The never-too-bright Jessica Valenti linked to this graphic, allegedly showing that since the 1960s, more people have been killed by firearms in the United States than in every American war, ever. And Politifact sez it’s true, so it’s like, Teh Truth, right?
If this sounds absurd to anyone, let me explain something: people in America rarely kill each other with guns, but Americans are really, really good at committing suicide with guns. From the CDC’s website, running a search from 1981 to 1998:
Total death by firearms: 620,525
Suicide deaths by firearm: 321,355
Simple subtraction: 299,170 deaths that were not suicide and were by firearm. (Does Valenti think that people who were going to shoot themselves will, in the absence of a gun, seek counseling, write a book, and get on Oprah?) But let’s break it down further. Do we mind if a cop shoots a crazy person on a killing spree? or if a homeowner shoots dead a rapist/robber? Because that’s another 4,977 deaths during that time period that really have little place in anti-gun hysteria. Another source points out that there are only about 11,000 firearm-related homicides every year – the majority of firearm-related deaths are from suicide, police, or self-defence.
Let’s bring things into the twenty-first century to see how modern gun laws work. The United States ranks #10 in total firearm-related deaths (out of 75 countries – a very incomplete list). However, suicides account for approximately 2/3ds of those deaths. Of course, that #10 ranking is absurd. Believing that ranking requires us to believe the following things, in no particular order:
- zero people in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuwait accidentally killed someone with a firearm;
- for almost two dozen countries, the number of firearm related suicides is “not applicable”;
- three countries, including Iceland, have a “not applicable” homicide rate with firearms;
- it is totally rational to do a straight-up comparison of countries when some data are from 1993, some from 2012, and the rest, from any random year in between. That is not cherry-picking to obtain the desired result.
Stop. Make the hilarity stop. I’m laughing and the cat is scared.