“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”-The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics”- Mark Twain
Every time the subject of gun control rears its ugly head, numbers come into play. The problem is, those who wish to frame the conversation in a certain way will invariably cherry pick which numbers they choose to highlight. I am going to break these numbers down for you in an honest fashion.
The first number that will always get thrown out there is “gun deaths”. In 2017, there were 39,773 “gun deaths” in the US. That sounds like a lot. There are a couple of things wrong with this number when taken alone. First and foremost, it doesn’t consider the population of the US. When total population is taken into consideration, firearms deaths account for less than 12 deaths per 100,000 population. So, adjusted for population, the US is actually on the low end of most countries in the Western Hemisphere.
But, let’s look at those 39,773 “gun deaths” a little closer. Out of that number, 22,938 were suicides (From the CDC website). According to the world health organization, the United States ranks 34th in suicide, and many of the countries that are higher on the list have draconian gun laws. Hanging, poison, drowning, and jumping from height are some of the more popular methods of suicide in countries where access to firearms is limited. This illustrates that access to firearms does not necessary impact rates of suicides. Therefore, it is intellectually dishonest to include the 22,938 in those numbers. So, now we are down to 16,835 firearms deaths, those that would be termed “homicides”.
Side note: If I really wanted to be as intellectually dishonest and deceptive as the opposition, I could point out that firearms only account for 6% of attempted suicides in the US, and overdose/poison represents 71%. The reason that would be dishonest in the terms of debate, even though it is accurate, is because firearms account for 54% of successful suicide attempts in the US. (Data from the CDC)
Back to firearms homicides.
At this point, it is important that we define the term “Homicide”. Contrary to popular belief, “Homicide” is not synonymous with murder. “Homicide” means the death of one human being at the hands of another. If a woman kills her attempted rapist in self-defense, this is technically a homicide (A justifiable homicide by the legal definition), as is the death of a violent criminal at the hands of a police officer protecting the public.
So, out of 16,835 firearm “Homicides”, how many are “Murders”? According to the Department of Justice, police officers shot and killed 987 suspects in 2017. Now, I know that certain people will question how many of those shootings were “justified”. According to CNN, about three police shootings a year end up being determined as unjustified and with the police officer being charged (Important note: that doesn’t necessarily mean that those three individuals weren’t criminals who deserved to die, it just means that some district attorney has made a case to charge the officer). So, for the purposes of statistics we will say that 984 criminals were justly and deservedly shot and killed by law enforcement in 2017. So, the number of firearms homicides that could possibly be considered murder now stands at 15,851.
Now, the question is, how many of those 15,851 firearms homicides were actually the perpetrators of violent crimes justifiably killed in self-defense by their intended victims? Although I could not find the data from 2017, I was able to find the FBI data from 2012 to 2016. If we assume that 2017 was an average year, then the number would be 249. Let’s say it was below average and call it 240. Now, the number is down to 15,611. I could also subtract accidental firearms deaths, but I won’t as I consider irresponsible firearm use to be criminal.
So, the number of people murdered by firearms in the US in 2017 is 15,611. A far cry from the 39,773 number that anti-gun groups will throw out as click bait.
Another important note: Multiple small-scale studies in major cities have determined that between 60%-90% of “Murder victims” have a documented history of violent crime. That also corresponds to the number of murders that are typically attributed to “Gang violence” or bad guys killing other bad guys. Since I cannot find reliable data to really pin down the numbers on a national level, I am going to give this aspect a pass. For now, let’s just say that the number one risk factor for being a “victim” of firearm homicide is being a violent criminal. Period. So, although we know that the majority were not handing out bibles or delivering meals on wheels, the number will stand at 15,611 people murdered, although we cannot say that is the number of “innocent” people murdered. The number or “innocent” people murdered is probably half of that, if not less.
But Doc, that is still a lot of people! Yes, it is, and I would like to see that number a lot lower. And I will concede the point that firearms are the murder method of choice 72.5% of the time according to the FBI. But, as America leads the world in per-capita guns by an extremely wide margin, you would think that we would also lead in murders, but that is not the case. According to the World Bank, the US ranks 34thglobally in murders per capita (Same rank as suicides). So, no direct correlation with the number of guns and the murder rate. The lesson here, is that bad people will find a way to do bad things, even in the absence of available firearms.
More food for thought: Australia is often held up as a model for gun control, and certainly their murder rate has steadily dropped (It was not that high before gun control and was dropping). However, violent crime against women (Those who would benefit most from the protection of a personally owned firearm) has risen sharply over the last five years according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Speaking of statistics, how does that 15,611 number stack up against other preventable causes of death?
Motor vehicle accidents, 2017: 37,133 (10,874 by drunk drivers)
Drug overdoses, 2017: 70,200
Non-smokers killed annually by second hand smoke: 41,280
Smokers killed by smoking annually: 439,000
Killed by complications of alcoholism annually: 88,000
Killed by complications of obesity annually: 300,000
Killed by medical errors annually: 250,000
I submit to you, that statistics alone (especially crime statistics) do a very poor job of illustrating the issue. In fact, crime statistics are a red herring. More on that topic in my next blog. For now, when you debate this issue, be quick to correct someone who throws out “Guns kill almost 40 thousand people a year” with the actual number of 15,611 which is less than half of that number. And, feel free to point out that the majority of those killed could just as easily have been the perpetrator instead of the victim had they been a little quicker on the draw.