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While mass shootings are horrible, focusing on them can be a distraction. They represent a tiny fraction of our gun violence.

Mass shootings and homicides: guns cause these deaths 

Once again, we're shocked at the carnage, and we get teary-eyed over the pictures of grief-stricken students. And we send our thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims.

That done, we'll get back to our lives until the next shooting.

Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, Rochester, Roseburg.... As President Obama said after last week's shooting, this has become routine. And as he said, sending our thoughts and prayers isn't enough.

And as he also said, this is a political issue. It has to be a political issue. It's not dishonoring the victims to bring their deaths into the realm of politics. We dishonor them if we don't.

But the more this horror goes on, the less we seem willing to deal with it. It's as if an alien force were abroad in the land, striking without provocation or reason.

We find "reasons," of course. It's bad people with illegal guns. It's people with mental illness with guns. It's not the guns themselves.

I don't know how long we can continue fooling ourselves. But we'll keep trying, and finding something else to blame, anything but guns.

If the early reports are accurate, the gunman in Roseburg seems to have had mental health problems. And so there'll be more calls for help for those with mental illness. Fine. We do need to provide more help for those with mental illness - more funding for research, more funding for treatment, more medical training, more public awareness and understanding.

But that's not enough. And focusing on mental illness is an easy, cruel distraction. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent.

As the president said, we're not the only country with people suffering from mental illness, but we're the only advanced country "that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months."

The reason is the availability of guns in the United States.

It's also an easy, cruel distraction to focus on "bad guys with illegal guns." Some of the most horrific mass shootings have been by people with guns bought legally. A high percentage of Rochester's murders are committed with stolen guns that were originally bought legally. Many others were with guns that came from Virginia, Georgia, and other states with lax gun sale restrictions.

And, by the way, while the mass shootings are horrible, focusing on those events can itself be a distraction. Because they represent a tiny fraction of the gun violence in this country: less than one-tenth of one percent between 1983 and 2013, says a March report by the New York State Bar Association.

More than 30,000 people die from gunshots every year, the Bar Association report notes. And, says the report: "More than twice that number are shot each year but do not die from their wounds - some 66,000 to 78,000 people annually."

In the face of all that, are Americans appalled? Only kinda. A large majority consistently have favored things like expanded background checks, according to the Pew Research Center. But asked whether it is more important to protect the rights of people to own guns than to control gun ownership, we're far more closely divided, with just 50 percent favoring controls.

Some states have weakened gun control. And gun-rights advocates have continued to push insanities like concealed carry and the arming of teachers.

There are lots of reasons for that, of course, the NRA's effectiveness being high on the list. I'm glad to see Obama pledging to stick with this issue. And I'll keep coming back to it in this column. But I can't imagine that we'll make much headway in this struggle until we change the culture of this violence-loving, increasingly angry society.

That culture is showing up in politics, in elected officials who favor military spending over education and health care, fist-shaking over diplomacy. It is showing up in the public enthusiasm for swaggering, braggarts as candidates.

And that, to me, is as scary as the mass shootings. It's all of a piece, yes?

This story appears in our print version with the headline "Guns cause these deaths."

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