Gun Death Epidemic? What Gun Death Epidemic?

By Don

Day after day, gun rights supporters are subjected to conjecture, hyperbole, and unsubstantiated “facts.” An unending stream of incomplete percentages with no indication of absolute magnitudes. Proof of causality and even correlation are casually dismissed and entire arguments and social policies are built on false assumptions and irrationality. How dangerous are guns in society? Is there really a gun-death epidemic? We hear a lot of presumed answers, explanations, and rationalizations, but let’s look at some hard facts. No causality or correlation between factors assumed here. Instead, we are taking a straight look at the numerical risk as it pans out in the real world . . .

For the sake of argument, we’ll trust what the experts in government tell us. For these facts we’ll be citing stats from the Center for Disease Control.  Specifically The National Vital Statistics Report, Table 18 on deaths for 2009.

Our Table 1 below shows probabilities of life and death in 2009 for the generic person in the USA. Let’s start on the naïve side, shall we?  If you were to choose one person in the country at random, there would be about a 99.2009% probability that this person was not going to die in 2009. There would be about a 0.7410% probability that they will die from non-injury related causes like sickness or “old age”, and a 0.0103% probability of “a gun killing them”. I use the absurd expression “a gun killing them” because this is exactly the statistic everyone is talking about but never quantifying.

This is quite literally the probability that a generic specimen plucked from the population of the United States of America will be “killed by a gun” . . . no other assumptions about who and from where (hence naïve).  The stat includes suicides, homicides, accidents, and legal intervention (like being killed by a police officer while committing a crime). One hundredth of one percent.

Why have I computed the statistics in this way, against the whole estimated population in the USA in 2009? Because no one is talking about the actual magnitude of risk a gun presents in our society. And from the tenor of the massive amounts of noise being generated lately by politicians and the media, they all have utterly wrong conceptions of what it is. People generally seem to have no sense of scale or what numbers mean UNLESS they are seeing the whole picture. The whole picture is life AND death.

Table 1:  Life and Death in 2009 in the USA

Categories

Absolute Number

Percent

Probability of Not Dying in 2009

302,562,837

99.2009%

Probability of non-injury related death in 2009

2,260,009

0.7410%

Probability of dying from an injury, but not firearm-related in 2009

145,807

0.0478%

Probability of experiencing firearm-related death in 2009*

31,347

0.0103%

* Includes all forms of Firearms-Related Death (Suicides, Homicides, Accidents, Legal Intervention/War), so essentially the probability of “being killed by any gun”

But how does this small numerical quantification of risk break down even farther and compare to other things we are used to (and far less afraid of)?  Let’s look at Table 2 below and start with gun homicides. That same generic person has a 0.0038% chance of being intentionally killed with a gun by another person. The probability of being killed by a gun accident is even lower, 0.0002%. What the hell does that even mean? Here’s a visual: if you look at a one meter stick, that’s the equivalent of 1/5 of one millimeter, as compared to the whole. Or about two human hair widths on a yardstick.

That same person is 56.5 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident. Or 52 times more likely to be killed by accidental poisoning. Accidental poisoning includes alcohol and drugs, legal or otherwise, and whatever other chemicals you may have under your sink.

Table 2:  Some Breakdown of Figures and Comparisons

More Breakdown

Absolute Number

Percent

Probability of being killed in a gun homicide in 2009

11,493

0.0038%

Probability of being killed by a gun accident in 2009

554

0.0002%

Probability of being killed by a traffic accident in 2009

34,485

0.0113%

Probability of being killed by unintentional poisoning in 2009

31,758

0.0104%

Now here’s where our rights come into play. If a person in modern society wants to mitigate their risk of being murdered with a gun, said person can look for geographical locations where all of these homicides occur, and choose not the live there. A person for whom it’s hard to escape such locations still can look at what legal or illegal professions or behaviors make up the near entirety of gun homicides and choose not to partake in them. You can mitigate your risk drastically by making good choices about your own life.  And you needn’t interfere with mine.

If a person wants to reduce the already virtually nonexistent probability of an accidental gun death then they have a lot of options, too. They can learn and practice gun safety.  They can store their guns responsibly. Or they can choose to not have one in their house at all.  You can almost eliminate your risk by making your own choices about your own life — by taking responsibility yourself. You don’t have to put it on me.

Interestingly enough, one risk reduction tactic that almost no one cares to engage in (because they’ve already decided the risk is too minimal to worry about) is telling me I can’t own and legally use a motor vehicle. No one is suggesting that we try to further reduce that risk by banning purely recreational vehicles and features like sports cars and turbo-chargers. Most would balk at the idea of mechanically restricting vehicle speed to 55, 65, or 75 miles per hour, whatever your local speed limit may be. What “legitimate reason” could a person have for going that fast in a car? All I can think of is some kind of life or death emergency which requires putting the pedal to the metal.

What legitimate reason do I have for a rifle with a 30 round magazine? All I can think of is a life or death emergency that requires a high rate of fire. Outside of these examples, in both cases the “legitimate reason” is recreation, and recreation is fine if it the hardware presenting the risk of death is a statistical anomaly. And, at least in the case of guns, it is.

Then there are drugs and alcohol. Substances sometimes needed for medical reasons and/or recreational purposes There’s no shortage of people who want to deregulate more of these. What about the likelihood this would result in more DUIs? Or what if this makes it easier for kids get their hands on drugs? If a person wants to mitigate the 52 times higher probability of experiencing an accidental poisoning death, they have a lot of options, too.  They can learn and practice drug safety. They can store their drugs responsibly.  Or they can choose not to have drugs in their house at all.

The fact is that guns present virtually zero risk to any particular individual. There is no “gun violence epidemic” in the US and claims that there is ignore facts and statistical reality.

Whatever infinitesimal threat they do present can be mitigated by exercising a little freedom of choice and taking personal responsibility in ways we’ve discussed. There’s no need to reduce the freedoms of others.

So here’s a proposal: I won’t come after your right to drive, own sports cars or turbo-chargers — even though we know they are 56.5 times more dangerous than my guns. And I won’t come after your right to put medicinal or recreational chemicals in your body — even if they can be harmful and make you act like an idiot. In exchange, you can stop all of this superficially cathartic persecution of legal gun owners based on the actions of a few madmen, and make some personal choices and take responsibility for yourself. Deal?