In light of recent events involving mass shootings, we find ourselves asking: Why? Why would someone do this? Why have we seen an increase in these horrible episodes of mass shootings at schools, malls and movie theatres? In the past few years we have seen a dozen instances of guns being used to carry out horrible atrocities, inflicting massive damage, leading to unfathomable pain and suffering. My heart goes out to all those who have been affected by this form of violence.
In the aftermath, we ask “why?” and start to point fingers towards the cause, the reasons behind these types of attacks. Some will say it is due to a culture of godlessness. Others will blame a lack of gun control, regulations and enforcement measures. More recently people have been questioning our ability to diagnose and handle people with mental illnesses. Each of these factors may play their own role in the equation. Do we make access to lethal weapons too easy? Do we have a lack of spirituality that would prevent people from committing such atrocities? Do we ignore those suffering from mental anguish?
Maybe the root causes come from a more basic aspect of our society: our economics. Could it be our economic situation is the underlying cause? Common sense would tell us that typically people who are doing well economically and monetarily are less likely to commit violent crimes. There is even strong evidence to support such a theory.
Lets start by looking at one of the more telling economic indicators, the Gini Coefficient. For those who don’t know, the Gini Coefficient is a ratio used to show wealth inequality within a country. A larger Gini Coefficient signifies a large wealth gap between rich and poor. A small number indicates a more even distribution of wealth.
We can look at this world map showing the Gini Coefficient for most countries around the world. The United States has an income disparity that is comparable to China. The only places around the world with a higher income disparity are in South Africa and its neighboring countries along with most of South America. Countries with a lower Gini Index or more equal distribution of wealth can be found in most of Europe, Canada, Australia, and most of Asia (excluding China).
Next we can compare this with the following map showing murder rates around the world. Looks pretty similar don’t it? Again, the only places with higher murder rates are in South America, Mexico and Southern Africa. (Exception to this comparison is Russia that has a higher murder rate). But again those countries with lower murder rates are all in Europe, Canada, Australia and most of Asia.
If we look at more specific figures, the U.S. has about 9 gun related deaths per 100,000 people. For the countries that we have statistics for, all 11 countries with higher gun death rates each has a higher Gini Coeficient. Convinced yet?
So we can point to godlessness or government regulations, but I’d be willing to bet an improved economy would do much more to quell the rise of violence. For those who look towards mental illness, I’d also be willing to bet many (not all) mental illnesses can be traced back to economic causes. People who struggle economically are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Then there is the economic situations parents face and how it impacts their children. Parents who have to work long hours, takes away from time and attention spent with their children and are more likely to raise children with behavioral problems. Then there’s the issue of malnutrition and it’s impact on child brain development.
If we want to have a safe society we can start by helping each other economically. Making sure every one has an equal chance. Making sure people and parents have decent paying jobs, giving them a chance to raise their kids in a decent environment that isn’t just reserved for the selected few. When we talk about the top 1% verses the 99%, it isn’t just about money. It is about the entire culture in which we all live and the effects that culture has on all of us in society.