Will We Ever Figure Out Who’s Doing All That Shooting?

Mike Weisser
3 min readDec 4, 2023

Last week there were two legal decisions involving guns, and each side got one win. Gun-nut Nation was given a gift by a Federal judge in West Virginia, who ruled that a law prohibiting persons under 21 from buying a handgun was a violation of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ In California, the state Court of Appeals said that a law giving personal information about individuals who bought guns could be shared with qualified gun researchers.

No doubt, both decisions will be appealed but I’m not convinced that either of the laws that are the subjects of these rulings have any real relevance or value to the one gun issue which remains to be solved, and the issue is: what do we do to reduce gun violence which results in more than 100,000 deaths and serious injuries every year?

The last year for which we have any data — 2021 — gives us 26,000 suicides and 21,000 homicides involving guns (I’m slightly rounding off.) We don’t have a number for aggravated assaults, i.e., non-fatal, intentional gun injuries, but this number was probably somewhere around another 70,000, give or take a thousand here or a thousand there.

So, altogether we probably had 115,000 injuries and deaths from guns, and we only have any data on the shooters who were suicide victims, which means we don’t really know anything about how and why the other 80% of the gun-violence events occurred. It’s all fine and well to talk about the socio-economic-ethnic status of the victims of gun violence, but to refer to such information as an epidemiology of the problem is to use nomenclature which is simply not true.

Garen Wintemute, the leading gun researcher in California who says that the ability to use personal information about gun owner represents “an important victory for science,” describes gun violence from an epidemiological perspective in published research, but what he tells us about the types of individuals who do the shooting, as opposed to the individuals who get shot, hardly qualifies his work as an exercise in epidemiological research.

The problem is that all those intentional fatal and non-fatal injuries where someone shoots someone else happen not only to be instances of violence but are also crimes. So, first you have to catch the shooter, which happens in about half…