When five people were accidentally shot at gun shows last week, proponents of gun control legislation clamored to push the story as another reason to support their policies. However, when we take such generalizations at face value, we do the facts an injustice.
Before we jump to conclusions, we need to consider again the facts we hear. One fact often quoted to support gun control was that, by 2015, the CDC expected “firearm-related deaths” to surpass traffic fatalities for the first time. (It is worth noting that the CDC predicted this would happen in 2003, and they were wrong.)
Regardless, by looking at the underlying trends of what we describe as “firearm-related deaths,” the standard explanation does not seem to hold up.
Take a look at the actual CDC report in 2010, the latest full report available. It indicates that “accidental deaths” from firearms are .2 per 100,000 people, whereas “accidental deaths” from automobiles are 11.2 per 100,000 people. This means you are still 56 times more likely to die in a car accident than a gun accident, effectively dismantling the “gun accident” argument. If that is not enough, consider that accidental shooting deaths have decreased dramatically over the last century.
I am not immediately opposed to all gun-control measures. Bans on fully automatic weapons are good. Background checks are important. However, these are measures that are already in place. The new rhetoric of gun control asserts a control over events that we, as humans, simply do not have.
Limiting so-called “high-capacity” magazines is not an extreme measure. However, the notion that Newtown would not have occurred had such a law been in place is absurd. Furthermore, all the “background checks” in the world would not have prevented Lanza’s mother from legally buying the guns. These proposals may sound like good things, but we need to consider again our motivations as well.
We have a tendency to sensationalize the recent mass murders, claiming a new epidemic is upon us. Historically, there is nothing alarming about the rate of mass shootings. James Alan Fox of the Boston Globe says,
“What is abundantly clear from the full array of mass shootings, besides the lack of any trend upward or downward, is the largely random variability in the annual counts.”
“Gun violence has been on a rampage as we know firsthand and we know painfully… We must stop the madness, my friends.”
When gun crimes have been consistently falling for years, I find it difficult to justify such a knee-jerk reaction. We often hear accusations of the NRA or the “gun lobby” standing in the way of new legislation, but 48 percent of Americans don’t want stricter laws (compared to 38 percent who do). Before accusing those who support gun rights as “right-wing nut jobs,” remember what happened to a certain presidential candidate last year when he ostracized 47 percent of Americans.
A variation of this article was originally published in the Lariat on 1/30/13.