How Guns Shift Conflict Towards Violence: Part 1
Updated: Apr 18, 2018
By Danny Kleschick
This past Sunday, the United States witnessed one of the most deadly and inexplicable mass shootings in history. A three day country music festival in Las Vegas was brought to a horrific conclusion by an astounding act of terror when Stephen Paddock, a 64 year old man, took aim at the crowd of over 22,000 concert-goers from his hotel room and released an assault of bullets that left 58 people dead and more than 500 injured .
As my initial horror at the human loss and terror of the event faded, one clear question began to clearly formulate: How? How could a single person release this colossal display of carnage in just a matter of minutes, and from such a removed distance? How can we as a society take measurable action towards putting an end to the numbingly common phenomenon of an individual turning hatred into violent action that leaves innocent people dead?
The discussion regarding the event has inevitably turned political in the days following. Proponents of gun control argue that the most recent mass shooting adds weight to their argument for tighter gun restrictions. Their opponents respond that this argument is using a tragedy for political gain, and repeat the age old mantra that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It is the same inevitable debate each time an act of mass violence occurs, and as far as I can tell it is moving nowhere productive.
However, for my own catharsis in processing this horror and its evidence for the continuum of a cycle of mass shootings, I am attempting to provide a somewhat fresh perspective on these issues that step out of the deeply entrenched American political atmosphere. I believe that beneath the heated debate on both sides, there is an undeniable and universal truth regarding guns and their relationship with mass violence, existing in the most developed and advanced democracies as well as the most impoverished and war torn nations.
Guns Don’t Kill People
I am first going to begin with a concession to a side that I normally find myself in vehement contradiction with on this issue: those who ferociously fight for gun rights. I concede that at a very basic, statistical level, guns do not cause violent conflict. Research on the humanitarian effects of small arms and light weapons shows that there is very little if any evidence of a causal link between small arms and light weapons and the spring of violent conflict . There is a depressingly wide number of reasons why people commit violence against one another: ethnic or religious differences, political grievances, profit motives, the list goes on. However, according to the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health found in a joint study in 2011 that although there is a strong correlation in gun ownership as a predictor of homicide rates, there is no causal link between the two . The International Committee of the Red Cross reiterates that guns pose a significant security threat to civilian populations, but there is no proven causal link between the presence of guns and human rights violations or violence against civilians .
With that said, there is one necessary clarification to that assertion that in my opinion intensifies the argument for tighter gun ownership regulation: where divisions exist among peoples (and division among peoples is seemingly an inescapable constant in our current society), the potential for these divisions to become deadly is astronomically exacerbated by the presence of small arms in a society . Yes, guns don’t kill people; but the presence of guns, particularly modern assault style weapons such as those used in the Las Vegas shooting, greatly increases an individual’s capability to kill and in mass quantities. Evidence of this phenomenon can be found across the globe, and point to its universal truth.
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.
 The New York Times, “Las Vegas Shooting: Investigators Grapple With Gunman’s ‘Secret Life’,” The New York Times Online, October 5, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/las-vegas-shooting.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=a-lede-package-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news.
 Edward Mogire, “The Humanitarian Impact of Small Arms and Light Weapons and the Threat to Security,” 2004, http://www.lincei.it/rapporti/amaldi/papers/XV-Mogire.pdf.
 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) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3828709/.
 “International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict,” American Red Cross, 8, 2007 https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/icrc_002_0734_arms_availability.pdf.
 “Human Cost of Illicit Flow of Small Arms, Light Weapons Stressed in Security Council Debate,” Meetings Coverage, United Nations, May 13 2015 https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc11889.doc.htm.
 National Shooting Sports Foundation, “Firearms Industry Economic Impact Rises 168% Since 2008,” Gun Laws and Legislation, The Daily Caller, October 4, 2017 http://dailycaller.com/2017/04/10/firearms-industry-economic-impact-rises-168-since-2008/.  Adam Winkler, “The Secret History of Gund,” The Atlantic Online, October 2 2017 https://medium.com/s/with-great-power/the-secret-history-of-guns-cf3036ed67c4.
 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
 Blair Guild, “GOP Sen. Lankford open to possibility of ‘bump stock’ regulation,” CBS News Online, October 4, 2017
 Shekou M. Sesay, Davidson S.H.W. Nicol and Others, “Civil War,” Sierra Leone, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, September 15, 2017 https://www.britannica.com/place/Sierra-Leone/Civil-war.
 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,
 Griffin, Drew, Jeanne Meserve, Christine Roman, and Michael Sevanof, "Campus killer's purchases apparently within gun laws." CNN. April 19, 2007. http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/19/gun.laws/index.html
 Pearce, Matt, "Adam Lanza's files show him as another shooter caught up in Columbine," Los Angeles Times. November 27, 2013.
 "Court Found Cho "Mentally Ill"," The Smoking Gun, July 18, 2010.