WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- After several recent mass shootings and one over the weekend that killed 26 people, Americans are wondering whether such events are the new normal.
"Mass shootings have become the new routine. They occur on a regular basis and are likely to continue," Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West told Xinhua.
"Guns are easy to acquire in the United States and this makes it easy for angry people to get and use weapons," West said.
Sunday saw a shooting in a church in the state of Texas, in which a gunman entered the building and shot dead over two dozen people, many of them women and children. The shootings, carried out during services in the church in a small town outside the city of San Antonio, marked the fifth deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
In fact, three of the five deadliest shootings occurred over the last year and a half. The worst incident, in which nearly 60 people were murdered as they watched a country music concert in the entertainment mecca of Las Vegas, happened around a month ago.
NEW NORMAL OR NOT?
Indeed, with what seems to be an increase in the frequency of mass shootings in recent weeks, many Americans wonder what is happening and why.
Kris Brown, the co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told Variety Magazine that "this has become our new normal and it has become very dispiriting how these kinds of tragedies can be eclipsed by the next tragedy."
Brown's organization has been pressing for new laws that would expand background checks that would make it more difficult for certain individuals to obtain firearms.
Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua that as with any trend in crime or terrorism, it is hard to say whether something is a new normal.
"But we see in these cases an intersection of mental illness, violent action, and access to powerful weaponry unavailable in most other countries," Mahaffee said.
"In this specific case, it seems that a very disturbed individual felt a massacre was the solution to a domestic dispute," Mahaffee said, referring to the weekend's shooting, which authorities said stemmed from a domestic argument.
While there are a number of gun laws on the books, the shooter in Sunday's killings, Devin Patrick Kelley, was able to slip through the cracks of the background check system.
Kelly was ineligible to purchase a firearm under current gun laws, since he had been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force, and has a police record of violence.
Those with such a record are not allowed to buy guns, but the information did not show up in his background check, and he was able to purchase firearms, U.S. media reported.
GUN ISSUE OR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE?
There is an ongoing argument over whether mass shootings are a gun issue or a mental health issue, with Democrats circling around the former argument and Republicans clinging to the latter. Much of the U.S. public is also split down these two schools of thought.
The right to bear arms, as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, is seen as sacred in many rural communities in America's heartland.
Many firearms advocates are opposed to even the most basic gun control legislation, viewing that as a slippery slope that would eventually result in infringement of their constitutional rights.
Others, however, view measures such as stricter background checks as simply logical, in order to prevent those with a history of violence or mental illness from obtaining firearms. Gun control advocates also believe that military assault-style weapons should be either banned or face stricter regulations.
Some criminologists say that mass murderers will use whatever weapons are at their disposal to carry out their horrific plans. If guns were not available, they would rig up homemade bombs, for example.
But criminologists also say that military style weaponry, readily available in the United States, provides a very efficient method for killers to inflict maximum damage in a short time.
Experts note that there are no easy solutions, but that stricter background checks could help keep automatic rifles and military-grade ammunition out of the hands of those with a history of violence or mental instability.
According to the Congressional Research service, there are around 300 million guns in the United States owned by non-military individuals.
To put that in a global perspective, the United States comprises around 5 percent of the world's population, but has 35 percent to 50 percent of the world's civilian-owned firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey. By far, the United States has the highest civilian gun ownership on the planet, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.
Some U.S. gun advocates also note that there are other countries, such as Switzerland, that have one of the world' s highest rates of gun ownership. But there is very little gun violence there.
According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, Switzerland is third worldwide in gun ownership, with 3.4 million guns in a country of around 8 million people. But both guns and ammunition are tightly regulated in Switzerland, much more so than in the United States.
by Matthew Rusling