Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Daily Kos Tracks Shootings on "Gun Appreciation Day" but Misses Big Picture

A recent Daily Kos article, "Gun Appreciation Day shootings," tracked 103 shooting incidents that happened during "Gun Appreciation Day" including 38 fatalities. The article is meant to promote much more stringent gun laws, including a federal assault weapons ban.

What's missing from the article is the big picture view.  Using United States Census Bureau data from 2007 as a guide (the most-recent data I found that shows all deaths), the Daily Kos article significantly UNDER-estimates the total number of gun incidents and lacks any sort of perspective.

Let's assume that the U.S. Census Bureau data from 2007 remotely approximates this year's data.  If it does, then ...

  • There will be approximately 31,224 deaths this year related to firearms, or about 86 firearm-related deaths per day.  
  • Of those 86 firearm-related deaths per day ...
    • 35 firearm-related deaths will be from homicide
    • 48 firearm-related deaths will be self-inflicted injuries, i.e. suicide
    • 2 firearm-related deaths will be from accidents
    • 1 firearm-related death will be from unknown causes
Without perspective, 86 deaths per day sounds like an absolute bloodbath, right?  But let's look at the data more closely.  On that same day, we could expect ...
  • 144 deaths from influenza and pneumonia (ban handshaking!)
  • 120 deaths from motor vehicle accidents (ban gasoline!)
  • 105 deaths from drug-induced causes (ban drugs!)
  • 61 deaths from falls (ban gravity!)
  • 39 deaths from alcoholic liver disease (ban alcohol!oh wait, we already tried that)
  • 30 deaths from AIDS (pass a federal mandate requiring condom use)
  • 3,315 deaths from 100% legal abortion (er, well, let's not do anything about thisforget I mentioned it)

No doubt, we can and should work to sanely reduce both accidental shootings and violent crime caused by firearms.  However, we can do so without punishing law-abiding, responsible citizens and without violating their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.  To avoid risk entirely, perhaps we should pass a federal mandate that we all remain in bed, which would enjoy wide popular support on Monday mornings.

Do gun laws work?  According to United States Department of Justice data, some gun laws apparently do work while others have marginal value.  As shown in the following chart, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act seems to have had a positive effect by reducing homicide deaths from handguns.  The effect of the federal assault weapons ban is less clear, which spanned from 1994 until 2004.

The homicide data for "assault weapons" is lumped into the Other Gun category, which also includes rifles and shotguns, but not handguns.  Looking at the data in isolation, it appears that the federal assault weapons ban possibly had an effect.  Homicides from "Other Guns" dropped during the ban.  However, note the downward trend in homicides from Other Guns before the ban.

Now, let's look at the data with surrounding information.  The following chart shows the same Other Guns data but also includes homicides from Knives and Other Weapons for comparison, neither of which were federally regulated.  Like Other Guns, homicides from Knives and Other Weapons decreased before the federal assault banand continued to drop.

In full disclosure, my life has been affected by guns and gun violence.  A co-worker and friend, Tom Waugh, was shot and killed in Boston while on a business trip.  Boston had among the most stringent gun laws in the country at the time, although the Brady Bill hadn't been passed.  Yet, despite the stringent gun laws, Tom was killed by a 16-year-old boy using an already-illegal, concealed pistol.  My cousin took his own life with a pistol.  If it weren't a pistol, I'm sure that he'd have figured out another way.  Yet another friend supposedly died when "the pistol he was cleaning accidentally misfired" into his chest.  Those that knew him also know that he was too smart to allow this to happen and we suspect it was a suicide.  In none of these cases do I find the gun at fault.  Again, I support sane and prudent firearm regulation.  But let's not go crazy and let's not deceive ourselves that laws alone will curb violent crime.

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