What is “Gun Violence?”
By Jeff Knox
(April 9, 2015) When you hear terms like “gun violence” and “gun deaths,” what do you think of? For most people, the first thought is of thugs waving guns and shooting people during the commission of a violent crime. But that’s not what’s being talked about in “studies” and “statistics” published in the media. Sure they include this terminology when they report on those types of crimes, but most of the time, when the media talks about “gun violence” or “gun deaths,” they’re following a game-plan from gun control advocacy groups, and the data is based on much more than violent criminals. The “gun violence” and “gun deaths” they’re talking about also includes armed citizens using guns to defend themselves and their families, police using guns to stop criminals, hunters unintentionally shooting themselves or others in the fields, and people who use guns when they choose to take their own lives. Over 60% of all firearm-related deaths are suicides.
When you hear the term “gun violence” do you think of a mom shooting a violent intruder in her home? Or a police officer shooting an armed criminal? Even hunting accidents, are included as “gun violence,” and while all of these describe “gun deaths,” they are not the sort of gun deaths most people think of when the term is thrown out on the table.
It’s the use – and abuse – of this type of terminology in the media and from politicians that keeps the American public confused about the role of guns in our society.
The confusion is no accident. Gun control groups intentionally use deceptive terminology in bogus “studies” and false or misleading statistics, and media outlets regurgitate this distorted information with no skepticism, analysis, or basic fact-checking. Media reports are often verbatim re-publications of these advocacy groups’ press releases.
The Violence Policy Center – a gun control advocacy group funded almost entirely by the Joyce Foundation, on whose board of directors Barack Obama once served – has been getting tons of free media with a nonsensical comparison between “gun deaths,” and traffic fatalities. In the “study,” which is really nothing more than an opinion piece with some carefully selected statistics thrown in, they make much of the fact that “gun deaths” are eclipsing traffic deaths in many states. They credit reductions in traffic fatalities to government regulations like drunk driving laws and safety requirements for cars. The suggestion is that additional regulations on guns and gun owners would have a similar positive impact on “gun deaths.” This is the same sort of “magical thinking” that encouraged unilateral destruction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the 1970s, and which has fueled massive surges in violent crime in “controlled” nations like Great Briton.
Newspapers, TV and radio news and talk shows, and internet sites across the country have been promoting the “study” as a significant news story under such catchy headlines as “Bullets vs. Buicks,” and “Bangers vs. Bullets.” Some of the stories make a half-hearted effort toward balance by pointing out in passing that suicides and justified shootings are included in the aggregate, or including a comment from a rights supporter, but never do you see any rational analysis of the methodology of the “study,” the bias and agenda of the authors, or discussion of various factors involved in the statistics.
In all of the mainstream media reports on this “study,” which has been re-released annually with updated numbers for at least the past five years, I have never seen mention of the fact that nationally, and in every state I’ve analyzed, murders and unintentional deaths by firearm have been declining at a faster rate than traffic fatalities. Never have I seen it pointed out that this decline has been occurring while the numbers of guns and gun owners has been increasing dramatically. Nor have I ever seen mention that total miles driven in the U.S., and in most states, particularly among younger drivers, was going down throughout the “study” period thanks to escalating gasoline prices. And I’ve never seen a story discussing justifiable “car deaths.”
The one statistic that skews the charts is suicide. Over 60% of all firearm-related deaths in the U.S. are attributable to suicide. Rates of suicide by gun are not surprisingly higher in states where guns are more common, and guns tend to be more common in lower populated, Western states where traffic fatalities tend to be lower. Suicide rates have been edging up slightly over the past decade, with the predominant demographic of increase being young military veterans.
That is a tragic reality, and it is something that is just as much a concern to gun owners as any other American. We at The Firearms Coalition believe that this is another area where education can make a significant impact, just as it has in reducing unintentional firearm deaths and injuries. While there is some research suggesting that waiting periods for firearm purchases might have some positive impact on suicide rates, the most comprehensive research to date to reach this conclusion found only a very small impact on a fairly narrow demographic: white males over 55 years of age. It is also worth noting that the research was funded by the Joyce Foundation, the same folks who fund the Violence Policy Center and many other anti-rights activities. Any positive impact of these types of laws is unlikely to outweigh the negative impact on people in immediate need of a firearm for self-defense purposes.
Gun groups have always been the front line in true gun safety efforts, and we have been amazingly effective at reducing accidental deaths attributable to negligent discharges. Gun groups should also be in the vanguard of efforts to prevent firearm suicides, understanding that the goal must be preventing suicides, not just reducing the percentage of them committed using firearms. For more information on suicide prevention, check out www.afsp.org.
The next time you see a report about “gun violence,” look closely to see if it’s really about gun violence or actually about promoting gun control. The 50% reduction in “gun murder” in the U.S. over the past 20 years, while guns and gun ownership have been going up and gun control laws have been being liberalized, clearly shows that guns don’t cause violence. Using a gun to stop a violent criminal should never be labeled as “gun violence.”