“Missing the Target” on Gun Facts

Gun Target

(Stephen Velasco)

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.”

After Vice President Biden’s insistence that acting is “critically important,” other Democrats have joined in. According to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo,

“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.

22 responses to ““Missing the Target” on Gun Facts

  1. “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. ”

    It is indeed absurd, because Connecticut had an ‘assault rifle’ ban in place, and almost passed a ban on high-capacity magazines, at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting.



    • Wow. You got a great collection in that article. Especially, I think you hit on a good point – that comparing countries is such a crazy and inaccurate way of proving a point, because rather than “controlling” for variables, you’re throwing hundreds more into the mix.

  2. “Bans on fully automatic weapons are good. Background checks are important. However, these are measures that are already in place.”

    I have only talked about the issue of gun control with a few people in the past several weeks, but I have already come across 2 people that believe banning “assault rifles” is about banning automatic weapons. The term “assault rifle” is just a political tool used for manipulation through misinformation. When thinking logically, what that term really means is “scary looking guns”. It has nothing to do with their functionality.

    What Is An “Assault Rifle”? – You’ve Probably Been Lied To: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yATeti5GmI8&list=PL40537F5F6480B558&index=6

    • Exactly. People think we’re talking about AK-47s here, with giant sprays.

      The “scary looking gun” language was also used by Ted Cruz in a Senate Hearing. I posted a video, it’s pretty fantastic.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Questions/comments:
    1. Why the switch from ‘firearm related’ deaths to ‘accidental’ deaths? How does the number of firearm related deaths compare to automobile deaths ? How close was the CDC prediction?
    2. Is it true that crime death rates from guns in the USA far far surpass those of other countries? If so, why?
    3. To be frank, I missed a more balanced approach. Sensationalizing and ‘knee jerk reactions’ have happened on both sides. Is one side so much more guilty in that regard as to merit being singled out?
    4. I question the poll results you cite concerning the percentage of Americans who desire action. http://www.salon.com/2013/01/28/poll_finds_strong_support_for_gun_regulations/
    This site gives quite different numbers, including a vast majority of NRA members desiring at least one type of action. WHich numbers give a more accurate picture?
    5. It’s my understanding that many of the regulations already in place are not being enforced. I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, that the ATF has no director and hasn’t had one for some time. I think I remember hearing on PBS that many regulations have deliberately and consciously not been enforced and that the NRA may have something to do with that. Before I consider again I need much more info and more balanced info concerning these matters.

    • 1. The switch is because it makes no sense to argue “being around guns” is inherently dangerous (i.e. accidents) unless you accept the same, 56 times over for automobiles. Homicides are of course more likely to be firearm-related than automobile-related, but that is irrelevant when I was responding to those who argue “gun shows” are dangerous.
      2. Instead of comparing completely different cultures, compare a country to its own history. Take England for example. http://capitalismmagazine.com/2002/11/gun-control-myths-the-case-of-england/
      3. When one side’s argument is deemed “irrelevant” to the discussion by Congress, I feel as if I have an obligation to stand up for them.
      4. Here’s the poll from Gallup: http://www.gallup.com/poll/159824/americans-dissatisfaction-gun-laws-spikes.aspx. Specifically, yes, they support some measures more (the ones I focused on taking apart).
      5. “The NRA may have something to do with that..” A little speculative perhaps? Somehow, Obama thought it was okay to “not enforce” existing immigration laws. Was that okay? As far as I know, there are no Republicans arguing the existing background checks should not be enforced.

      • All questions/comments remain:
        1. I’m curious about the answer to #1. You went from accidents to firearm related deaths back to accidents. I’m curious about the CDC prediction comparing fire arm related deaths to car related deaths. Were they in the ballpark?
        2. My question is precisely about comparing two different cultures. Why is our culture so much more violent with firearms?
        3. My stated concern in #3 remains. This issue needs a balanced critique. Isn’t it true that each side in Congress believes the other sides arguments are irrelevant or worse, ‘absurd?’ (wink)
        4. Which poll do I trust?
        5. We can discuss immigration some other time. I’m convinced research will show that Congress has shown little interest in enforcing current regulations and has shown no initiative to get a chief for ATF and has shown no inclination to fund what proper enforcement of current regulations will cost. Obama may be complicit in that. I’m not sure. But I do know that talk of new regulations will mean nothing unless the conditions I’ve mentioned change.

        • 1. The two are getting closer. But my point is that people are using it to show that “guns are more dangerous.” In fact, gun homicides are down, gun accidents are down, and gun suicides are up. The reason the two numbers (gun deaths and auto deaths) are now so close is because cars are so much safer than before. Using the “general death” statistic to support gun control without acknowledging that both gun accidents and homicides are decreasing is quite misleading, and the purpose of my post.
          2. Or just violent in general? Even before either of the countries had gun control laws, NYC had 5 times the murders of London. How do you expect gun control to change the “culture” of criminals, who don’t care about laws?
          3. I’m critiquing the one I believe is more guilty based on their misuse of facts. I don’t presume to encompass all the misuses on both sides.
          4. You don’t need to “trust” a poll for now. We can just see if the law has enough support to pass. I am skeptical.
          5. Proof? If it’s SO bad, why is Obama arguing for new regulations and not pushing enforcement of the ones that are allegedly “ignored?” Also skeptical.

          • I couldn’t disagree with you more on number three. Sorry. The sensationalism ( or if you insist, misuse of facts) on the left is matched by the paranoia (and similar misuse of facts) on the right. The left is putting way too much hope in new regulations. The right says let’s enforce the regulations we have now; but the likelihood of them appointing an Obama chosen chief for ATF or approving the necessary funding to give enforcement teeth is next to zero. (Right now, obeying the regulations on the books, where it does occur, is basically voluntary; true enforcement is absent.) We’re being played by both sides.

            • Unfortunately, I don’t have enough (read any) proof to conclude enforcement is a problem. Or that, if it was, it is somehow relevant to stopping the mass shooting “epidemic” Democrats claim to address. Or any proof that there is an “epidemic” at all (quite the contrary actually.) Therefore, I must conclude further government action is unneeded.

                • Just because there isn’t a “director”, I’m supposed to believe the laws aren’t enforced? Sorry, I’ll believe that when I can walk into a gas station and buy alcohol without them asking if I’m 21. It’s purely speculation. And the idea that ATF “inspections” every year would somehow improve enforcement is also a long shot. (It would also cost a TON of money)

                  I like the Economist as a source generally, but not their gun control positions. He still compares England to America. What about England to itself? Crimes are worse than before they banned guns. If the rates were already so lopsided before either country had any gun laws, it stands to reason that there has to be another factor.

                    • Sorry. I don’t find that convincing at all. ‘Voluntary’ background checks went up which proves gun sales went up. We obviously have no information on the number of gun sales occurring without background checks because we have no way of knowing what percentage of gunsellers are participating in these ‘voluntary’ background checks.
                      Grand Rapids catches stores selling alcohol to minors every year. They take enforcement seriously. I think a fair question is, how much more alcohol would be sold to minors if the seller could expect being tested only once very eight years. Another important factor, for which I have no information, is what the penalties are if caught not doing a background check.

                    • Having a number indicating how many have been caught NOT doing background checks may give us a better indication at how well or poorly enforcement is going. Although few caught could mean enforcement is going really well too, I suppose. Maybe the fact that gun sellers are checked on only once every eight years is the most telling stat about the quality of enforcement.

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