Kimson Green, 17, was a month away from being inducted into the National Honor Society. But on Sunday afternoon, he and three others were caught in a shooting in the Miami neighborhood of Liberty City. Green, a sophomore at Northwestern High School, and former student Rickey Dixon, 18, were killed. Two others were wounded, including a senior from Northwestern High.
Police still have not caught the shooter or shooters, and they have not publicly identified a motive, according to the Miami Herald. An investigation is underway.
Under some definitions (including the one used by the Gun Violence Archive and Vox), the event would actually qualify as a mass shooting — since four or more people were shot, even if they weren’t killed. But despite tweets by survivors from the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and protests in Liberty City, the shooting hasn’t gotten much national attention — certainly not the kind of national media focus that Parkland drew.
That’s because this shooting appears to represent a more typical kind of gun violence in America. It wasn’t a lone shooter targeting a public space seemingly at random. It was yet another example of gun violence at Liberty Square, an apartment complex that the Miami Herald described as “crime-plagued.” Several other students at Northwestern High have also been killed in shootings over the past few years, according to the Herald.
This was, in other words, a place where this kind of gun violence is sadly typical — normal, even. So it doesn’t draw the kind of attention a shocking, seemingly out-of-nowhere mass shooting at a school, church, or concert does.
Yet when we talk about America’s gun problem, these are the kinds of shootings and places — along with suicides, which make up around 60 percent of US gun deaths — that we really should be thinking about. The evidence for gun control, in fact, is actually strongest for stricter gun laws preventing these kinds of tragedies, not necessarily mass shootings.
The typical gun violence we often ignore
In 2016 (the latest year for which data is available), there were nearly 39,000 gun deaths. More than 14,000 of those were homicides, and almost 23,000 were suicides. Using Mother Jones’s definition of a mass shooting — which uses a narrow framework to try to identify the shootings people usually picture when they hear “mass shooting” — 71 deaths in 2016 were due to mass shootings. That represents less than 1 percent of all gun deaths that year.
Based on what we know so far, the Liberty City shooting represents the 99-plus percent.
The two teenagers who died in the Miami shooting were also black. This, too, is common: In 2016, for example, more than 52 percent of murder victims (73 percent of whom were killed by guns) were black, even though black people only make up about 13 percent of the general population.
The racial breakdown may help explain the lack of national attention to more typical gun violence. We know that racial biases make white Americans more likely to perceive black people as less innocent and even as criminals, which may, in some people’s minds, make these victims more deserving of the gun violence in their communities.
Even though these everyday shootings rarely come up in the national debate about gun control, the evidence is actually strongest for stricter gun laws preventing the more common shootings, including suicides. In fact, the empirical evidence is weaker for the effect of gun control on the mass shootings that do draw national attention — largely because these tragedies are relatively rare and therefore more difficult to study.
A recent review of US-based studies by the RAND Corporation, for example, found no good evidence of gun-related policies affecting mass shootings, deeming the studies in this area “inconclusive.” But RAND did find evidence that some measures — background checks, child access prevention laws, minimum age requirements, and prohibitions associated with mental illness — are all together linked to reductions in injuries and deaths, including the more typical gun homicides and suicides.
The RAND review’s conclusions are backed by other research. A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews, found that new legal restrictions on owning and purchasing guns tended to be followed by a drop in gun violence — a strong indicator that restricting access to firearms can save lives. But those findings were for gun deaths broadly, with mass shootings rarely being the focus of the analyzed studies.
One could still infer from this evidence that stricter gun laws will reduce mass shooting deaths, but it’s an inference from the data, not a strong empirical finding. Meanwhile, the research indicates that stricter gun laws really could help prevent more shootings like that in Liberty City over the weekend — even though gun control is rarely brought up nationally after such events.
There are also some evidence-based policies that could help reduce everyday gun violence outside the realm of gun control, including more stringent regulations and taxes on alcohol, changes in policing, and behavioral intervention programs. These, too, rarely get national attention after a shooting like Liberty City’s.
Some gun control activists are trying to change the dynamic. In the aftermath of the Liberty City shooting, Parkland survivor David Hogg tweeted, “I wish they [pundits] would actually focus on what matters here like the 4 kids shot in #LibertyCity recently or simply the people that die across America everyday due of gun violence.”
But so far, the calls for attention have mostly rung hollow — and the tragedy in Liberty City has been by and large contained to local news coverage.