In early October 2015, after Chris Harper-Mercer shot and killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, then-presidential candidate Ben Carson, a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, was asked if he would visit the crime scene to meet with victims and the community. He replied, ‘I mean, I would probably have so many things on my agenda that I would go to the next one.’ The comment aroused outrage and ridicule, but in the United States, it was perfectly reasonable: if you take the phrase ‘mass shooting’ at face value, he could have waited until the next day, when four people were shot, one fatally, at a strip mall in Baltimore. For most Americans, though, a real mass shooting involves the murder of multiple strangers in sufficient numbers to make the national news. For that, he would have had to wait until 2 December, when fourteen people were killed and twenty-two injured at a county services building in San Bernardino, California.
Mass shooting is the flashiest form of American gun violence, but it is far from the most common. Paul Auster makes this clear early on in Bloodbath Nation, a new essay on gun violence, reminding readers that more than half of gun deaths are suicides and most murders are