Some Saturday-night myth-busting

by Roxeanne De Luca | February 9th, 2013

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Some Saturday-night myth-busting

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.

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.

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