Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Toll of Gun Violence

With rhetoric about guns at a vitriolic high, we hear more and more about the number of people every year who die in the United States from guns. The assumption is that with less guns, there would be less of these deaths. The truth is, deaths from guns have actually decreased in the last few years despite record sales of guns. And accidental deaths of children from guns, as I have previously pointed out, represent less deaths per year than drownings in kiddy pools. Nevertheless, lets examine some of the stats relating to gun deaths and violence in the US.

2009 is the most recent year for which the CDC provides complete data (CDC Report). As is often reported, there were 31,000 deaths by firearms that year. Of these, 18,700 were suicides. Only 11,500 were homicides or accidents. People kill themselves without guns, too. In fact, another 18,000 people committed suicide by some other means and another 5,300 were murdered by some other means.

In 2009, 36,000 people died in car accidents, 25,000 people in falls, and 31,000 were poisoned! All told, 118,000 people died accidental deaths in 2009, and only 554 of these were related to firearms. Some 2600 people died as a result of a complication of surgery, making Surgeons more deadly than guns.

Very often, the same folks who are in favor of stricter gun control (in spite of no evidence that it would prevent the suicides and murders that guns are used for) are often in favor of more lenient attitudes and laws regarding drugs. Yet, in 2009, there were 39,000 total deaths related to drugs and another 24,500 related to alcohol! Drugs and alcohol kill far more people than guns. And this doesn't begin to account for deaths related to cigarettes, which are far more deadly than guns. What's more, a majority of homicides with guns and other gun violence is related to drug-dealing and consumption.

Guns are not a public-health risk. In fact, many gun-control laws, like waiting periods, are actually public-health risks. Waiting periods harm law-abiding citizens, usually women, who want to buy a gun to protect themselves from abusive partners. The abusive partner and the criminal are not held up by the technicality of a waiting period, so the person who is beaten, raped, or murdered is the woman who was unable to protect herself. Liberals sometimes don't understand that it is a good thing if a person is killed with a gun who attempted to a rape a woman. Liberals are happy when gun-related death declines even if rapes go up, as in Europe.

So what about more civilized societies, like the United Kingdom, where guns are illegal? Don't the numbers show the success? No, in fact. While they have less murders related to guns (obviously since there are less guns), they are in fact a more violent society with less personal liberty and less ability to protect one's self from violence, which is the ultimate liberty. The United Kingdom is the most violent country, per capita, in Europe and more violent than the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa (Report). They have 2000 crimes per 100,000 people compared to 466 per 100,000 in the United States. The only country in Europe with more crimes? Sweden, the idealized homeland of all socialists. These violent crimes include murders, assaults, robberies and rapes. In the United States, we are guaranteed, by our Constitution, the right to protect ourselves from such offenses. No such protection exists in the dozen or so European countries that have a higher violent crime rate than we do.

Mexico has only one gun store (run by the military) and severe limitations on gun ownership. Many point to Mexico as an example of how we can reform our own gun laws. In spite of this, Mexico is far more violent than the US. There were over 12,000 drug-related murders in 2011 alone in a country that is 1/3 our size. Gun-related deaths per capita far exceed the US in a country with only about 5 million legally registered firearms. Only the military and police in Mexico are allowed to purchase any gun with a detachable magazine and any caliber larger than .38. And the waiting period for private citizens averages several months. Russia too has all but eradicated gun ownership but they have four times the murder rate of the US.

Guns are not the problem. Criminals are the problem. The recent Labour Party in the UK attributed the unparalleled violence in that country not to guns (since they have been all seized from private, law-abiding citizens), but to "social woes." Social woes, indeed.
One final note: the one European country not on the list of violent crime magnets is Switzerland. They have among the highest gun ownership of any nation in the world, yet in 2006 there were only 34 murders or attempted murders with a gun. Go figure.

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