The Costs and Benefits of the Second Amendment – Without the Benefits

Writing for The New York Times, registered nurse Theresa Brown states she is trying to address the issue of guns in America from a fresh angle. Unfortunately The Human Cost of the Second Amendment (as you might be able to tell from the title) is another stale attempt to perform a cost-benefit analysis of gun ownership without bothering to look at any of the benefits . . .

With the hope of presenting the issue of guns in America in a novel way, I’m going to look at it from an unusual vantage point: the eyes of a nurse. By that I mean looking at guns in America in terms of the suffering they cause, because to really understand the human cost of guns in the United States we need to focus on gun-related pain and death.

Once again we have an anti presenting a litany of deaths and injuries resulting from criminal gun uses (CGUs) and suicides but completely ignoring the lives and property saved by defensive gun uses (DGUs):

Every day 80 Americans die from gunshots and an additional 120 are wounded, according to a 2006 article in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

I can actually do a little better than a 2006 article in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management by going to the CDC’s WISQARS website (which has been updated with data from 2010). So between 1999 and 2010 an average of 83.2 people per day died from gunshots. But . . .

Suicides accounted for 47.6 per day or a little over 57% and as numerous studies have shown, overall suicide rates are means independent. In other words if access to firearms is restricted the rate of suicide by firearm will go down, but overall suicide rates will stay the same. So taking suicides out of the total leaves us with 35.6 per day which is still a horrible number, but nowhere near as horrible as 80 or 83.2.

As for injuries, going back to WISQARS again we find that between 2001 and 2010 there were 187 people per day injured by gunshots, so I have no idea where the authors of The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management article came up with their 120 number. You know, I can understand how you could get a difference of 5-10% from differing methodologies, but a 55.8% difference? Sounds like someone made a serious boo-boo, and I included links to where my numbers came from.

But, anyway, getting back to the number of non-fatal injuries;  just how do injuries from gunshots compare to other causes? I have a little chart to show you; the y-axis is the number of non-fatal injuries a day, the x-axis is the cause:

So maybe we should worry about other causes of injury before we get all heated up over firearms, m’kay?

Those 80 Americans left their homes in the morning and went to work, or to school, or to a movie, or for a walk in their own neighborhood, and never returned.

This is a beautiful example of what my grandfather used to call “an undulating lie”. Every word is true but the entirety is deliberately misleading.

First of all, 47.6 of those Americans left their homes that morning intending to commit suicide, so they would never have returned regardless of the existence of firearms. But the really misleading part, the thing that Terry and the rest of her anti ilk all desperately want you to believe, is that every American is at equal risk for being a homicide victim and that is a flat out lie. From Wikipedia:

People with a criminal record are also more likely to die as homicide victims. Between 1990 and 1994, 75% of all homicide victims age 21 and younger in the city of Boston had a prior criminal record. In Philadelphia, the percentage of those killed in gun homicides that had prior criminal records increased from 73% in 1985 to 93% in 1996. In Richmond, Virginia, the risk of gunshot injury is 22 times higher for those males involved with crime.

Furthermore as points out,

An FBI data run of murder arrestees nationally over a four year period in the 1960s found 74.7% to have had prior arrests for violent felony or burglary. In one study, the Bureau of Criminal Statistics found that 76.7% of murder arrestees had criminal histories as did 78% of defendants in murder prosecutions nationally.

And according to the statistics garnered by from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics:

Two-thirds of the people who die each year from gunfire are criminals being shot by other criminals.

So the fact of the matter is, if you are not involved in criminal activity your risk of being a homicide victim is miniscule.

As for accidental shooting deaths, they average 1.9 per day but again, they are not as random as Terry would have us believe. First of all I have seen figures (which I can’t find at the moment, dang it!) that anywhere between 10% and 25% of “accidental” shootings are in fact suicides that, for one reason or another, are covered up by the investigators. Second, a little situational awareness goes a long way. As the Rabbi says, Avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places and you’ll be a lot safer.

But even if we accept all of Terry’s numbers her argument is irrelevant for two reasons. First, the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility. And second because more than twice as many lives are saved annually in DGUs than are lost in CGUs. Don’t believe me? Here are the numbers:

According to the Kleck-Gertz study from the early 1990s, there are between 2.1 and 2.5 million DGUs annually. Now there are a lot of people out there who deride this number as ludicrous. They’re unable or (more likely) unwilling to accept that Dr. Kleck is not a shill for the Gun Lobby™. This, despite the good doctor disclosing in his 1997 book Targeting Guns (quote from

The author is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Independent Action, Democrats 2000, and Common Cause, among other politically liberal organizations He is a lifelong registered Democrat, as well as a contributor to liberal Democratic candidates. He is not now, nor has he ever been, a member of, or contributor to, the National Rifle Association, Handgun Control, Inc. nor any other advocacy organization, nor has he received funding for research from any such organization.

But skeptics will always be skeptical and antis will always prefer their own “reality” so let’s go ahead and throw the K-G number out in favor of a more conservative one.

Let’s use the numbers from the study which was commissioned by the Clinton DoJ shortly after the K-G study came out (to refute the K-G numbers maybe? If so: Oops!). That study, conducted by Drs. Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig (who both have a long record as very strong proponents of very strict gun control) concluded that there were 1.46 million DGUs per year.

I imagine that some may find even this lower number dubious, given the numbers from the National Crime Victimization Surveys which show between 50,000 and 100,000 DGUs per year.

Unfortunately for those hopeful doubters, the way the NCVS is structured means that it seriously undercounts the number of DGUs. I’ll let Dr. Tom Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago explain:

First, it appears that the estimates of the NCVSs are too low. There are two chief reasons for this. First, only DGUs that are reported as part of a victim’s response to a specified crime are potentially covered. While most major felonies are covered by the NCVSs, a number of crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, and malicious mischief are not. DGUs in response to these and other events beyond the scope of the NCVSs are missed.

Second, the NCVSs do not directly inquire about DGUs. After a covered crime has been reported, the victim is asked if he or she “did or tried to do [anything] about the incident while it was going on.” Indirect questions that rely on a respondent volunteering a specific element as part of a broad and unfocused inquiry uniformly lead to undercounts of the particular of interest.

There’s another problem with the failure to directly inquire about DGUs: the DGU question is only triggered by someone saying they were the victim of a crime. If someone came towards me with a knife saying “Gimme your wallet,” and I put my hand on my weapon and replied “I don’t think so, Skippy,” causing the assailant to retreat, was I actually the victim of a crime?

Before I started researching these issues I would have told the NCVS interviewer that no, I hadn’t been the victim of a crime so they never would have learned of my DGU.

So to try to figure out how many lives were saved, I turn once again to Kleck and Gertz’s article Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun. They found that 15.7% of people involved in a DGU believed that they “almost certainly” saved their life of someone else’s.

That might strike some people as an awfully large percentage, but if you take into account the fact that most locales regard the mere act of pulling a gun as using deadly force and combine it with the fact that most places also require someone to be in “reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm” before he or she can lawfully use deadly force, the number seems more feasible.

In addition to the “almost certainly” pool, The K-G study also found that 14.6% of respondents believed that someone “probably would have” been killed if not for their DGU.

Because I want my numbers to be distinctly conservative let’s say that 9 out of 10 of the “almost certainly” folks were wrong, and let’s say that 99 out of 100 of the “probably” people were also incorrect. That means we can state with a fair degree of certainty that at least 1.716% of the 1.46 million DGUs saved a life.

Doing the math that translates to over 25,000 lives that are saved annually by guns.

So we’ve determined that at least 25,000 lives per year are saved by DGUs, and according to the CDC, between 1999 and 2010 there were an average of 11,740 gun-related homicides annually, which means that for every criminal homicide with a firearm there were more than two lives saved by DGUs; this is the human value of the Second Amendment.

Theresa then spends a few paragraphs riffing on how life is good and death is scary before stepping out to bash law-abiding citizens who take responsibility for protecting themselves and their loved ones:

The focus on preserving life and alleviating suffering, so evident in the hospital, contrasts strikingly with its stubborn disregard when applied to lives ended by Americans lawfully armed as if going into combat.

For starters I do not routinely carry a 60-pound ruck, M-4, pistol and body armor the way our soldiers going into combat do. What I do normally carry is a FN FiveseveN and a spare mag or two.

As for a focus on preserving life, that is exactly why I carry. I will never draw my weapon unless I am in reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm; this is why I always tell people that you don’t “shoot to kill”, rather you shoot to live.

And even if it weren’t true that the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility the fact is that lawful DGUs save 2 lives for every one lost to a CGU.

Theresa continues:

The deaths from guns are as disturbing, and as final, as the cadavers I studied in anatomy lab, but the talk we hear from the gun lobby is about freedom and rights, not life and death.

Yes indeed, death is disturbing and final; whether it comes from the muzzle of a gun or the blade of a knife or the tines of a pitchfork or a dollar’s worth of gasoline. But for the most part we gunnies are not obsessed with death and killing so we prefer to dwell on the positive aspects of gun ownership by the law-abiding. The fact of the matter is that it is about freedom and rights; my freedom to defend myself and those I love from people who would do us harm and the right to carry the safest, most effective self-defense tool in existence.

Gun advocates say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The truth, though, is that people with guns kill people, often very efficiently, as we saw so clearly and so often this summer.

Another thing we saw this summer is that every single one of those mass shootings took place in a “gun free” zone; thus enabling people like Theresa to ignore the positive aspects of law-abiding gun ownership. In fact every single mass casualty shooting[8] in the country, with the sole exception of Tucson, has occurred in a nominally “gun-free” zone. As long as sick bastards are provided with low-risk shooting galleries they will continue to take advantage of them, and people like Theresa will continue to dance in the blood of the victims while crying out for more shooter-friendly zones.

And then, after admitting that the Second Amendment is part of the Constitution, Theresa pulls out the statists favorite argument[9], the one they use whenever they are trying to infringe on peoples’ natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional rights:

No one argues that it should be legal to shout “fire” in a crowded theater; we accept this limit on our right to speak freely because of its obvious real-world consequences.

First things first Theresa: I will argue that it indeed should be legal to shout “fire” in a crowded theater assuming, of course, that there is a fire. But to carry your analogy over to the gun rights side: You antis don’t just want to make it illegal for me to shout “fire”; you to require me to wear a gag any time I step out of my house much less arrive at a theater. We would never permit the restrictions currently applied Second Amendment rights to be applied against the First, no matter how “common sense” and “reasonable” you claim they are.

Likewise, we need to stop talking about gun rights in America as if they have no wrenching real-world effects when every day 80 Americans, their friends, families and loved ones, learn they obviously and tragically do.

Remember that bit about suicides accounting for almost 48 of those “gun deaths” a year? They still do, and suicide rates are still independent of method so we’re actually talking about more like 37 Americans, their friends, families and loved ones learning about the real-world effect of guns. And again there is the real-world elephant in the living room that you are continuing to ignore; the fact that more than more than 68 Americans, their friends, families and loved ones are counting their blessings that their loved ones had a gun and were able to use it to defend their lives.

Oops! I take it back; Theresa does actually address DGUs when she says:

Many victims never stand a chance against a dangerously armed assailant, and there’s scant evidence that being armed themselves would help.

I would commend the above figures about the number of lives saved vs. those taken to Theresa’s attention, then direct her to The Value of Civilian Handgun Possession as a Deterrent to Crime or a Defense Against Crime by Don B. Kates and published in the 1991 American Journal of Criminal Law (available here). Included in Prof. Kates piece is this table

which clearly shows that the safest and most effective response to a criminal attack (including not resisting at all) is to defend yourself with a gun.

So I have a request for proponents of unlimited access to guns. Spend some time in a trauma center and see the victims of gun violence — the lucky survivors — as they come in bloody and terrified. Understand that our country’s blind embrace of gun rights made this violent tableau possible, and that it’s playing out each day in hospitals and morgues all over the country.

I have a request for you Theresa; understand that it is the “gun-free” zones and anti-self-defense attitudes of statists across the country that prevent people from arming and defending themselves. Understand that it is your blind embrace (and that of your fellow useful idiots) of the nonsensical idea that guns=violence which discourages people from learning about and exercising their natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right to arm themselves with the safest and most effective self-defense tool in existence; the firearm.