Last weekend, the US experienced two mass shootings in less than 24 hours – the first in El Paso, Texas, and the second in Dayton, Ohio. This puts 2019's mass shooting tally anywhere between 17 and 290+, depending on your definition. At least, 62 people have been killed as a result, Time reports.
The double-tragedy has put the issue of gun control back on the agenda – and in particular, regulations around assault weapons, like those used by the shooters.
"If you’re on here arguing the definition of 'assault weapon' today you are part of the problem. You know what an assault weapon is, and you know you don’t need one," musician Jason Isbell tweeted.
But the thread soon took a strange turn, one that involves feral hogs. A Twitter user responding to Isbell's tweet (seriously or not, who knows?) asked the question "How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?"
It's a curiously specific scenario and we don't want to imagine what sort of dystopic nightmare McNabb is living in (or imagines) that requires him to whip out an assault weapon and shoot a sudden stampede of angry hogs in front of his two young children on the regular, especially when there are fences you can buy that are specifically designed to keep wild pigs at bay – and neither does most of Twitter.
But this is not to say that wild pigs aren't a menace. The USDA considers them "a dangerous, destructive, invasive species" that costs the US an estimated $1.5 billion in damages every year. There may be as many as 6 million individual hogs in the US, roaming solo or in groups (called sounders) in 35+ states including but not limited to Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. Sounders are usually made up of 2 to 20 sows and piglets but can be as large as 50, Smithsonian reports.
Still, despite their pervasiveness, wild pig attacks are extremely uncommon. Feral hogs are more likely to run than they are to fight and in cases of the latter, it is usually during a hunting event. Fatalities from wild pig attacks are even rarer. According to a 2013 study, there have been only four fatal wild pig attacks reported in the US.
In contrast, one study found that more than 36,000 people die from firearm-related injuries every year, many of which are suicides. If you were to add up the number of US soldiers who have died fighting in US wars (from the Revolutionary War to Iraq), it would be lower than the number of civilians who have died from guns in the last 50 years alone, The Washington Post reports.
Studies have found a strong positive correlation between rates of gun ownership and gun-related deaths. A Small Arms Survey in 2018 calculated 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents – that's the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. Yemen, who comes second, have 52.8 per 100 residents.
When it comes to assault weapons, a review of mass shootings between 2009 and 2015 found incidents involving assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines led to 155 percent more people being shot and 47 percent more people being killed.
As for feral hogs, there are safer and more effective methods to manage the invasive species than an assault weapon, including non-lethal methods such as exclusion devices (like fences) and guard animals (like dogs). Shooting may be used as a method of control, says the USDA, in the context of recreational hunting or a professionally led program. Trapping "is the most popular method for removing wild pigs from a population."
If you do happen to encounter a feral hog, the National Parks Board recommends remaining calm, keeping a safe distance, and not provoking the animal.