What's the difference between the on-air shooting of two Virginia journalists and all the other gun violence in the US? As Peter Nickeas of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "The internet had to see the fear on a woman's face as she realized she was about to die."
Nickeas, who covers crime and shootings for the Chicago Tribune, drew on his experience covering one of the most violent cities in America in a chilling post on Facebook, reflecting on how much of what Americans saw in the Virginia newscast on Tuesday is everyday life for far too many people in violence-torn parts of the country.
Nickeas hits on an important point that's often lost in the focus on horrific shootings covered by mass media: Although gun homicides (like all homicides) are on the decline, there are still dozens of deadly shootings every day in the US. In 2013, there were more than 32,000 gun-related deaths — and over 11,000 of those deaths were homicides.
Other developed countries don't have to deal with this level of violence. America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada and 15 times as many as Germany, according to UN data compiled by the Guardian's Simon Rogers.
In fact, no other developed country comes close to the levels of gun violence, including suicides, that America has, as this chart from Tewksbury Lab shows:
The correlation this chart demonstrates — more guns mean more gun deaths — has been backed by a lot of research. Whether at the state or country level, reviews of the studies by the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center have consistently found that places with more guns have more deaths after controlling for variables like socioeconomic factors and other crime. "Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide," David Hemenway, the Injury Control Research Center's director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.
This is widely believed by some experts to be the consequence of America's relaxed policy approach to and culture of guns: Making guns easily accessible means more guns, and more guns mean more deaths. Researchers have found this not just with general homicides, but also with suicides, domestic violence, and even violence against police.
But these consequences are usually out of sight for most Americans. As Nickeas writes, "Today everyone saw what violence looks like, except the victims are usually a little younger and have darker skin. It's not often on tape so the reaction isn't so visceral. This is what violence feels like to people who see it happen, we can now all say, because we've all seen it happen."
But at least most Americans have the ability to turn the view of that violence off. They can pause that video, log off Twitter, or tune out of Facebook for the day. People in places that experience so much of this violence — urban areas like Chicago — can't do that. (Chicago alone had more than 2,500 shooting victims in 2014, according to the Chicago Tribune.)
"I'm sorry everyone had to see those videos. I am," Nickeas wrote. "But also ponder that feeling you have in the pit of your stomach and the effect it might have on someone half your age who doesn't get to look away."