It is understandable, but unfortunate, that so much of the current conversation about gun violence is focused on mass shootings. These events are very visible and gut-wrenching. But they're a small part of the larger problem. Many children die every year from gunshots. But very few of them are in school at the time. Twenty-six people died at Newtown. That's awful. But we have more than three Newtown body counts every day (31,000 gunshot deaths in 365 days equals about 85 per day).
Mass shootings comprise less than 1 percent of the body count. Focusing on those mass shootings lets us focus on elements such as mental illness and school security. While those are significant issues, focusing on them distracts us from a much more basic matter. That is the simple availability of guns, particularly handguns.
With an estimated 250 million to 300 million guns in private hands, guns are readily available in a wide variety of everyday situations: domestic disputes, depression, road rage, stress and countless others. And statistical evidence shows those situations are much more likely to lead to death if a gun is available.
Of course, someone can always point out an instance when someone was able to avoid being mugged or killed or robbed by having a gun available. Those things do happen. But public policy has to be based on the broader picture of common outcomes and reliable statistics. And there is a great body of research showing that the most significant element in gun deaths is the easy availability of guns.