Friday, January 11, 2013

Guns and Death, Death and Guns

I have a friend, a young mother of two toddlers, whose New Years resolution is to get her license to carry.  This series is for her.  Live long and prosper, dear one!

My Next Series -- Facts About Firearms

I have a plan.  No, not that kind of plan.  Well, yes, I do.  But that is not the plan I mean right now.  I plan to do a series about firearms.  It is my intent to provide facts, just facts.  There are a lot of facts out there about firearms.  A lot of nonsense is disguised as facts.  But genuine facts are available, and more useful than our impressions for making sound decisions.

I am not going to write about my opinions about firearms, because, well really, who cares about my opinions.

Keeping Track of How People Die

Firearms are a cause of death, which means that the US Centers for Disease Control keeps track of them.  Wait, wait -- it doesn't keep track of the firearms, just the deaths.


People who study public health keep track, as well.  They publish in research journals with titles like Injury Prevention, American Journal of Public Health, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Journal of Trauma...  The Harvard School of Public Health has gathered a lot of facts about firearms and a list of peer-reviewed research reports in one handy website, covering everything from gun storage to suicide to road rage, making Harvard your One Stop Shopping Store for all topics explosive.  The University of Utah Medical School, from a different kind of gun culture, publishes a Firearms Tutorial, with a more narrow focus on weapons, forensics and injuries, plus a bit on safety issues.  They and the CDC will be my chief sources.

I will not do international comparisons, because I don't want to spend more than three weeks of my life on this topic.  But you can find information about how the US compares to other nations at the Harvard and UU sites listed above.

Homicide and Suicide

People who own firearms and their family members are more likely to die by firearms than people who don't.  There are many reasons why this is so.  Exploring this fact and the reasons behind it will be the major theme of this series.

Here is my first set of facts.

A study of 626 shootings in or around a residence in three US cities revealed that, for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and eleven attempted or completed suicides.  Notice -- this isn't about guns in the street.  It refers to guns discharged in the gun owner's home.  If you are considering gun ownership, you could factor these facts into your cost/benefit analysis, and draw your own conclusions, not mine.

People who buy guns because the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun do not intend to shoot or be shot by their spouses.  They do not intend their children to get hold of these weapons.  They do not intend their teenager who was teased in school today or broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to commit suicide.  But those are the odds, one chance out of twenty-three that the weapon will be used in self-defense, twenty-two chances that an unintended tragedy will be the result.

In the United States of America in 2010, there were 31,513 deaths from firearms.  19,308 of these deaths were suicide.  11,015 were homicide.  600 were accidents.  The number of suicides was up from 2009 (18,735).  Homicides were down (11,493).

For point of reference, the total suicides by any means in 2009 was 39,909, and total homicides by any means was 16,799, making firearms the means in 47% of suicides and 68% of homicides.

I find those facts interesting, that there are more than twice as many suicides as there are homicides in general, almost twice as many suicides than homicides by firearms, and that suicides are rising, homicides are declining.  I checked these numbers again and again.  I did not expect them, based on my impression from the nightly/daily/ continuous news cycle news.

These facts, all by themselves, make it quite credible that people who own firearms and their family members are more likely to die by firearms than people who don't.  But they do not tell the whole story.  So I will break it down, homicide next week, suicide the week after.

People Who Own Guns Are Not Mentally Ill

Let's just get that one out of the way.  Or at least, gun owners are not mentally ill at any greater rate than the rest of the population.

Guns and Homicide, To Be Continued...

Okay, my regular readers know that when I say next week, it's more like mañana.  It means, the next time I post in this series.  I hope it's next week, because, like I said, I don't want to spend more than three weeks of my life on this topic.  We'll see.

And here they are:

Homicide and Firearms - Some Facts -- January 25, 2013
More Guns = More Suicides -- February 1, 2013



flair from Facebook.com
CDC logo in public domain
photo of 14 Kenilworth Avenue, Charleston South Caroline by ProfReader, used under the Creative Commons license
pair of dice drawing by Steaphan Greene, used under the Creative Commons license

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