The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The latest shooting attacks show how the U.S. stands apart from the world

On Wednesday, police remove crime scene tape in front of the building where a gunman killed two people and injured four at UNC Charlotte. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

“HE JUST started shooting during our final presentations and we all ran out. We were just doing presentations and someone started shooting up the room. . . . Why here? Why today? Why UNC Charlotte? Why my classroom? What did we do?” That was the frantic tweet of a student at the scene of Tuesday’s mass shooting in North Carolina, in which two students — 19-year-old Ellis Parlier and 21-year-old Riley Howell — were killed.

Three days earlier, in a synagogue near San Diego, a 60-year-old woman — Lori Gilbert Kaye — was killed by a gunman armed with an assault weapon who authorities say was motivated by anti-Semitic hate. Saturday’s shooting at Chabad of Poway, in which the rabbi and two other people, including a young girl, were injured, came exactly six months after 11 people were killed in another hate-inspired mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

So far this year — that’s some 120 days — there have been more than 100 other mass shootings, more than 4,500 gun deaths (not counting suicides) and more than 8,400 gun injuries. And so there is no question that is more pertinent than the one asked by that terrified UNC Charlotte student: “Why?”

American journalist Austin Tice is missing in Syria. It's time to bring him home. (Video: Kate Woodsome, Joshua Carroll, Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

We, of course, know the answer: There are too many guns. Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. Access to firearms — even weapons made for war such as the one wielded by the sociopath who fired on the California worshipers celebrating Passover — is pretty much unfettered.

That the United States stands apart from much of the world in its acceptance of gun violence was underscored by the striking personal experiences of an Australian physician. Nikki Stamp, a heart and lung surgeon in Perth, Australia, said in a Wednesday Post op-ed that in more than 16 years of practice, she has had to deal with only two instances of gunshot wounds. One was a man who had accidentally shot himself and the other an attempted suicide. Contrast that with doctors in the United States, who, in response to being told by the National Rifle Association to “stay in their own lane” in the gun policy debate, took to Twitter with stories of treating gunshot victims on a daily — even hourly — basis.

Australia’s lack of gun violence — why Dr. Stamp has the luxury of viewing gunshots as an oddity — is, in large part, because of the gun-control measures the country put in place after a mass shooting in 1996, in which 35 people were killed. It may not be possible to completely replicate Australia’s success, but why there has been no effort even to try is a question that puts national lawmakers to shame.

Read more:

Nikki Stamp: I’ve been a surgeon in Australia for 16 years. I’ve seen only two gunshot wounds.

Max Boot: After another synagogue shooting, we need better laws to fight domestic terrorists

The Post’s View: It’s time to follow doctors’ orders on gun violence

Kip Banks Sr.: A young man was killed right outside my D.C. church. I’ve had enough.

The Post’s View: It took New Zealand 26 days to act on gun control. Congress has been stalling for years.