(This post fleshes out this thread of mine from Twitter.)
On July 3rd, as Americans were in the middle of their Independence Day weekend celebrations*, there was a shooting at a mall in Copenhagen, Denmark. Three people were killed, many more injured, and the 22-year-old shooter was taken into custody. Of course, it’s likely you didn’t hear much about this shooting because of the even deadlier mass shooting that occurred on July 4th in Illinois.
For most Americans, if they heard about the Copenhagen mall shooting at all, it was possibly because they read about Harry Styles canceling his concert, which was supposed to take place that night near the mall.
It is possible, though, if you lurk in certain parts of the internet, that you’ve seen this shooting (and a similar shooting in Oslo, Norway a couple weeks ago) upheld as proof that gun control doesn’t work. The refrain (almost celebratory) is, “See, even in Denmark, the country with some of the strictest gun laws in the world, mass shootings still happen.”
So, I have to say something.
In the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas in May, the US government managed to pass some gun control(-related) laws. Most of us who want stricter gun control in the US, even those who celebrated their passage, will admit these regulations are insufficient. They’re a step in the right direction, but unlikely to do much to staunch the bleeding. Something is better than nothing, so I’m glad the law was signed by President Biden. But more is needed.
Let’s look at Denmark.
Two shootings in Copenhagen, Denmark
I’ve only been to Copenhagen once, on a long layover in 2016. I had 6 hours to walk the city, which is basically all I did. I did have lunch in a college/hipster-y part of town. As I ate at a high top table in the bar area, the bartender and I talked gun control.
The year before, Copenhagen had had one of the worst shootings in its modern history. A man killed 2 people and wounded 5 cops. The bartender (who spoke flawless English, naturally) explained that pretty much everyone in the country agreed on their gun laws. He said that people in Denmark didn’t understand the US’s obsession with guns (a sentiment I’ve heard often since then from people in other countries). For the Danes, a shooting happened and they were thankful they had strong gun control. They’d have accepted even stricter laws.
No, the laws didn’t stop the 2015 Copenhagen shooting, nor Sunday’s shooting (3 dead, more wounded). But it was 7+ years between 2015 and this shooting. This recent mall shooting is the worst Denmark has had since 2015. It’s absolutely a tragedy; one America has every few days (often not even making national news).
Gun control is not an impenetrable wall, but it is a wall. It works to lessen a flood. Many on the Right (and dishearteningly on the Left these days too) will point to this Copenhagen shooting as proof that gun control doesn’t work. But two shootings in seven years proves it does.
These skeptics will say America’s much larger population explains the disparity, but the stats show differently: 12 in every 100,000 Americans are killed by guns, compared to 1 in every 100,000 Danes. Looking at the European Union broadly, it’s not even close. (You can check for yourself.) Guns don’t kill people. People with easy access to and a bizarre fetishization of guns kill people.
The Law of the Land
So much of the opposition to any kind of gun control is predicated on this utterly ridiculous standard that if a single law can’t stop every shooting, it’s pointless. This is the base argument of every gun nut who opposes gun control, and it is, plainly, stupid. Seatbelt laws don’t stop every crash or every car death, but statistics clearly show they have saved lives. That’s the whole point.
The purpose of gun laws – the purpose of any law – is not to make the world perfect but to broadly improve the outcomes of the citizens of the world. This tragedy in Copenhagen isn’t lessened because Denmark has gun control laws (though perhaps it was less severe than it otherwise would have been; we can’t know). But there are certainly less tragedies in Denmark like it because of them.
When is America going to figure that out? How many children need to die – or live in constant fear – in their classrooms before the US takes substantive action? How many regular people going about their lives have to be slaughtered before we stop giving credence to the death cult known as the NRA? I’m not a policy expert. I don’t know what mix of gun laws, mental health policies, and social programs will have the biggest impact. But almost any laws would be better than the status quo. Again, the most recent law, while welcome, isn’t enough.
(Maybe we could start by banning the AR-15? And, yes, I know that the AR stands for ArmaLite rife. I’ve even fired one.)
Sadly, as with so many other issues lately, I’m afraid there is no number of deaths and tragedies that can get America to act like a sane nation. It feels, increasingly, like a nation on the brink.
There is no quick fix for those who have been directly affected by a mass shooting, whether in Copenhagen or the US. But, perhaps, with time, there will be a general sense of peace for Danes knowing such a tragedy is blessedly uncommon. Will America ever know that peace?
*I wrote most of this post on the morning of the 4th before the mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb. With at least 6 dead, it was a grim reminder that even when other countries have the rare mass shooting, there will always be one in America soon after to overshadow it. America’s gun culture is unsustainable.