Is There a Gun Violence Tipping Point? No––History Shows It’s a “Tripping Point”

by Elliot Fineman



July 23, 2017


After every horrific mass shooting, Gun Violence Prevention Groups (GVPGs) and the general public express hopes that we have finally reached a “tipping point.” A point where gun violence has became so epidemic––so prevalent, so deadly, so over-the-top––that lawmakers will have to act. Certainly many thought after the shooting of Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords in 2011, lawmakers would act since one of their own was shot.




Giffords and 18 others were shot and six died during a constituent meeting at a Tucson supermarket parking lot by a legal gun owner, who was conceal and carrying because of Arizona laws. A month before the massacre, he passed a background check which allowed him to buy the 9-mm Glock 19 semiautomatic handgun used in the shootings. Being suspended by Pima Community College for mental illness and denied admission into the Army did not prevent him passing his background check.


The public, already shaken by the violent attack on lawmakers, was then sent reeling the next year––first by the Sandy Hook massacre and then the Aurora movie theater massacre. Neither were the “tipping points” the public expected and wanted.


On the contrary, history shows that what is expected to be a tipping point is actually a tripping point. Mass shootings make federal lawmakers more hostile to gun safety laws.


Consider this: After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, both Senators in 17 states voted against Universal Background Checks (UBCs)–a background check for every gun sold. After the San Bernardino shooting in 2015, that number jumped to both Senators in 19 states voting against UBCs. And after the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting–the deadliest shooting in U.S. history? The number jumped to both Senators in 23 states voted against UBCs––a 35 percent increase since Sandy Hook.


Even after the shooting at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity a tipping point was not reached. Just the opposite occurred. The Congressional response was to pursue loosening the gun laws––allowing more people to carry in more places for self-defense. Despite the anecdotal claims and bellowing of the gun lobby and gun extremists, it has been proven over and over by rigorous studies that carrying a gun does not provide self-defense. If it did, no police officers would ever get killed. The element of surprise always defeats the gun carrier.



There are two things common to every mass shooting. First, the killer is almost always a legal gun owner who passed their background check despite clear signs of violent behavior or mental illness. And second, despite the horrific violence and the overwhelming desire of the public for gun safety laws, it is a certainty that the Congressional response will be to loosen gun laws. In gun “Wonderland” the tipping point always becomes a tripping point.