On Guns, Part 2 - Numbers
The Barest of things...
I brought a few thoughts on guns on this forum back in February but as my entire Facebook feed was overrun by pictures of people marching in opposition to guns last weekend (and those complaining about those protesting), I started thinking about it all over again. At some point, I stumbled across some figure that guaranteed with 150% confidence that all of the children ever would be killed by an AR-15 by next Wednesday, or something of that ilk. I recalled the Mark Twain quote “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” and decided to do my own research, eventually spending an afternoon drowning myself in gun and crime data.
On the surface, it is abundantly clear that we are an excessively gun totin’ country, sporting the highest percentage and total volume of gun ownership on the planet. In America right now there are roughly 89 guns per 100 people and about 270,000,000 total in civilian hands. By comparison, you would have to go to India to find the second place nation in volume (46,000,000) or Yemen for general popularity (55 guns/100 people). These staggering totals combined with our annual murder rate of around 15,000 people per year clearly indicate that we are a nation of bloodthirsty hillbillies and that guns are the root of the problem.
At the same time, I looked at our actual murder rate in comparison to the rest of the world and it paints a slightly different picture. Recent United Nations’ estimates put the global murder rate between six and seven people per 100,000 with our country’s specifically at 4.88. Meanwhile, El Salvador and its mere 5.8 guns per 100 citizens has a murder rate of more than 100 people out of every 100,000 making it a world leader in gun violence, murder, and overall mayhem despite significantly low gun ownership.
Similarly disturbing statistics appear in other Central and South American countries, making the Americas the world’s most violent region with 16.3 murders per 100,000 citizens according to this study. Suddenly our “mere” 4.88/100,000 murder rate makes us seem like a bunch of peaceniks with only Cuba, Aruba, Chile, Martinique, and Canada possessing lower rates in the entire Western Hemisphere. We may have the most guns but most of our neighbors are using them with much more vigor, it seems.
Delving into studies about El Salvador and its neighbors’ crime statistics, I ran across many an argument suggesting that those numbers cannot be compared to America’s statistics because they are “undeveloped” countries and therefore irrelevant. Imagine that. Donald Trump is an undeniable racist for saying “shithole countries” but when it comes to statistical analysis, those countries are excluded, perhaps because you cannot have a bunch of “shitholes” skewing your numbers in unwanted directions.
Speaking of Trump’s favorite nations, Russia’s statistics were also fairly eye catching. Russia has an extremely strict gun policy where citizens have to go through mandatory gun training, a federal test, and a background check in order to purchase a simple shotgun. Only after five years of responsible shotgun ownership can they purchase a rifle while handguns and semiautomatic weaponry are generally not allowed. To be fair, this is an even stricter policy than most of last weekend’s marchers were asking for, I believe. The result, not surprisingly, is a mere 8.9 guns per 100 citizens or roughly 1/10 of US gun ownership.
Surely these policies directly result in fewer homicides, right? Quite the opposite, actually, as Russia had a murder rate of 11.88 and more than 16,000 total murders in the most recent reporting year. Strict gun laws and an authoritarian government still cannot stop people from killing each other when they really put their minds to it, apparently.
Back on the home front it is important to note that the murder rate in the US is still sitting at less than half of where it peaked back in 1980. For every article trying to convince us that things have never been this bad, there is the one simple fact that it was actually more than twice as bad in 1980.
Since all of the recent marching and hullabaloo centers around school shootings specifically, I could not help but be surprised by this tidbit: A pro-gun control article in the Washington Post recently stated that since 1999 – the year of the Columbine massacre – students have had the statistical likelihood of 1 in 614,000,000 of being killed in a school shooting. It went on to suggest that, despite the recent apoplectic headlines, school shootings have actually gotten less common over that time period. In fact, the real gun threat to children is outside of school where they are killed at a rate exceeding 7,000 per year, versus roughly 60 annually in the US school system.
To put that in perspective, a child is more likely to catch a deadly disease in school or suffer a life threatening injury during a school sanctioned sporting event than they are to get shot, The Washington Post story adds. I doubt that will prompt any marches on Main Street, USA to ban physical education from curriculums any time soon, though.
If I may bore you with one more statistic, let me address the current boogeyman of the moment – the AR-15. “Nobody needs those guns” and “it has no practical purpose other than taking lives” are the current battle cries, as if other firearms make you dinner, drive Grandma to her doctors’ appointments, and mow your lawn so you can sleep in on Sunday mornings. According to FBI statistics, there were 15,070 total murders in 2016, 11,004 coming by way of firearms. Of those, only 374 were attributed to rifles, “assault” or otherwise. By comparison, 7,105 were handgun related while 1,604 deaths were from knives and 656 murders were committed by one’s bare hands.
The point here is that the lack of an AR-15 style rifle might affect a mass shooter’s productivity but it hardly puts a dent in the overall murder rate in America which, I would think, would be the more concerning issue at hand.
None of this is said to minimize the significance of a single gun death of any innocent American, especially those of children. There are a ton of flaws in the system and many ways that we can reduce the unnecessary loss of life, both through new regulations and by effectively enforcing those in place. I am simply suggesting that we look at the issue with a broader and more realistic eye instead of simply squabbling about whether guns are “good” or “bad” as so many people are doing right now. To fix a problem, one must understand it and if you take an honest look at the numbers, it is obvious that this conversation is far more complicated than the guns themselves.
Gun ownership statistics and crime rates vary wildly from country to country and, more specifically, from culture to culture. We are not the country of violent, child hating monsters that the nightly news likes to suggest, nor have all the AR-15s in the country gone sentient and are autonomously planning the inevitable demise of everyone under the age of 18. That said, we do have a whole lot of guns and owning one is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Wouldn’t it be nice to see people with violent criminal histories and mental health issues have a more difficult time getting their hands on one? To that end, I have a simple request for each of the opposing sides of this argument…
To the Left: Please stop pretending that “this is the new normal” and that banning one particular weapon is going to solve all of our problems. You are scaring the children and ignoring much larger legal and cultural issues at play here.
To the Right: Please stop behaving as if every reasonable measure that would keep guns out of the hands of legitimately dangerous people is an affront to your civil liberties and therefore unconstitutional. If you really think that a country with 270,000,000 civilian firearms just needs a whole bunch more to fix everything, you are contributing to the problem.
Instead, let’s have an adult conversation about where we are as a nation, how we got here, and how we can be better. What makes someone want to take a single life, much less a building full of them? Why are weapons – the AR-15, specifically – that have been available to the public since the 1960’s being used in such a drastically different manner today than they ever have previously? Finally, why are we so divided as a nation that the two sides of the argument have reduced it to a childish debate over a single tool rather than what is being built with it?
fête it be...