchecked Spending as Corruption Trial Begins. “With Wayne LaPierre, the longtime chief of the N.R.A., looking on from the first row, a lawyer from the attorney general’s office outlined a case ‘about corruption and mismanagement.’ The lawyer, Monica Connell, described unchecked spending by Mr. LaPierre on private jets, worldwide travel and vacations on a contractor’s superyachts. The king of the N.R.A. corrupted and breached the N.R.A. from within . . . Among other things he booked flights through a personal travel agent who was ‘asked to alter her invoices to hide who was on the flights.’ He is also accused of stocking his management team with loyalists with little experience and who had corrupt practices of their own. His longtime aide, Millie Hallow, put more than $100,000 in N.R.A. funds toward personal uses — like bedding, family travel expenses, clothing, and car repairs — but “wasn’t punished in any way.”[42]

The NRA at year-end in 2023 is a shadow of its former self. “In the 1970s, the group began to lobby against federal firearm restrictions, making strong allies among political conservatives, particularly within the Republican Party. Though institutionally hindered amid internal feuds and corruption allegations, the NRA’s strength endures within the GOP, whose leaders remain almost wholly aligned with the group’s positions.”[43]

Giffords.org said, ”The NRA Is in Disarray: Here’s What You Need to Know. Over the past year, stories about the National Rifle Association have spilled into the light of day, painting a picture of an organization in disarray. The NRA seems to teeter on the brink, hemorrhaging both money and support. How did we get here? The trail is long and full of infighting, flirting with foreign governments, and cuts to the office coffee budget. . . According to a broad range of election and advertising records, the NRA appears to have illegally coordinated with multiple political campaigns—violating federal law that prevents independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with campaigns. Four complaints filed at the Federal Election Commission by the Campaign Legal Center and Giffords accused the NRA of illegally coordinating with the campaigns of multiple GOP senate candidates in the 2014, 2016, and 2018 election cycles.”[44]

 The Huffington Post’s headline reads: NRA, Trump Campaign Illegally Coordinated Election Ads, Charges FEC Complaint. “A watchdog organization and a gun control advocacy group have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the National Rifle Association and the Trump campaign of illegally coordinating ads to influence the presidential election. The collusion amounted to an unreported and illegal multimillion-dollar contribution to massively amplify the media reach of the Trump campaign, according to the complaint. . . There is reason to believe that the NRA … made illegal, unreported and excessive in-kind contributions to Donald J. Trump for President Inc. in the form of coordinated communications,” states the complaint filed Friday by the Campaign Legal Center and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.”[45]

Mother Jones and The Trace also reported on the NRA association with Trump 2024 election campaign. “The National Rifle Association spent $30 million to help elect Donald Trump — more than any other independent conservative group. Most of that sum went toward television advertising, but a political message loses its power if it fails to reach the right audience at the right time. For the complex and consequential task of placing ads in key markets across the nation in 2016, the NRA turned to a media-strategy firm called Red Eagle Media. One element of Red Eagle’s work for the NRA involved purchasing a slate of 52 ad slots on WVEC, the ABC affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, in late October 2016. The ads targeted adults aged 35 to 64, and aired on local news programs and syndicated shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. In paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Red Eagle described them as ‘anti-Hillary’ and ‘pro-Trump.’ The Trump Campaign pursued a strikingly similar advertising strategy. Shortly after the Red Eagle purchase, as Election Day loomed, it bought 33 ads on the same station, set to air during the same week. The ads, which the campaign purchased through a firm called American Media & Advocacy Group, were aimed at precisely the same demographic as the NRA spots, and often ran during the same shows, bombarding Norfolk viewers with complementary messages.”[46]

The NRA’s seemingly pending demise does not mean the end of the gun lobby’s efforts to sell more guns, despite the tragic gun violence in America. “A zealous gun rights group, even more uncompromising than the once formidable National Rifle Association, is emerging as a force in US politics with a mission to oppose efforts at gun control and ease further America’s already lax regulations on firearms. Last year the Gun Owners of America spent $3.3 million on lobbying, a record sum for the hardline foe of gun control that now claims over  two million members and activists, and has previously operated in the shadows of the larger NRA. . . The NSSF has expanded its legal and lobbying spending to fight gun-control efforts nationwide. Even more insidious than the NRA: US gun lobby group gains in power. The GOA’s record lobbying spending in 2022 was spurred in part by a rise in its annual revenues, which more than tripled from $2.3m in 2016 to $8.7m in 2021, according to tax records. The GOA is an adamant enemy of gun control measures of all stripes, and proudly calls itself the ‘no compromise’ gun lobby. Its surge in lobbying spending reflects one way it has capitalized on the financial and legal problems of the once 5 million-member NRA in the hopes of expanding the GOA’s political clout, say gun experts. The GOA was formed in the 1970s because they believed the NRA was too liberal, ‘said Robert Spitzer, the author of several books on guns and a professor emeritus at Suny Cortland in New York.’ True to its creed, the GOA has opposed every manner of gun law and attacked the NRA at every turn.”[47]

None of the legal challenges facing the NRA are likely to result in its disappearance on the political scene or at the site of mass shootings. It will likely be a “big” year for the Second Amendment. “While NRA members made huge strides in 2023 to defend and expand the right to keep and bear arms, 2024 will be an even more important year for the future of the Second Amendment. For starters, the Supreme Court will likely provide more guidance for how it will apply the Second Amendment in cases challenging the constitutionality of firearms restrictions. Last November, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Rahimi. That case challenged the constitutionality of the federal firearms prohibition that applies to individuals subject to certain protective orders. The Supreme Court will likely issue a decision in Rahimi this spring.

The Supreme Court has also already agreed to hear a case challenging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives authority to issue the regulation that reclassified ‘bump fire stocks’ as ‘machineguns.’ That case, Garland v. Cargill, could have far-reaching effects on executive authority beyond just invalidating the bump stock rule. A broad ruling in Cargill would likely be the end of the Biden administration’s rule on frames and receivers, its ban on pistol stabilizing braces, and its new proposed rule to expand who needs a federal firearm license. There are also numerous other legal challenges working their way through federal courts right now that will have an enormous impact on the scope of the Second Amendment. These cases range from challenges to state laws banning firearms and magazines to attempts by anti-gun states to undermine the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen by effectively banning carrying a firearm anywhere in public.”[48]

What’s In Store For 2024?

PBS News says, “New gun safety laws are taking effect in a handful of states in the new year. While the country ended 2023 with more mass shootings than days in the year, new laws in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington are aimed at preventing gun violence. Some states like California have adopted new restrictions on who can carry concealed weapons and where those guns can be carried. States like Washington have expanded background checks and imposed a waiting period, while still other states like Michigan and Minnesota have enacted red flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily remove firearms from someone who’s deemed a threat to themselves or to others. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were more than 650 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2023. Those are incidents where more than four people are shot or killed. Mass shootings are, of course, one of the hardest problems in the gun safety world to solve. But, nonetheless, some of the laws that have been adopted are targeting these mass shootings. For instance, Washington state has expanded gun background checks in an effort to try to keep guns out of the hands of people who will commit mass shootings. A waiting period can also potentially help prevent a mass shooting to the extent that it’s a crime of passion that one does without much thought and consideration. Still, other states like Illinois have banned the weapons that are most commonly used in high-profile mass shootings, those military-style assault rifles with high-capacity magazines.”[49]

The 2023 political reality is that blue states are inching in on gun regulation, while red states are making their gun laws more permissive and looser. Several red states have adopted laws allowing permitless concealed-carry regimes. In those Republican-led states, you can carry a concealed firearm even if you don’t have a permit. This is enhanced by SCOTUS. “One thing is clear. The Supreme Court has in recent years greatly expanded Second Amendment protections and virtually any gun law is likely to be challenged in court. And many of those challenges will succeed. The Supreme Court has said that, for gun laws to be constitutionally permissible, they have to resemble the gun laws of the 1700s and 1800s. Given how different our gun laws are today from the 1700s and 1800s, many gun laws that are innovative and trying to solve today’s problems are likely to run aground when they get into court.”[50]

Guns.com is a gun seller with an active website. As on January 3, 2024, it reports that Americans bought “at least 15.8 Million guns in 2023.” And they said, “The National Shooting Sports Foundation pored over the figures for last year and, after removing checks and rechecks for firearms permits, found that no less than 15,848,055 checks were for likely retail gun sales. Further, 2023 continued a 53-month-long running trend of consumers purchasing over a million firearms per month. Americans showed they want their Second Amendment rights by the millions – once again . . . These are solid figures that reflect the mood of Americans and the desire to exercise Second Amendment rights. These figures are a reminder of the importance law-abiding citizens place on their personal safety and freedoms, even as the Biden-Harris administration is using a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to chill and ultimately eliminate those rights.”[51]

Given the strong connection between gun ownership gun violence, it seems appropriate to end this report by looking at where the 2024 presidential candidates, as of January 2024, stand on guns.

“President Joe Biden, seeking reelection as a Democrat, has pushed for increased gun safety measures, including universal background checks for gun purchases and so-called red-flag laws, which permit the temporary confiscation of a person’s gun if they are deemed a threat to themselves and or others. Biden has also repeatedly called on Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons. Former President Donald Trump has claimed to be the most pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment president, often arguing in the wake of mass shootings that guns were not to blame for the tragedies, but rather a mental health problem. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has said that he would defend the Second Amendment if elected president. In April 2023, he signed legislation that would allow Floridians to be able to carry concealed guns without a permit. Nikki Haley came out against gun restrictions known as red-flag laws and said she did not trust the government with them. ‘I don’t trust that they won’t take them away from people who rightfully deserve to have them.’ Vivek Ramaswamy, said he believes the Second Amendment is the one amendment that protects all of the others, and that the Constitution would not exist without it. He doubled down saying, he is opposed to removing guns from law-abiding citizens, and instead advocated for ‘removing psychiatrically ill and dangerous people from their communities.’”[52]

The Death Penalty and Mass Shooters

 Theoretically, the U.S. is a death penalty country. While it is occasionally charged in mass shooting cases, it is either rare or non-existent. “More than two-thirds of U.S. states—37 out of 50—have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years. An additional 2 states have not had an execution in at least 5 years, for a total of 39 states with no death penalty or no executions in that time. Two additional jurisdictions, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Military, have not had an execution in the last 10 years.”[53]

Some juries have recommended that a mass shooter suffer the death penalty. “The gunman who killed 11 people and injured seven more in a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 was formally sentenced to death by a judge in August 2023, after a jury decided he should get the death sentence. . . The gunman, Robert Bowers, was found guilty in June of all 63 federal charges brought against him in connection with the massacre, including criminal counts for hate crimes resulting in death.”[54]

The Parkland School shooting’s gunman was spared the death penalty in October 2022. “The jury’s decision to recommend life in prison and not the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz – who shot dead 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 – sparked an emotional outcry from the victims’ relatives who had gathered in the court.”[55]

Politicians running for office occasionally advocate the death penalty in mass shootings. “Former Vice President Mike Pence recently called for individuals convicted in mass shootings to face the death penalty through an expedited process and argued the country should place more focus on institutionalizing the mentally ill as potential ways to address gun violence. He was one of several potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates to address the National Rifle Association’s annual leadership summit in Indianapolis, where he outlined his vision for the nation’s gun policy. The speech came weeks after three children and three staff were killed at a Nashville school, and days after a gunman killed five people in a Louisville, Ky., bank shooting.”[56] 

Most people understand that the death penalty is questionable as a deterrent to mass killing. But politicians running for office are often pliable about principles and prone to their voter base. “In 2019, then-President Donald Trump called for new death penalty legislation as an answer to hate crimes and mass killings. But whether that would deter shooters is questionable — especially since most don’t live to face trial. More than half the perpetrators of mass shootings since 2006 have ended up dead at the scene of their crimes, either killed by others or dying by suicide. Death penalty scholars and psychologists say killers motivated by ideology are unlikely to be deterred by punishment. Most of them are willing to die or understand the risk and prepare for it. Some want the fame that an execution could potentially bring to their cause. . . Trump’s remarks on the death penalty followed weekend attacks that killed a total of 31 people in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. . . Trump said he was ordering the Justice Department to propose legislation ensuring that ‘those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty, and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay.’”[57]

But For The Presence of Gun

The Second Amendment appeals to law-abiding citizens and gun nuts as well. It is an important part of the American Story. For thousands of innocent gun violence victims, they and their families know what the idiom, But For The Presence Of A Gun really means. It means more gun violence and more heartache. No one expects gun violence to stop because our laws are too weak. But everyone can appreciate this irrefutable fact. Every 2023 school shooting would not have destroyed lives and futures if everyone at the scene had been unarmed. That’s what the idiom really means.


[1] https://www.bing.com/search?q=how+many+wedding+rings+were+sold+in+2022

[2] https://www.safehome.org/data/firearms-guns-statistics/

[3] https://www.businessinsider.com/us-20-million-ar-15-style-rifles-in-circulation-2022-5

[4] https://www.census.gov/popclock/

[5] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/07/firearms-industry-marketing-mass-shooter/670621/

[6] https://www.reuters.com/legal/us-supreme-court-reinstates-bidens-ghost-gun-restrictions-now-2023-

[7] https://www.bradyunited.org/fact-sheets/what-are-ghost-guns

[8] https://www.reuters.com/legal/us-supreme-court-reinstates-bidens-ghost-gun-restrictions-now-2023

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] https://www.witf.org/2023/07/12/ghost-gun-makers-are-evading-state-and-federal-laws-experts-say-will-phillys-lawsuit-slow-them-down/

[12] https://giffords.org/lawcenter/state-laws/ghost-guns-in-california/

[13] Cal. Penal Code § 16531(a). California law now also provides a process authorizing the state Department of Justice to issue a determination regarding whether an item or kit meets the legal definition of “firearm precursor part” upon receiving a written request or standard form requesting this determination. See Cal. Penal Code § 30401.

[14] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/states-with-the-most-school-shootings

[15] https://abcnews.go.com/US/mass-shootings-days-2023-database-shows/story?id=96609874

[16] https://www.k12dive.com/news/2023-total-school-mass-shootings/703007/

[17] https://www.bestcolleges.com/research/college-shootings-statistics/

[18] https://www.everytown.org/press/2023-surpasses-more-than-100-incidents-of-gun-violence-on-school-grounds-according-to-everytown-tracking/

[19] Ibid.

[20] https://studentsdemandaction.org/about/

[21] Ibid.

[22] https://www.childrensdefense.org/tools-and-resources/the-state-of-americas-children/soac-gun-violence/

[23] https://www.childrensdefense.org/the-state-of-americas-children/soac-2023-gun-violence/

[24] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/global/international-students-us/2023/04/10/gun-violence-scaring-international-students

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabby_Giffords

[28] “Cause of my life” Giffords rebrands gun-control group with her name. Tucson Sentinel. Archived from the original on May 1, 2023. Retrieved December 13, 2018.

[29] https://giffords.org/the-issue/

[30] Ibid.

[31] https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2023/09/22/2023-mass-shootings-in-the-united-states/70930496007/

[32] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States_(2000%E2%80%93present)

[33] Ibid—January 6, 2023, Newport News, Virginia. Richneck Elementary School.

[34] https://www.thecovenantschool.com/

[35] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2023_Nashville_school_shooting#cite_note-CNN_2023-03-27-9

[36] Kallingal, Mallika; Salahieh, Nouran; Levenson, Eric (March 30, 2023). “Some 911 calls from Nashville’s Covenant School shooting are released”. CNN. Archived from the original on March 31, 2023. Retrieved April 4, 2023.

[37] Hughes, Trevor (March 27, 2023). “Who is the Nashville school shooter who killed six at private Christian school?”. USA Today. Archived from the original on March 29, 2023. Retrieved March 27, 2023.

[38] Levenson, Eric; Alonso, Melissa; Salahieh, Nouran (March 29, 2023) [Originally published March 28, 2023]. “Covenant School shooter was under care for emotional disorder and hid guns at home, police say”. CNN. Archived from the original on March 29, 2023. Retrieved March 30, 2023.

[39] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_states_and_blue_states

[40] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/breaking-impasse-tennessee-lawmakers-adjourn-tumultuous-session-spurred-by-school-shooting

[41] https://www.jdjournal.com/2024/01/08/nra-corruption-trial-set-to-commence-following-lapierres-abrupt-resignation/?utm_source=MCNA&utm

[42] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/08/nyregion/nra-corruption-trial-nyc.html

[43] https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/08/us/nra-trial-corruption-new-york/index.html#:

[44] https://giffords.org/blog/2022/05/nra-in-disarray-what-you-need-to-know-blog/

[45] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/nra-trump-campaign-illegally-coordinate-ads-says-fec-complaint_

[46] https://www.thetrace.org/2018/12/trump-nra-campaign-coordination/

[47] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/nov/17/pro-gun-owners-america-goa-nra

[48] https://www.nraila.org/articles/20240103/a-big-year-for-the-second-amendment

[49] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/2024-brings-new-gun-restrictions-in-several-states

[50] Adam Winkler. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/2024-brings-new-gun-restrictions-in-several-states

[51] https://www.guns.com/news/2024/01/04/americans-bought-at-least-158-million-guns-in-2023#:~:text=The%20latest%20statistics%20for%20over,that%20Americans%20still%20love%20guns.

[52] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/2024-presidential-candidates-stand-guns/story?id=103313114

[53] https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions/executions-overview/states-with-no-recent-executions

[54] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting-gunman-sentence/

[55] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-63237156

[56] https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/3951301-pence-calls-for-expedited-death-penalty-for-mass-shooters-during-nra-speech/

[57] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/watch-trump-calls-for-death-penalty-for-hate-crimes

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