USA

Gun deaths (Part 1: Suicides)

Let’s talk gun deaths for a second. Obviously mass shootings are the most visible example of this, but as horrible as they are, they make a up a tiny percentage of the total gun deaths per year.

Looking at the official statistics from 2014 (the most recent data as far as I’m aware), we find that 33,594 people were killed by firearms (page 87 from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_04.pdf). Of these, 21,386 (or 64%) were suicides, and 11,008 (or 33%) were homicides. There are other categories, but these are the main categories which make up 97% of all firearm-related deaths.

Now let us take a look at all firearm-related deaths in other developed countries. Looking at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate, it seems that the USA tops the list among developed countries at 11th place globally. The next developed country is Finland, which registers at 22nd place. And you can go down the list, but it’s fairly clear that the USA is an outlier in this area. So naturally, the question is: why? But before we do that, let’s take a look at variations between states.

Looking at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firearm_death_rates_in_the_United_States_by_state, we see that Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Wyoming topping the list while Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island come last. We’ll come back to this, but the order is interesting, more so than either main side in this debate makes it seem (for example, Texas is pretty low and has pretty lax gun laws).

So let us now come back to the question of why we have such a huge firearm death rate. To do so, it may be instructive to look at Table 14 (page 67) of the CDC data. If we look at the suicide rate broken down by race and sex, we find interesting things:
1. Men are far more likely to commit suicide with firearms in aggregate (11.7 vs 1.9).
2. White men are far more likely to commit suicide with firearms than any other racial or sexual group (13.7).
3. The next highest group is Native American or Alaskan Native men (7.1).
I should note here that the numbers are a little more equal among different racial groups when it comes to suicide by other means, but white men still come out ahead.

If we go ahead and look at the homicide rate broken down by race and sex, we again find interesting things:
1. Men are still more likely to commit homicide with firearms in aggregate, but the disparity is less than with the suicide statistics.
2. Black men are far more likely to be a victim of homicide with firearms than any other racial or sexual group (26.9).
3. The next highest group is Native American or Alaskan Native men (4.5).
As before, the numbers are more equal among different racial groups when it comes to homicide by other means, but black men still come out ahead.

So what does this data tell us? It tells us that killings of black men are driving up the homicide rate and white men are driving up the suicide rate. The question is what to do about this.

Will banning or reducing access to guns reduce this carnage? Maybe. One thing that is almost certainly true is that forcing people considering suicide to use a method other than a gun will lead to more people who fail on the first try (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/case-fatality/), which will reduce the number of people who commit suicide. So while it is true that people who are considering suicide may just move to other methods, those other methods are provably less fatal, which will lead to fewer people dying as a result.

As for homicides, I’m not sure. Looking at these statistics, the two biggest groups are “Unknown” and “Acquaintance” (https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10shrtbl10.xls). That is, out of the crimes where we know the relationship between the murderer and the victim, they were most often acquaintances. Keeping in mind that this includes homosexual couples (not exactly sure why…), it seems like reducing access to guns will help prevent crimes of passion where a gun happens to be lying around. I’m not claiming it will stop all homicides (because that would be silly), but I do think it would do some good and prevent *some* crimes.

Some people will argue that any restriction on guns is an infringement on the Second Amendment. So let’s take a look at that. All of my information is coming from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution. The SCOTUS had repeatedly ruled (US v. Cruikshank, US v. Miller) that the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to bear arms. However, that changed in 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller), when they ruled that the Second Amendment does, indeed, grant individuals the right to bear arms. Taking a look at the exact text, we see the following: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It seems that the second part of that (the right to keep and bear arms) depends on the first (a well regulated militia). That is, the right to keep and bear arms seems to be dependent (at least from my reading of the Second Amendment) on serving in a militia, specifically one that defends the country. Given that now we have a standing army and the most powerful military in the world, do we really need militias? Yeah, we needed them when we distrusted a standing army (back when the country was first formed). But at this point, it seems that that way of thinking, and that mode of defense, has become largely obsolete. Further, the “well regulated” part of the “well regulated militia” seems to always be lost in these debates. That being said, maybe I’m reading the Second Amendment incorrectly — that is entirely possible as I am not a Constitutional scholar!

All of this being said, we need to be having this debate at the very least. We need to be discussing what we can do to prevent this carnage, whether in the form of needless suicides, mass shootings, or other homicides. I outlined above a couple of reasons why I think banning or restricting guns would help with that. If you have other suggestions or thoughts, I’d love to hear it down below 🙂




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