Over the last 60 years, the number of guns in private hands in the United States has risen sharply. At the same time, during the last two decades, the number of murders and non-negligent homicides have fallen sharply. More guns do not equal more crime. In response, opponents of an armed civilian population have shifted their focus and changed the terminology they use. Instead of gun control, now they label restrictive legislation as promoting “gun safety”.
Instead of focusing on violent crime, they’ve re-framed the issue, using the term “gun violence.” Most people consider gun violence to be “gun crime.” But anti-gunners use the term to include suicides and accidents as well as murders. They lump them all together as “gun deaths.”
Their theory is that more guns equal more deaths. Fatal gun accidents have fallen to all time lows; murder has fallen sharply to rates not seen since the middle 1960s. Most “gun deaths” are suicides. Their claim has become “more guns equal more suicides”.
The claim ignores the fact that other cultures with few guns have higher suicide rates than the United States. Substitute methods of suicide are readily available.
If more guns equals more suicides, you would expect the fraction of suicides committed with guns to increase as the per capita number of guns increased.
An increased fraction of suicides with guns does not necessarily mean that more guns result in more suicides. Suicide levels probably rise or fall independently. But if more guns does not correlate with a greater fraction of guns used in suicides, the theory that more guns result in more suicides becomes implausible.
Looking at the fraction of suicides with guns eliminates the various economic ups and downs and other factors that contribute to the total number of suicides.
Comparing the fraction of gun suicides to the per capita number of guns in the country eliminates many of the problems with surveys and estimates of gun numbers in various states, cities and regions. State and local data about gun ownership is unreliable and incomplete.
The ATF has good data about increases in private gun numbers.
The Center for Disease Control has records for suicides from 1981 to 2014. The fraction of suicides with firearms has followed the general trend of homicides. The fraction of suicides with firearms increased slightly in the 1990s, then decreased over the past two decades.
Guns were chosen for .58 of all suicides in 1981. The fraction of suicides committed with guns rose to high of .61 from 1990 to 1997 (the high point of homicides was 1993-95), then started a long decline ending at .49, the record low, in 2014.
Per capita numbers of private firearms increased from .754 in 1981 to 1.176 in 2014. While the fraction of suicides committed with guns fell 16 percent, the per capita number of guns in the country rose 56 percent.
More guns have not increased the fraction of suicides committed with guns over several economic cycles.
The rates of suicide used are those from the Center for Disease Control WISQARS data base. The CDC adjusted the rates to account for changing age distributions. The age correction does not make a large difference. It removes the variation associated with changing percentages of various age groups over the decades examined.
The number of private firearms was calculated from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) numbers, using the method developed by Newton and Zimring, expanded on by Gary Kleck in “Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America”. Census figures were used to determine the per capita numbers.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.