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What surveys say about guns in the US

Gun violence was a key concern for Americans in 2015, reported The New York Times. In fact, for much of the year, people were constantly confronted with a terrifying piece of data: There were going to be more mass shootings than calendar days in 2015. This did not come to pass but, according to many media outlets, it was close. The year-end tally was 355, reported The Washington Post.  

According to Mother Jones, this is a misleading exaggeration. The news site, which maintains a database of every mass shooting since 1982, reported that a total of four occurred in 2015. This discrepancy is due to the fact that each publication defines the phrase differently. The editors at Mother Jones use the FBI's official crime classification policy which defines mass murderers as individuals who kill four or more people in a single location. Commonly referenced gun-violence tracking sites like Shootingtracker.com tabulate shooting events in which four or more individuals are killed by gunfire, reported The Washington Post. The location stipulation is important here. 

For instance, Mother Jones does not consider the 2002 sniper attacks in Washington D.C. a mass shooting event, as the assailants committed multiple attacks in various locations over the course of three weeks.    

No matter the definition or the death toll, most people realize gun violence is an important issue facing the country. According to a Washington Post-ABC News survey, 82 percent of Americans say it's a serious problem.

Disturbing reminders
According to FiveThirtyEight, the phrase 'mass shooting' only recently entered the American lexicon. Newspapers began printing it with regularity during the early 90s, as acts of domestic and international terrorism rose in number. Sadly, it has become an all-too-common expression. Today, those words are everywhere - etched in black on front pages, sprawled across televised news tickers and stamped into the minds of all Americans, young and old.

Last year, printed newspapers and wire services used the phrase almost 18,000 times. On Dec. 3, one day after the shootings in San Bernardino, California, it was used 804 times.

Answering the call
Politicians and government officials on both sides of the aisle reacted to the public outcry surrounding gun violence.

President Barack Obama called for stricter gun regulations and, after months of careful consideration, issued an executive order that addressed a number of systematic weaknesses within current federal laws, including what many call the "gun-show loophole," reported CNN. Obama tearfully announced the new restrictions during a press conference on Jan. 8.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 50 percent of Americans most likely welcomed the president's new regulations. 

Meanwhile, Democrats in the U.S. Congress are trying to hold the firearm industry accountable for the recent spike in mass shootings. According to The New York Times, Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, have drafted legislation that would repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a Republican-sponsored bill that granted gun manufacturers immunity in criminal cases involving firearms.

Often times, gun sales shoot up in the wake of mass shooting events. For instance, Smith & Wesson's share price went up 6.5 percent in the days after the San Bernardino attack, reported NBC News. A similar surge occurred in 2012 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that resulted in the deaths of six adults and 20 children.

Additionally, gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson have saturated the market with a specific style of weapon often seen in the hands of mass shooters: the AR-15. Stock versions of these semi-automatic, military-style long guns can fire up to 45 rounds per minute, reported Slate. The rifle is known for its modular design and can be easily - and legally - modified to fire faster. Both of the San Bernardino shooters customized their Smith & Wesson AR-15 variants to hold more rounds and fire at a quicker clip. There are eight to nine million of these guns circulating the U.S., reported USA Today.      

Democrats like Schiff and Blumenthal find these connections disturbing and, as a result, have turned their full attention to the gun industry.

Republican politicians largely disagree with this tactic, reported The New York Times. Instead, they encourage constituents to carry firearms and obtain concealed-carry weapons permits. According to a recent Gallup poll, 56 percent of Americans believe concealed-carry permits would make the country safer. Of course, roadblocks lie in the path of Republican-leaning self-defense proponents - namely, gun-free zones.

The federal government has made it illegal for individuals to carry guns inside the bounds of these invisible swaths of territory, many of which encompass school campuses. Of course, this makes them popular targets for mass shooters. For the past few years, conservative politicians have fought to eliminate gun-free zones which were established as part of the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump blasted them during a campaign rally earlier this month, reported The Washington Post. 

Others within the party believe improving nationwide mental health care is the key, reported The Huffington Post.

So far, politicians from both parties have failed to find a workable solution to America's mass shooting problem. And, as long as party leaders flounder, that phrase will maintain its place within the national vocabulary.

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