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Mention guns and mass shootings, and people around the global immediately think of the United States. Even President Joe Biden calls mass shootings “a national embarrassment.” But Biden’s double-negative defense — “I’ve never not prioritized this” — isn’t quite the same as making it his top priority.
Biden’s recent executive actions, including commissioning a new report on gun trafficking and model laws that states could adopt to reduce gun risks, are relatively limp by global standards. Set them in the context of America’s daily onslaught of civilian mass shootings — there’s been 55 separate incidents in the five weeks since the Atlanta spa massacre — and Biden’s actions are clearly not going to move the needle.
But I wondered: are American-style massacres unique (and if so, why)? Or do we just hear more about them because of America’s transparency and media culture? And where does American police violence sit in that wider context?
GUNS ARE EVERYWHERE, BUT MASS SHOOTINGS ARE NOT
The first modern American mass shooting occurred in 1949, with 13 killed in Camden, New Jersey. While guns exist in all countries, including many with deep inequalities, social problems or civil wars — none of them experiences mass civilian shootings with a similar frequency to the U.S.
Among America’s democratic peers, a major massacre (or string of them) sometimes leads to fundamental change. In Canada’s case, further restrictions have eluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau despite big majorities backing tougher gun controls in light of a 2020 shooting spree that killed 22 in Nova Scotia
Three countries that have recently succeeded at gun reform all share something in common: a prime minister acting as the reform champion: center-left Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, centrist Tony Blair in U.K., and center-right John Howard in Australia.
The pattern suggests Biden’s involvement is a precondition of any American change.
IT’S THE LEADERSHIP, STUPID
New Zealand’s parliament reacted within days of 51 people being gunned down at a mosque in 2019: banning semi-automatic weapons and tightening license conditions; the government also looked beyond guns to other online causes of violence, via the Christchurch Call for action.
Australia’s prompt was the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, just weeks after Howard’s election. Howard was stunned by the rampage in isolated Tasmania, bucking his party and taking his case to crowds of gun owners to urge them to support a government gun buyback and amnesty for turning over illegal firearms.
In Britain, 16 children were killed at school in Dunblane, Scotland, leading Blair to use a landslide election win the following year to push through a near total ban on private handgun ownership. In other words: Britain did what America wouldn’t after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, with the advantage of having no state governments to deal with.
AMERICAN POLICE ARE RELATIVELY DEADLY, BUT SO IS AMERICA
American police are outliers, but not extreme outliers.
In Japan, the cops killed nobody in 2020, while British police killed just three in 2019. In the U.S., the average is three people per day since 2015, according to research group Mapping Police Violence. Even so, that doesn’t even put the U.S. in the global top ten deadliest police forces, despite law enforcement dealing with the most armed population in the world.
In Venezuela, you’re around 60 times more likely to be killed by the police or military than in the U.S., while the Philippines is 15 times deadlier. In Brazil, you’re eight times more likely to be killed by police than in the U.S, while in South Africa the risk is double that in the U.S.
It’s also dangerous to generalize too much: while more than 2,500 American police departments have shot and killed someone since 2015, that’s still only one in seven departments.
WHAT MAKES AMERICA’S COPS DIFFERENT?
America’s law enforcement is heavily fragmented among 18,000 law enforcement authorities, compared to, say, just a single national police force in France. Other countries are joining forces to change policing: European countries are supported by an EU Agency for Law Enforcement Training, while Australia and New Zealand have started to share a police professionalism agency. U.S. controls are going in the other direction: Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended the Justice Department’s oversight of local police departments in 2017.
Other factors that make the U.S. an outlier include:
— The sheer numbers of guns and easy access to them: America’s civilian gun ownership is double that of the next group of countries, partly because the constitution protects gun use.
— Increasingly destructive guns: Weapons today are more powerful and shoot faster, but U.S. gun laws do not reflect that reality.
— Police impunity: Only around 1 percent of officers who kill civilians are charged with manslaughter or murder. The odds are that use of deadly force will go unpunished.
— Limitless gun lobbying: There is no comparable organization to the National Rifle Association in other countries, with its $363 million in annual revenue in 2019.
— Police training: Training has not changed fundamentally in 25 years, according to the Police Executive Research Forum. And even that training can fail badly: a problem highlighted in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis, which hears closing arguments today.
Australian police also operate with impunity, to racist effects: This week marks the 30-year anniversary of a four-year-long court inquiry into Aboriginal deaths in police custody. The problem is worse today than 30 years ago. Five deaths in the past month alone, and an average of 15 per year, sit along Indigenous Australians being imprisoned “at a rate 19 times that of the non-indigenous population,” said Shane Rattenbury, attorney general in the national capital, Canberra.
JOIN GLOBAL TRANSLATIONS THIS WEEK AT COLLISION CONFERENCE. Ryan interviews Dominion Voting Systems CEO John Poulos Tuesday, about the future of voting and his multi-billion dollar lawsuits against leading Republicans and Fox News.
👏 A BIG THANKS TO HALLEY TOOSI FOR TAKING THE REINS LAST WEEK
GLOBAL RISKS AND TRENDS
TECH — HUAWEI EAVESDROPPING CAPACITY REVEALED: Huawei’s ability to intercept communications extended across the entire network of the biggest Dutch telecoms provider, all the way to the Dutch Prime Minister’s cell phone, according to an internal KPN report leaked to de Volkskrant.
TECH — STILL WAITING FOR 5G? NEVER MIND, 6G IS ON THE WAY! The U.S. and Japanese governments have committed $6 billion in cooperative development of 5G and 6G networks. China’s state-backed Global Times newspaper called the investments “doomed to fail”. China has already started 6G research, including via a satellite and a research center in Canada, Japan Times reported.
GEOPOLITICS — EUROPE COMMITS TO NAVY PRESENCE IN INDO-PACIFIC: The idea is sound given China’s actions in the region, and it’s music to the Biden administration’s ears. The real question: what does it mean for the EU — full of small and landlocked countries — to commit to a naval presence throughout Asia? France is the only EU member with the capacity and will to live up to that commitment.
CORRUPTION — DIRTY MONEY’S GLOBAL DESTRUCTIVE TRAIL: Alleged money laundering by Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky created a trail of bankrupt factories, unpaid taxes, unsafe workplaces and ultimately mass unemployment, with ordinary American workers used as a front for getting dirty money into the U.S., prosecutors say. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the sordid details — affirmation of the Biden administration’s efforts to crack down on money laundering.
GREEN AND GERMAN — WILL A 40-YEAR-OLD REPLACE MERKEL? Stranger things have happened: German Greens proposed Annalena Baerbock. She’s just four points behind Merke’s conservative coalition in polls. “I stand for renewal. Others represent the status quo,” she told reporters.
CLIMATE — GAS ASSETS AT RISK: Up to $100 billion of gas investments are at risk of turning from assets to liabilities as governments around the world seek to reduce fossil fuels in their energy mix, according to Bloomberg calculations. President Joe Biden may pile on further pressure via a draft executive order titled “Climate-Related Financial Risk,” obtained by POLITICO. The moves that could impose new regulations on banking and insurance, oil and gas, housing, agriculture businesses, and on federal contracting, purchasing and lending.
European clean energy companies are sitting pretty among these upheavals: eight of the top 10 globally are based in the continent.
BIDEN MEETS WORLD
US IS GARNERING WORDS BUT NO DEEDS, AHEAD OF CLIMATE SUMMIT: Leaders from around the world aren’t taking John Kerry’s bait: they’re offering warm words and no concrete commitments ahead of Joe Biden’s climate summit Thursday. India says it’s not responsible for getting the world its current climate tipping point. Australia says there’s no point in a mid-size power like themselves making the first sacrifice: it will be meaningless until the U.S. and China commit together, first. Reminder: Global Translations called it first on Jan. 20.
What would be the game changer? U.S. Congress agreeing to a Biden proposal to achieve a 50 percent or greater reduction in emissions by 2030 (against 1990 levels) — that’s what the U.N. says is needed to get to Biden’s long-term term goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
When no progress generates relative relief: A U.S.-China Joint Statement over the weekend did not include any specific new climate actions, yet it calmed activist nerves: they had been worried that climate action would fall victim to frosty Sino-American relations.
BIDEN AND RUSSIA — WHAT IS NAVALNY WORTH? Jailed and hunger-striking Putin critic Alexei Navalny could die at any minute, according to his doctors. President Biden and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warn of consequences for Russia if Navalny dies.
Biden ditches controversial Russia expert: Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, won’t be joining the National Security Council as Russia director.
GETTING INTO BIDEN’S MIND: Like Biden, former California Governor Jerry Brown returned to high office at a late age — offering clues to Biden’s trajectory from determined moderate to occasional radical, as he hits what is both his political peak and twilight. The president also asks himself: what would his son Beau say or do?
INCLUSIVE RECOVERY SPOTLIGHT
TAX HIKES FOR HIGH-INCOME AMERICANS TAKE SHAPE: There’s no such thing as a free inclusive recovery. Biden remains committed to keeping taxes stable for households earning less than $400,000 — but that affects a lot more of the Democrat donor class and voting base in New York and California, than it does in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
QUOTABLE: Scott Galloway frames China’s rise in terms of its relative middle class. “In the past 20 years, the key feature of China’s rise to superpower has been adding several hundred million people to its middle class. But for the past 50 years in America, we have decided to transfer wealth from the middle class to the shareholder class.… That creates all sorts of externalities.”
MARS — NASA HELICOPTER MAKES FIRST FLIGHT ON ANOTHER PLANET
RELIGION — POLITICIANS SEEKING TO INFLUENCE CHOICE OF NEXT DALAI LAMA
TEAM POMPEO — PUTTING STATE AT THEIR PERSONAL SERVICE: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules governing the use of taxpayer-funded resources when he and his wife, Susan Pompeo, asked State Department employees to carry out tasks for their personal benefit more than 100 times. POLITICO’S Nahal Toosi obtained a copy of the government report on the Pompeos.
MILKEN CONFERENCE COMMITS TO IN-PERSON GATHERING: The Milken Institute Global Conference will take place this fall from October 17-20 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.
Thanks to editor Ben Pauker, Nahal Toosi, Stuart Lau and Mark Scott