Nearly every U.S. media outlet has had some story about Ebola this week. What has been less-featured is yet another fatal school shooting. Just for clarity, there have been four cases of Ebola in the U.S. in 2014 and only one death. Ebola is a serious issue for West Africa, but as far as people living in the U.S. are concerned, it is of minimal concern. In comparison, there have been over 9,000 gun deaths this year, including 12 in mass shootings.
According to the Center for Disease Control, there was an average of 10.36 gun related deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 – 2011. Over the 11 years, that totaled 430,397 deaths; 29,944 were children.
On average, 32 Americans are murdered with guns and 140 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room each day, according to the Brady campaign. On average, 48 children are shot in murders, assaults, suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. Of those 8 die and 41 are injured.
Most recently, a teenager shot several classmates, including his cousin, before killing himself. Two of the students died from the shooting and at least two were still in the hospital as of Monday.
There have been at least 39 shooting incidents at U.S. schools in 2014, resulting in 24 deaths and 45 injuries.
So why does the U.S. have an “Ebola Czar” but not a “Gun Violence Czar”?
There is no one simple solution to ending gun violence since it intersects with many other issues, nor is it always easy to parse the factors that contribute to how an issue is reported on, or whether it is even reported at all.
Americans are fiercely defensive of their right to defend themselves, granted by the second amendment. In other countries, gun ownership is seen as a privilege, not a right. People should be able to feel secure in their homes and be able to protect themselves. In an October 2013 Gallup poll, 60 percent of respondents said they owned gun for safety. However, often guns are not used for protection but for violence.
A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense, according to Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection, and Critical Care.
Furthermore, the gun technology available today is significantly more deadly than guns available when the Bill of Rights was ratified.
Another reason people may view gun violence as less pertinent at a societal level is that both gun violence and Ebola are to some degree tied to race in the eyes of the media and those of us who consume news perpetuated primarily by U.S. sources.
Of all the school shootings that have taken place in the past decade in the U.S., over half of them were committed by white men, yet this is frequently classified as an issue tied to untreated or undiagnosed mental illness, rather than race, in spite of the overwhelming whiteness of these criminals.
On the other hand, Ebola is of significant concern in West Africa, which generally has more of a negative portrayal in the media than the U.S. due to general racism. Therefore, even though statistically Ebola is of virtually no concern for the majority of people in the U.S., it is more of an unknown, “foreign” entity, and as a result, the American public has reacted with more fear than is really justifiable.
Gun violence is a multifaceted issue and one that is not easily solvable, but it is something that needs to be critically assessed. One crucial aspect of this is appropriate reporting: if gun violence is attributed to mental illness or freak accident, rather than other factors such as race or misogyny (see: the shooting at the University of California at Santa Barbara earlier this year), then gun violence will continue to be a sensationalized phenomenon rather than an issue of national importance.
We need to remember that while Ebola may be a temporary terror that will in all likelihood leave a huge majority of Americans unaffected, gun violence will impact many individuals and is an issue that deserves a closer critical inspection.