Authorities discovered 23 guns in the Las Vegas hotel room of Stephen Paddock, the man who opened fire on a crowd of country-music fans on October 1. At least 12 of those guns were weapons equipped with bump stocks, devices used to increase a gun’s rate of fire. In the days following the massacre, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle suggested Congress should review rules regulating bump stocks. The National Rifle Association, which is typically quiet after mass shootings, broke its silence to say the same.
But as policymakers and influence groups were debating legislation, another more fundamental debate began among those who have spent their careers studying gun violence: Are mass shootings a problem with a meaningful legislative solution?
The consensus among most researchers is that America does, indeed, have a gun-violence problem: Nearly 12,000 people have died in gun-related incidents so far in 2017. Since only an estimated 2 percent of those deaths are in mass-shooting events, though, some within the gun-research community suggest that it’s best not to craft legislation around comparatively rare occurrences. But that’s the kind of argument that makes other researchers want to pull their hair out.
Advocates for gun-control legislation often have a single policy prescription for preventing mass shootings: If people on the terror-watch list were barred by law from obtaining a gun, Omar Mateen might not have been able to murder 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year. If it were illegal to purchase high-capacity magazines, maybe Adam Lanza wouldn’t have been able to shoot so many first-graders in Connecticut. If dealers were required to report gun buyers purchasing multiple weapons in a short time period, perhaps Paddock would have been more closely watched.