How Many (White) People Have to Die Before America Gives a Damn About Its Gun Problem?

Mourners attend a candlelight vigil Oct. 2, 2017, at the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard in Las Vegas for the victims of Sunday night’s mass shooting. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

At the time of writing, the death toll from the Las Vegas terrorist attack stands at 58—a number that will undoubtedly rise as the day continues and may continue to rise for the following week(s). These people and several hundred others were allegedly shot by 64-year-old Stephen Paddock as he took position on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and fired thousands of rounds down on concertgoers during a Jason Aldean show.

Today, as well as in the coming days and weeks, the conversation will turn to the role that the availability of high-powered weapons has on America’s unique predilection for mass shootings. Just this afternoon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president’s primary propagandist and agent of misinformation, declared today to be too soon to talk gun control before pivoting, midbreath, to blow a Chicago dog whistle. There have been and will continue to be very passionate rebukes of Sanders and Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association and white maleness, and very smart people will offer possible solutions to this unsolvable problem.


And then, when another mass shooting happens next month or next year or tomorrow in Austin, Texas, or Youngstown, Ohio, or Durham, N.C., or Denver, the same thing will happen again. Nothing will change.

It’s with this context that I’m left to wonder exactly how many white people would have to die in a mass shooting before America’s collective will to stop this from happening again would surpass its zeal and yearning for guns. Which number would serve as the critical mass?

We know, after Sandy Hook, that the deaths of 20 young schoolchildren weren’t enough. And if the senseless murder of children affects us, I don’t know, 10 times as much as the murders of adults do, then we can extrapolate and presume that 200 people murdered in a mass shooting wouldn’t be enough, either.

Also, it’s no accident that the headline of this piece includes a qualifier for whiteness. It’s there because we know exactly how many black people would have to die in a mass shooting before America decided to give a shit about gun control. If there are roughly 40 million black people here, then roughly 40 million black people would have to die. Then, of course, the NRA’s need to be a source of white identification—and the aggressively white affinity to possess the ability to stockpile killing machines—would no longer exist. No need for night-lights if all the bogeymen are dead.

So anyway, what is the number? 250? 500? 600? 1,300? 2,200? 57,000? I guess we’ll see, eventually.

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About the author

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB and a columnist for His debut memoir in essays, What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins), is available for preorder.