Gun Control

After mass shootings in the United States, such as the recent shooting in Nevada, similar responses or events occur, with the Democrats stating their desire for more gun control laws, and the Republicans desiring the status quo, or maybe even less regulations. This debate then is widely reported on for about two weeks, and then nothing happens for the most part. During this time, many claims and arguments are made on both sides with varying degrees of truth and validity. I wanted to take a deeper look into this particular issue of gun control, what works, what doesn’t, where more information is needed, and when comparisons should or should not be used. If history is any indication, this can also be a helpful guide when another mass shooting inevitably occurs.

Before getting into this post, however, I want to make a clear statement. This post will talk a lot about statistics, ratios and numbers of deaths due to gun violence, and it can be easy to remove yourself from these as abstract concepts, but in reality each of these numbers represents a life taken due to unnatural means. When comparing values, while 30 deaths may be better in the absolute terms than 3,000, this is still 30 parents, children, siblings, friends, families and communities that are drastically altered, harmed, and disrupted. Unless the number is 0, which pragmatically is never going to occur, it is always a tragedy, which is something I do not want to downplay during the subsequent analysis.

While there is some variation in the exact numbers, after removing deaths from armed conflicts, the United States generally ranks in the top 15 or so countries for firearm related deaths per capita, with countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and South Africa (all known for their safety….) having similar rates. When comparing to other high-income/1st world countries (such as England, Germany, Australia, Canada), the U.S. has a strikingly greater mortality rate due to guns. However, if one looks at homicide rates in general, not restricting to gun violence alone, the United States ranks in the middle of the countries listed (94/291 or 53/134). When comparing to the same high-income/1st world countries listed above, the United States still is significantly higher, with a homicide rate of about 5 per 100,000 people, with most western European countries having a rate of 2 or lower per 100,000 people. In addition, of these homicides, only about 3 in 100,000 people are due to firearms.

Understanding the discrepancy between the firearm death rate (in the United States about 10 per 100,000) and the firearm homicide rate (about 3 per 100,000) is important in the gun control debate. In the United States, there are around 30,000 deaths per year due to guns. In 2014, for example, the CDC lists the total number of firearm related deaths being 33,594. To put this in context, firearm related deaths only account for 1.3% of the 2,626,418 total deaths in 2014. Of these 30,000 gun related deaths per year, about 60% are suicide, with about 85% of those suicides being males (often white males). For 2014, 21,386 of the 33,594 deaths were suicides, 18,383 of those being male, with 16,980 of those being white males (Data found in Table 13 of the CDC 2014 Final Deaths Report). See below for a graphic (Graph 1), or view a great interactive infographic by Five-Thirty-Eight, where one can look at gun deaths by type, and then further refine by race, age, and gender. Most of the remaining gun deaths (about 30%), are homicides. In 2014, 11,008 of the 33,594 gun deaths were homicides, about 50% being black males (5,771). [As a side note, some of the total homicides also fall under the category of “justifiable homicides,” or fatalities due to police shootings. While there is a category for legal intervention, which covers some of these, they can be underreported, with most estimates putting that number somewhere around 1,000. Conversely, in 2014 only 464 were put in this category. Another interactive infographic using police shooting data from 2016 can be found here].

Gun_Deaths_by_Type_2014
Graph 1 – Number of Firearm Related Deaths in the United States in 2014 by Type

So while the focus in most gun control debates is on issues with mass shootings due to the sheer number as well as publicity of these events, these deaths only make up a small percentage of overall deaths due to guns, typically under 100 deaths per year, or less than 0.3% of total firearm related deaths. Also of note, an average of 30,000 deaths per year over 365 days is 82 deaths per day, which is more than even the Las Vegas shooting (with 59 deaths), the most deadly mass shooting in modern United States history.

Now obviously guns in and of themselves do not shoot people, but does greater access to guns, or a higher prevalence of guns equate to higher homicide rates? 70% of homicides in 2014 in the US were due to firearms (11,008 of 15,872), so it may be natural to assume more guns correlate to more homicides or violence worldwide. Below is a graph (Graph 2) using data from the often used Small Arms Survey, which looks at number of guns per 100 people in 2006 for a variety of countries, versus gun related homicide rates in 2006 from the Global Burden of Disease Study (using the visualization tool found here). I’ve labeled some of the outlying countries, and removed all others for clarity. I will note a caveat on the data from the Small Arms Survey, which has some potential issues. For instance, a better metric would probably have been the percentage of the population that owns a gun, as gun owners often own multiple guns. Also, this data only counts privately owned guns, not taking into account guns issued by the government, so countries which issue guns to citizens who are required to serve time in the military have underinflated numbers. Despite these limitations, the graph below shows no correlation between gun prevalence and gun-related homicides. [I will be coming back to this throughout the post but as this data is analyzed it is important to remember that correlation does not imply causation]. In addition, in the United States alone, while the number of guns manufactured and sold has almost doubled from about 5.5 million a year in 1993 to almost 10.9 million in 2013, firearm related deaths (both homicide and suicide) during that same period have decreased from 15.2 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 10.5 in 2013. The population in 1993 was about 260 million, and in 2013 was about 316 million, so this decrease in the death per capita is also not due to a large increase in population. However, to again point out a flaw in just measuring number of guns (or guns per capita) is that the number of households with a gun has also decreased during this time, from 43% in 1993 to 31% in 2013, suggesting that those households who do own guns own significantly more than 1 gun.

Homicides_Versus_Gun_Ownership
Graph 2 – Homicides by Firearm per 100,000 people (2006) versus Firearms per 100 people (2006)

If then, one looks at the percent of the population in the United States who owns guns, using data from 2013, and comparing this data with with firearm related homicides on a statewide level from 2013, there is also no correlation, as shown in the graph below (Graph 3). This lack of correlation is important, as again, there are two sides to firearm related death, homicide and suicide, each of which potentially requiring different approaches for change. Often times one can see graphs like this one by Mother Jones, which correlates overall firearm related deaths to gun ownership, and can be misleading in terms of what one is supposed to draw from that data. These disingenuous or misinformed conclusions are a common problem in opinion articles and even some “research” based reports, which is why citations, and openness about sources so others can analyze results are important (At the end of this post I’ve linked an excel file with all the data used as well as their sources, which are also linked when discussed).

Gun_Ownership_Versus_Homicide_Rate_By_State
Graph 3 – Percentage of the State that Owns Firearm(s) (one or more, 2013) versus Firearm Related Homicides per 100,000 people (2013)

So then what about suicides? Keeping in mind that most of the firearm deaths in the United States are due to suicide, not homicide, suicides are perhaps the more interesting or pressing issue. The first graph below (Graph 4) shows a decent correlation between firearm prevalence and firearm suicide rates (all data from 2006, using same sources as above). This same trend is not maintained when looking at total suicides, shown in the second graph (Graph 5). One notable exception is that Greenland, which leads the world in total as well as firearm related suicides was not listed in the Small Arms Survey, and therefore cannot be directly compared in this analysis.

Firearm_Suicide_Versus_Firearms
Graph 4 – Firearm Suicides per 100,000 people (2006) versus Firearms per 100 people (2006)
Total_Suicide_Versus_Firearms
Graph 5 – Total Suicides per 100,000 people (2006) versus Firearms per 100 people (2006)

Again looking at the Unites States alone, there is even a stronger correlation between firearm related suicides and percentage of individuals who own guns on a statewide level, as shown in the graph below (Graph 6), using data from 2013 as above.

Gun_Ownership_Versus_Suicide_Rate_By_State
Graph 6 – Percentage of State that Owns Firearms (2013) versus Firearm Related Suicides per 100,000 people (2013)

Separating out the different aspects of firearm related deaths strikingly points to suicide as the main issue in the United States (and even around the world). If one simply looks at firearm related deaths, as was done in the beginning of this article, it may seem like excessive gun violence, often attributed to or thought to be mainly homicides, are driven up or caused by the sheer number of guns this nation has in its possession. However, a closer look at the numbers shows that about 7 of those 10 per 100,000 are suicides, with the remaining 3 being homicides. In fact, the United States consistently ranks second in firearm related suicides on a global level, as shown in the table below (the nations in the top 10 for 2015 remain in the same order, with similar rates in 2014 and 2013 as well). As mentioned above, Greenland leads the world by a fairly large margin. In comparison, for overall suicides, the United States ranks around 40 out of the 196 nations listed in the 2016 Global Burden of Disease Study, with a rate of about 15 per 100,000, again showing that over half of the suicides in the United States are firearm related.

Rank

Firearm Related Suicides
2016, Country (Rate per 100,000)
Firearm Related Suicides
2015, Country (Rate per 100,000)

1

Greenland (21.6) Greenland (21.3)

2

United States (7.4) United States (7.3)

3

Uruguay (4.9) Uruguay (4.9)

4

Switzerland (3.3) Switzerland (3.3)

5

Finland (3.1)

Venezuela (3.1)

6 Venezuela (3.0)

Finland (3.0)

7 France (3.0)

Montenegro (3.0)

8 Serbia (2.8)

France (3.0)

9 Argentina (2.8)

Argentina (2.8)

10 Montenegro (2.8)

Serbia (2.8)

While firearm use is not the most common form of attempted suicide, firearm use drastically increases the rate of suicide success in comparison to other methods. Since males are more likely to use firearms in suicide attempts, this explains why males account for about 85% of total firearm related suicides.

With the firearm issue more clear, the question is then what, if anything can be done? Are gun control laws effective for either suicides or homicides? If so, which ones, and if not, what other options are there? Answering these questions is important, but fairly difficult to do, as a result of scant research in these areas due to a United States law enacted in 1996. A history of this law can be found here, with an excerpt copied below.

In 1993, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published an article by Arthur Kellerman and colleagues, “Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home,” which presented the results of research funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide. The article concluded that rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance. . . . The 1993 NEJM article received considerable media attention, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) responded by campaigning for the elimination of the center that had funded the study, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. The center itself survived, but Congress included language in the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill (PDF, 2.4MB) for Fiscal Year 1997 that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”  Referred to as the Dickey amendment after its author, former U.S. House Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR), this language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence. However, Congress also took $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget — the amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the previous year — and earmarked the funds for prevention of traumatic brain injury. Dr. Kellerman stated in a December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up.”

As stated in the above quote, the Dickey Amendment doesn’t ban research on gun violence all together, but rather bans advocating any form of firearm control or legislation. The question is then, if a study would for instance prove with 100% certainty that factor X causes or drastically increases likelihood of injury and death due to firearms, and someone from Congress then uses that study to advocate for the elimination or legislation of factor X, is the study liable of advocating a position, thus breaking the law and eliminating the possibility of obtaining any funding on future projects? Fears such as these have stopped researchers asking for grants funding such research, as well as the CDC’s willingness to award these grants as well. Representative Dickey has actually stated regret for this amendment, saying “it wasn’t necessary that all research stop. It just couldn’t be the collection of data so that they can advocate gun control. That’s all we were talking about. But for some reason, it just stopped altogether. . . . [T]hat’s where my regret is. I was on to other things and worrying about my constituents. And I didn’t follow through and say, we need – still need to do research. I didn’t do that.” In the linked interview he talks about how scientific research helped reduce the number of fatalities from car accidents, and that a similar tactic could be done with firearm violence, “as long as it doesn’t interfere with people’s second amendment right to own a gun.” In addition, in 2012 he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post with a similar idea, that we need to study gun violence as we did with motor vehicles. However, despite this regret, this amendment or clause continues due to successful lobbying by the NRA, despite attempts to remove or change it by Present Obama after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. In January of 2013, President Obama did sign an executive order charging the CDC to research firearm violence, or at least research what needs to be researched in regards to the causes of firearm related deaths, which resulted in the Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence report. The CDC’s report identified a variety of areas where the science is unclear, or missing altogether, however, these studies have thus far not been completed due to a lack of funding since the Dickey Amendment is still the law as of 2017.

In spite of this, there still has been some firearm research completed, mainly prior to 1997. These earlier studies have the potential to be out of date, as a lot has changed in the United States in the past 20+ years. Below I’ve summarized what has been studied, making sure to label potentially misleading or disputed claims. Looking at the data, it should be clear that there is a lot of uncertainty in this area. As the Priorities for Research report and others point out, its important to not put too much stock or emphasis on understudied areas. In 2003, the CDC came out with a report entitled Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws, which basically said there is not enough evidence to say with confidence whether any legislation will or will not be effective, thus more research is needed. Uncertainty in science is a very real thing that needs to be emphasized in situations such as this one. Continued and repeated research to ensure reproducibility as well as valid starting assumptions, data analysis, peer review, etc. is a constant and important necessity. In addition, remember that correlation does not imply causation.

Arguments/Studies Supporting Gun Control/Legislation

Arguments/Studies Opposing Gun Control/Legislation Unknown/
Needs Research

Firearms in Homes/For Self Defense

Self-Protection from a crime, especially with a gun, reduce the chance of property loss and personal injury. Firearm ownership increases likelihood of firearm related suicide (source 2, which shows that non-firearm suicides decrease as firearm suicides increase, suggesting preference for firearm suicide if available), homicide (source 2), and the use of weapons in the invasion of gun owner’s homes.

Does increased risk of suicide, and homicides outweigh the decreased risk of injury due to criminal activity (what are the relative increases/decreases in rate?).

Purchasing Restrictions/Background Checks

Comparing 2 states, Missouri, which repealed a permit to purchase law in 2005, and Connecticut, which enacted a permit to purchase law in 2007 showed a 16.1% increase in firearm suicide rates in MI, and a 15.4% reduction in firearm suicide rates in CT (note that CT overall suicides also decreased). In addition, MI experienced a 23% increase in firearm related homicides, while CT experienced a 40% decrease (with both states overall homicides staying consistent).

Only about 10-15% of guns used in crimes are purchased legally, with about 40% coming from friends or family members (legally or illegally), and another 40% illegally (black market, stolen, or off the street).

Individuals have a greater risk of committing suicide within the first week of purchasing a gun, and some studies have shown a decrease in firearm related suicides with mandatory waiting periods from purchase to possession as little as 2 days. Handguns are the weapon of choice for suicides (50-70%), as well as homicides (70%), which are not the guns or accessories targeted in assault weapon bans, bump stock bans, etc.

While some studies have shown a decreased rate in both homicides and suicides due to waiting periods, others only show this effect in suicides. Conclusion – more research is needed.

Gun Safety

Increasing product safety, by changing hardware etc. on firearms more effective than trying to change human behavior.

Best gun safety hardware modifications (Smart Guns?)

In the case of adolescence suicide, one study found 75% of these children used guns belonging to parents.

As stated above, there are some potential conclusion that can be drawn, such as waiting periods seem to reduce the risk of suicides. This make sense, as attempts to commit suicide are often impulsive, which is increased with alcohol or drug use. One study showed that about 24% of people go from a decision to kill themselves to action in under 5 minutes, even if this plan was something they had been thinking of for a longer period of time. After a failed attempt at suicide, around 90% of those individual will ultimately not die of suicide, with about 70% never attempting suicide again. Thus, if one can inhibit or limit the ability for a suicidal person to gain access to a gun during this impulsive period by having a waiting period of a few days, this could decrease either the attempt altogether, or increase the survivability if the suicidal individual turns to another means which is likely less fatal. Whether this same logic applies to impulsive homicides is still debated, but seems likely in my opinion. However, besides this conclusion, there is little else that can be said with even a moderate amount of certainty due to a lack of research in this area, leading to a lack of evidence for or against gun control legislation.

One last point that I want to address is two commonly used, but incorrect arguments, one for gun control and one against. The one for gun control is comparing the United States to Australia, saying that clearly Australia’s gun control program worked, and thus similar measures will work in the United States. The one against gun control is looking at Chicago, which is claimed to have the strictest gun laws, yet the murders are so high they need federal help to solve the problem.

Starting with the Australia argument, there are 2 main reasons that using Australia as a model for the United States doesn’t work, the first scientific, and the second practical.

  1.  Scientific – What does the data say about Australian gun legislation?
    1.  In one of the most cited studies on Australian gun laws, the rates of homicides and suicides by both firearm and other methods were compared before (1979-1996) and after (1996-2016) the implementation of their 1996 gun control legislation. The authors found essentially 2 main points
      1. This legislation seemed to essentially stop mass shootings (shootings which kill 5+ individuals), as 13 occurred from 1979-1996 (pre-legislation), and 0 occurred from 1996 (after legislation) – 2016.
      2. The overall deaths due to guns decreased, although this was due to a statistically significant increase in the rate of firearm suicides, as firearm homicide rates continued at the same rate.
        1. The rates were not large either. The total firearm related death rate had a statistically significant decrease from 3.6 per 100,000 people to 1.2, again exclusively due to the statistically significant decrease in firearm related suicides, dropping from 3.0 to 0.99.
        2. Note that the firearm suicide rate was already decreasing. The legislation correlated with a statistically significant increase in this rate of decline, however, again, correlation does not imply causation.
        3. Also notable, while firearm suicide rates were decreasing from 1979-1996, non-firearm suicide rates were increasing. After 1996, non-firearm suicide rates leveled off, albeit at a rate higher than pre-1996 levels (10.6 versus 9.2, respectively).
  2. Practical – How do the United States and Australia compare socially? Would what Australia did be a viable option for the States?
    1. The Second Amendment – While one can debate the exact meaning of the “right to bear arms,” legally American’s have this right, while there was/is no equivalent protection in the Australian government, which allowed for easier legislative restrictions on gun ownership.
    2. Numbers/Scale
      1. Even pre-1996 legislation, the average number of suicides in Australia was about 500 per year (a rate of 3 per 100,000 people), and homicides averaged about 90 per year (a rate of 0.6 per 100,000 people). This is in comparison to the United States which averages about 21,000 suicides and 11,000 homicides (a rate of 7 and 3 per 100,000 people, respectively), which is at least 2x the rate of Australia. The relatively small sample size of Australia’s firearm related deaths, as well as already declining deaths pre-legislation makes it difficult to compare to the United States.
      2. In 1996, pre legislation, Australia was estimated to have about 17 guns per 100 people, with a population in 1996 of 18.3 million leads to about 3 million guns. Currently, Australia is estimated to have about 15 guns per 100 people, with a current population of 24.1 million equals about 3.6 guns. Currently, the United states is estimated to have about 89 guns per 100 people, with a population of 323 million, brings us to about 288 million guns (most estimates have around 300 million). From 1996-1997 Australia destroyed about 1 million guns, about 1/3 of their total guns, 650,000 of these were “bought-back” from their citizens by the government, the others voluntarily handed over or were involuntarily seized. This endeavor cost Australia’s government about $500 million, averaging $500 per gun destroyed. If we take the same estimate and say the United States destroyed 1/3 of the about 300 million guns at $500 a gun, it would cost the United States $50 billion dollars. As a reference, gun violence is calculated to cost the United States about $3 billion a year. This number is likely a very gross underestimate as well, as Australia has a significantly smaller population, and 40% of that population live in Sydney or Melbourne (about 20% each). In contrast, New York City (the United State’s largest city) has a population about 8.5 million, or about 2.6% of its population, so the administrative and other costs for the United States would also have to be scaled, easily up to 100 billion dollars, a decent chunk of the United State’s $4 trillion dollar yearly budget.

So maybe the United States can do what Australia did, all that has to be changed, based on questionable data is –

  1. Eliminate the Second Amendment via a 2/3 congressional vote, or drastically change the way that large portions of the population view the rights protected in that amendment
  2. Convince the government to spend $50+ billion dollars on such a program, and appropriate this money somehow in a budget over 1-3 years.
  3. Not have mass riots/revolts from all those who would now be justified in their view that the government is coming for those guns (this is dependent on how well point 1 was accomplished).
  4. Relish in the similar drastic decrease in the 2 per 100,000 people per year that commit suicide by firearms (maybe).

Good luck with that.

As for the Chicago argument, the same 2 points will be looked at –

  1. Scientific – What does the data say about Chicago’s gun laws and firearm related death rate?
    1. Chicago does not have the strictest gun laws in the country. To quote the first linked NPR article, at “one point, it did have much tougher laws — it had banned handguns in the city limits, but a 2008 Supreme Court ruling declared that ban unconstitutional, and a 2010 ruling reaffirmed that. The city also had had a gun registry program since 1968, but ended it in 2013 when the state passed a law allowing the concealed carry of weapons.” Some examples of gun control laws other major cities (top 15) have that Chicago does not
      1. Gun Registry – Cities such as New York City, LA, and San Francisco have these laws require registration of guns with the state during a sale.
      2. Safe Storage Laws – San Francisco requires residents to have guns locked or in a safe when not in use, which was upheld in a 2007 Supreme Court case.
    2. While the state of Illinois is raked relatively high in terms of the strictness of their gun laws, it was only graded a B+ by a pro-gun legislation group, with states such as California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey and others being ranked higher (A- to A)
    3. Chicago does not have the highest firearm homicide or suicide rate. Data from the CDC of firearm related suicides and homicides of major metropolitan areas from 2006-2007 and 2009-2010 –
      1. 2006-2007 – Homicides – Chicago ranked 15th, with a rate of 6 per 100,000. Cities such as New Orleans (23.2), Baltimore (10.3), Jacksonville (10.1), Philadelphia (7.7), and St. Louis (7.3) ranked higher.
      2. 2006-2007 – Suicides – Chicago ranked 45th, with a rate of 3.1 per 100,000
      3. 2009-2010 – Homicides – Chicago ranked 10th, again with a rate of 6 per 100,000. Similar cities are ranked higher as in 2006-2007.
      4. 2009 – 2010 – Suicides – Chicago ranked 46th, with a rate of 3.2 per 100,000
    4. Even if one looked at crime in general, Chicago ranks 6th in overall murders and 30th in violent crime.
  2. Practical – How useful is Chicago as a model for the usefulness of gun laws?
    1. While Illinois has relatively strict gun laws (again, rated a B+), Chicago is located in close proximity to Indiana (D- Grade) and Wisconsin (C- Grade). Recovered guns often come from out of state (about 60%, with somewhere between 15-20% coming from Indiana). Since state borders are open, the ability for firearms to pass between states is an obvious liability.
      1. One could cherry pick data in the opposite direction, looking at New York City, which is in a state with strict gun laws, surrounded by states with strict gun laws (New Jersey and Connecticut). New York City has a firearm related homicide rate of about 3, and a firearm related suicide rate of 1.6, significantly lower than Chicago. However, Los Angeles, which is in the state with the strictest gun laws, and pretty far from the nearest states (about 3-4 hours, farther than NYC is from Pennsylvania) has similar homicide and suicide rates as Chicago, at about 5 and 3 respectively. Basically, no state acts in isolation, and pretending they do is disingenuous at best.
    2. It is again important to look at firearm violence as both homicides and suicides. Presumably, if someone is going to break the law and murder someone, gun laws are going to be the least of their worries. However, limiting access to guns may help suicides. If one plots firearm related suicides versus gun law rankings (1 being defined as best/most restrictive gun laws, 50 being worst), there is a good correlation between stricter laws and lower suicide rates (Graph 8). In contrast, gun law strictness has no correlation with homicide rates (Graph 7). Both graphs are shown below.
Gun_Law_Vs_homicide
Graph 7 – Gun Law Rank (2016) versus Firearm Related Homicides per 100,000 people (2015)
Gun_Law_Vs_Suicide
Graph 8 – Gun Law Rank versus Firearm Related Suicides per 100,000 people (2015)

Similar to the research that was discussed above, it seems that gun laws may help limit firearm related suicides, but do not have a great effect on firearm related homicides.

What then is the take away from the original question/goal posited at the beginning of this post on the topic of gun control, what works, what doesn’t, where more information is needed, and when comparisons should or should not be used? Hopefully these last few points can summarize the take-away points.

  1. More research is needed. A lot more research. Essentially nothing can be said with certainty about the effects of any firearm legislation due to inadequate research as a result of the Dickey Amendment.
  2. Suicide and Homicide are two different factors which need to be addressed separately
    1. Suicides account for almost double the firearm related deaths as homicides, and as such should be the issue most focused on. However, mass shootings are generally what get the most media attention, which account for only a small portion of total deaths.
      1. From the data currently available, it seems as if firearm legislation such as waiting periods helps reduce suicides, but that these laws have little effect on homicides. This should be encouraging as it seems that firearm related suicides, the largest firearm related issue, is the one that can be most easily tackled with properly researched and helpful measures (legislative or otherwise).
      2. Recognizing mental illnesses/suicidal tendencies as medical conditions, talking about it on a public stage, and looking into ways to treat it just like we have cancer moonshots etc. is likely going to be a necessary step to reduce suicides in general, most of which are firearm induced.
        1. Suicides are the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, 8 out of the other 10 are “traditional” medical diseases (i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc.). The other leading cause is accidental death.
        2. For the past few years, suicide was the leading cause of death for military personal, with around 30% committing suicide, mostly by firearm. Suicide even surpasses combat related deaths.
        3. Factors effecting suicide are also important to understand. Interestingly, there is no correlation between firearm relates suicides or homicides with state poverty level (graphs can be seen in the linked excel document with all the raw data from this post). For those interested in additional reading on this topic, Emile Durkheim’s book Suicide: A Study in Sociology gives a breakdown of 4 types of suicide.
  3. Comparing countries or specific cities without an understanding of the scientific and social context (aka Australia and Chicago) can lead to incorrect conclusions. Also, correlation still does not mean causation.

 

In closing, I want to emphasize again that while this post looked at rates of deaths in an abstract and numerical fashion, every single suicide or homicide is a terrible event and should be treated as such. Being #2 in the world for firearm related suicides is not something to aspire to, and yet the recognition of this fact, the understanding of why so many people commit suicide, particularly by firearm in this country, and how we can help them is not understood due to legislation which has been condemned by its original writer/sponsor. We spend close to 30 billion a year in medical research, and around 600 billion on the military, about 135 billion of that going to military personnel. And yet research into the number 1 killer of those military personnel has recieved essentially no funding since 1996. From 2014-2017, the NIH was instructed by Present Obama to use 18 million over 3 years (or 6 million a year) to study gun violence, funding which ended in 2017, and is unlikely to be renewed. With 2018 budgets being drawn up, removal of the Dickey Amendment and research into at least firearm related suicides would be an excellent way to truly honor our veterans.

*If you or somebody you know is considering suicide, know that there is help available. There is the suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255), as well as other resources available for a variety of situations.*

*References throughout are linked when discussed*
*Raw data for the various graphs can be found here. Source of data should are linked when discussed, but they are also found on this raw data page*

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2 thoughts on “Gun Control

  1. So are you for or against owning a firearm – for you in your house?

    On Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 6:40 PM, The Egyptian Gold Blog wrote:

    > Egyptian Gold Blog posted: “After mass shootings in the United States, > such as the recent shooting in Nevada, similar responses or events occur, , > with the Democrats stating their desire for more gun control laws, and the > Republicans desiring the status quo, or maybe even less regul” >

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    • Every family is different and has diverse needs/priorities, and so I don’t want people to take my personal opinions as something that I would expect of others. While I understand firearm possession for concerns about protecting ones family or for hunting, in my opinion the drawbacks, especially if anyone in the home has any sort of struggles with suicide, depression etc. or if proper safety measures are not in place, currently outweigh the benefits.
      While maybe one could argue that one is more likely to be a target of a violent burglary, (somewhere around 50,000 a year (https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2172) versus about 20,000 who commit firearm related suicides), there are a number of other factors that go into violent burglary, such as race, makeup of household (single mother, single father, etc.), neighborhood/home type, financial status of household, safety features, etc. How many crimes (and what type of crime) are stopped with a firearm is also questionable, with numbers ranging from almost 70,000 to 2 million (https://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/defensive-gun-use/), which would be an interesting study in regards to this topic.

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