Prejudice is a great time-saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts. —E. B. White
Making clear decisions is difficult at times. When emotion and tradition say one thing but facts and raw numbers go a different direction, finding a point of reconciliation between the two seems impossible.
I’m not sure there is any issue that illustrates this fact than does the debate across the United States over guns and whether there should be any level of governmental control. I have plenty of liberal friends who are fine with the concept of no one having guns at all, including police. I have a sufficient number of conservative friends for whom even mentioning the words “gun control” borders on infringing the Second Amendment.
Philosophies on both sides are well known and I’m not going to embrace either one because both are severely flawed. The point of today’s article is not to take a side on any portion of the gun debate. Rather, to look at the numbers, the one set of indisputable facts, and see what they tell us.
The numbers related to gun deaths I’m looking at were compiled the website FiveThirtyEight. Their research was exhaustive and goes much deeper than I have time to regurgitate here. If the issue is a strong one for you, I strongly encourage you to read their article and follow the links.
I know sorting through raw numbers can be challenging. Drawing correlations and finding trends and patterns takes a lot of time. Sometimes one’s attitude gets in the way of finding the facts. So, before we drill down too deep, let’s take a look at some of the major talking points to come out of the FiveThirtyEight research.
- There are more than 33,000 annual gun deaths in America
- Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides
- More than 85 percent of suicide victims are male …
- More than half of all suicides are men age 45 or older.
- Another third of all gun deaths — about 12,000 in total each year — are homicides
- More than half of homicide victims are young men …
- … Two-thirds of whom are black.
- Women are far less likely to be gun homicide victims — about 1,700 of them are killed each year, many in domestic violence incidents.
- The remaining gun deaths are accidents or are classified as undetermined.
There are many different ways to die, but for these numbers the one thing they have in common, often the only thing they have in common, is a gun. The actual reasons for the violence vary tremendously. Gun violence is not a single point issue. We must get past the idea that there is a single solution that solves all gun deaths. The problems are much, much deeper.
Most Likely To Die
Let’s start with the top level number and move down from there.
There were 33,599 gun deaths in the year 2014
- 28,783 gun deaths are males
- 4,816 gun deaths are female
The picture there is pretty stark: men are more likely to die from gun violence than women. The difference is extreme. But while that looks as though we have a problem with men running around shooting each other, the reality is quite different.
The leading cause of death among men, especially those 45 or older, is suicide. We touched briefly on this topic earlier this year when new suicide statistics were released. However, when we look at the numbers in relationship to gun violence. The facts don’t point to open carry laws or assault rifles as being the primary problem. Instead, mental health and economic issues are where we need to focus our attention if we want to bring down the largest set of numbers.
And there’s the problem. We’re more than happy to yell and scream about guns, but you don’t see many people protesting over access to mental health care or the death rate due to poverty. Those are facts we’d rather ignore. They make us uncomfortable.
Killing Each Other
Interestingly enough, this is one area where the numbers are going down and have been for nearly 20 years. Attributing the decline to any one cause, such as gun laws or better policing, is coming at the problem with skewed vision. If we want to find all the solutions, we have to look deeper.
11,726 gun deaths are homicides. 9,935 are male, 1,791 are female. Those numbers include every form of homicide: during the commission of a robbery, domestic disputes, arguments between “friends,” drug-related crime, “honor” killings, gang-related hits, police-involved shootings. There are even more causes if one wants to drill down further. Each cause represents a unique problem. Each problem must be addressed individually. Just because they all have guns in common doesn’t mean that addressing the gun issue solves the problem.
Oh, and look at this: Only 3,049 homicides are white. 6,503 are black, 1,878 are Hispanic, 186 are Asian, and 109 are native American. That’s victim count, mind you. Blacks are being killed at twice the rate of whites. We have to realize that, to some extent, the rate of homicide is more of a race issue than a gun issue.
It’s Not My Fault
Accidental deaths, especially those of children, always get a lot of play in the media. Who doesn’t feel bad that a toddler’s life is snuffed out by a playmate who found a gun in a drawer? These are emotional issues that get a lot of people talking, but too often they don’t have the facts to make an accurate statement.
Here are the real numbers: 427 gun deaths are of people under 15, 59 of those are accidents, 221 are homicides. Homicides. Children intentionally being killed. Mostly by adults. While accidents pull on our heart strings, that’s not the bigger problem, is it?
Accidental gun deaths occur most often among people ages 15 to 34. 210 accidental deaths were reported within that age group during the year. Then, for an interesting racial spin, they are more likely to be white males. 102 is the number there. Almost half. Call it the Bubba Factor, good ol’ boys just playing around, not paying attention. “Hey look, ya’ll, watch this …” becomes their last words. So, where’s the campaign against carelessness?
Our Fear Of Terror
One of the more interesting items in the FiveThirtyEight article is finding out that Mother Jones maintains what may be the most complete and accurate table of mass shootings. I would have expected some government entity, or a branch of the United Nations perhaps, to have taken on that responsibility. You can see the full table for yourself at the Mother Jones website.
Terrorism numbers are not included in the 33,599 deaths mentioned above. Terrorism is not a gun issue. Terrorism is a terror issue, a matter of war, and can only be resolved by addressing it as such, even if the “terrorist” is a lone gunman with a personal agenda. Guns are never the issue in these situations. Just last week, we saw how one terrorist used a truck, of all things, to kill nearly 100 people in Nice, France.
At the same time, however, keeping assault weapons out of the hands of terrorists, whether foreign or domestic, is a facet of that conversation. Again, let me say it one more time, there is no single-point solution to any of these problems!
Stay Calm & Think Rationally
The facts of gun violence show a very different picture than what is represented in the media. Looking at raw numbers removes a lot of the emotion we get from reading an article online or watching the video of a single event. Numbers give us a chance to gain a bit of perspective and logic.
After all this, here’s one last number to throw at you: 33,599 is less than .0001% of the total US population. More people die of cancer. More people die of heart disease. More people die of causes related to obesity.
I don’t say that to diminish the importance of gun violence. Cancer doesn’t kill you while you’re walking down the street. Obesity doesn’t happen by accident. We all want to feel safe. I merely want to put the issue into some perspective.
Guns are not the bane of society.
The Second Amendment is not sacred text.
When both sides decide to get off their high horse, stop being do damned defensive and look at the facts, then maybe we can begin to make some progress.