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(2017) How Guns Shift Conflict Towards Violence: Part 3

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

Originally Published October 8, 2017

Republished due to current events

Where the United States Fits in

These conflicts are far greater in magnitude than the isolated gun violence we now see in the United States. The last time over a thousand peoples were killed in the U.S. in a single act, planes, not guns were used as weapons. While mass shootings in the U.S. are no doubt tragic, they are not comparable with the number of casualties present in those aforementioned conflicts in other nations. What I argue is commensurate, however, is the incendiary effect of weapons in turning prejudices and simple conflicts into deadly actions.

It is this effect that changed ethnic rivalries in Africa from exactly this, rivalries, into wars with thousands of casualties. Hatred, division and yes violence were already present. Yet it was the influx of guns, typically from other foreign nations, that escalated these conflicts and their death tolls.

It is also this same effect that allowed Dylan Roof, a young white man entrenched in racist ideologies in rural South Carolina, to walk into a historically black church and open fire on peaceful church goers. Roof should never have been allowed to purchase a gun given that he had been priorly arrested for drug possession [11]. When he first attempted to purchase a firearm, he was denied by a gun retailer and told he would have to wait until the FBI had done a background check and cleared him for the purchase. However, due to a federal law stating if the FBI does not complete the check within a 3-day period, Roof was allowed to walk back into the retailer just a few days later and legally purchase the firearm that would later be used in the Charleston massacre.

It is this same effect that permitted Seung-Hui Cho, a desperately lonely and vengeful Virginia Tech student to walk onto campus and open fire on his fellow students. At the time of the 2007 massacre, Virginia had some of the loosest gun restrictions in the nation [12]. Cho had a history of mental instability, beginning in 8th grade when he wrote in school assignments that he wanted to “repeat Columbine,” and was diagnosed with selective mutism and placed in special education under an emotional disturbance classification [13]. The connection between Cho and mental distress continued into college, where he was reported three times to campus police for stalking and harassing other students. His third report resulted in him being sent to court, where he was deemed “mentally ill and in need of imminent hospitalization,” and to “present an imminent danger to himself due to mental illness” [14]. Following this diagnosis, he was court ordered to participate in outpatient psychiatric care. However, because he was never involuntarily detained in a mental treatment facility, he was still able to purchase the two weapons he would use in his rampage [12].

The motive and background of the Las Vegas shooter is largely still a mystery, but this effect still carries through: Stephen Paddock was clearly filled with hate, and a loose regulatory environment permitted him access to 23 weapons, a majority of which were converted into automatic weapons with the capability to mow down innocent people from the removed position of a hotel room.

Guns are widely available to the American population, and the industry and resulting accessibility is growing. From 2008 to 2016, the economic impact of the firearms industry in the U.S. grew a staggering 168% [6], from $19.1 Billion to $51.3 Billion. As the presence of firearms within society increases, so does our society’s violent capabilities. I reiterate: guns do not cause conflicts. But where the factors that often lead to modern conflict (racial prejudices, political disputes, untreated mental illness, lust for power, etc…) are present, guns afford individuals an awesome amount of power to act violently.


Over the next few days, we will be adding more of Daniel's work in this series of five posts. Check back tomorrow for more or read the full piece on our Medium page by clicking here.



[1] The New York Times, “Las Vegas Shooting: Investigators Grapple With Gunman’s ‘Secret Life’,” The New York Times Online, October 5, 2017

[2] Edward Mogire, “The Humanitarian Impact of Small Arms and Light Weapons and the Threat to Security,” 2004,

[3] Michael Siegel, Craig S. Ross and Dr. Charles King, III, “The Relationship Between Gun Ownership and Firearm Homicide Rates in the United States, 1981–2010,” American Journal of Public Health, 103(11) (Nov. 2013)

[4] “International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict,” American Red Cross, 8, 2007

[5] “Human Cost of Illicit Flow of Small Arms, Light Weapons Stressed in Security Council Debate,” Meetings Coverage, United Nations, May 13 2015

[6] National Shooting Sports Foundation, “Firearms Industry Economic Impact Rises 168% Since 2008,” Gun Laws and Legislation, The Daily Caller, October 4, 2017 [7] Adam Winkler, “The Secret History of Gund,” The Atlantic Online, October 2 2017

[8] Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett and Mark Berman, “Police say Las Vegas gunman planned ‘extensively,’ used cameras to monitor officers as they approached,” The Washington Post Online, October 3 2017

[9] Blair Guild, “GOP Sen. Lankford open to possibility of ‘bump stock’ regulation,” CBS News Online, October 4, 2017

[10] Shekou M. Sesay, Davidson S.H.W. Nicol and Others, “Civil War,” Sierra Leone, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, September 15, 2017

[11] Michael S. Schmidt, “Background Check Flaw Let Dylann Roof Buy Gun, F.B.I. Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 July 2015,

[12] Griffin, Drew, Jeanne Meserve, Christine Roman, and Michael Sevanof, "Campus killer's purchases apparently within gun laws." CNN. April 19, 2007.

[13] Pearce, Matt, "Adam Lanza's files show him as another shooter caught up in Columbine," Los Angeles Times. November 27, 2013.

[14] "Court Found Cho "Mentally Ill"," The Smoking Gun, July 18, 2010.

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