Brian Resnick, writer and fellow at The Atlantic, has a fairly long and distinguished pedigree as an anti. In his latest piece, Gun Culture May Contribute to Suicide Rate in Rural America he demonstrates an outstanding grasp of logical fallacies. In this case, his entire piece is based around the post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this therefore because of this) fallacy. In his defense, Brian didn’t come up with this idea, he just takes it and runs with it like Usain Bolt after a couple of Red Bulls . . .
Rural Americans between the ages of 10 and 24 are twice as likely as their urban counterparts to commit suicide. And while youth suicides have declined across the country in recent years, suicide rates in sparsely populated areas have remained steady. While it is hard to pinpoint the reasons for this disparity — access to mental health treatments is a major contributor — one reason may be tied to gun culture.
At least Bri admits lack of mental health services is a “major contributor” to the problem. Unfortunately, access to the full study requires money and I’m a tightwad, but you can read an abstract here. But instead of the two items Brian mentions, the abstract states:
Analyses suggested that clinicians’ engagement with parents included 5 major elements: telling parents their child is at risk for suicide; responding to parents’ reactions; joining with parents; moving the parents towards concrete actions; and addressing rural gun culture.
Brian’s willingness to ignore other factors is endemic to most of the antis arguments; unless, of course, they are trying to discredit a pro-gun argument. For more than a decade now, Dr. John Lott has been doing highly detailed studies of guns and crime, taking into account police department staffing, policing methods, conviction rates, sentencing, drug prices and availability.
In all, he includes more than a dozen variables to show that more guns equal less crime. But the antis have dismissed these studies and the more than a dozen others like it as being “obviously flawed” and “failing to take into account” all the different variables which go into crime rates.
Now, I’m guessing that Resnick and his ilk are using “gun culture” as a code-word for “gun availability.” So having dismissed many excruciatingly detailed studies which show more guns mean less crime, somehow the simple correlation of gun culture/availability with higher suicide rates is sufficient for him to tout that availability as a causative. But is there contrary evidence out there? Indeed there is: GunPolicy.org provides us with some comparative information:
- Japan has 0.6 firearms per 100 people
- Russia has 8.9 firearms per 100 people
- The United States has 88.8 firearms per 100 people
The U.S. suicide rate in 2008 was 11.96 per 100,000 people. GunPolicy has figures for Russia and Japan, but they are more than 10 years old. However a quick Google search on ‘japan suicide rate 2011’ yields this article which tells us that:
Japan has long battled a high suicide rate. At 24.4 suicides per 100,000 people, the country ranked second in 2009 among the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations after Russia’s 30.1, according to the World Health Organization.
So when you boil it all down, here’s what’s left in the bottom of the pot:
|Country||Guns per 100||Suicides per 100K|
Whaddaya know? There isn’t even any correlation between firearm access and suicide rates, much less causation.
The full body of relevant studies indicates that firearm availability measures are significantly and positively associated with rates of firearm suicide, but have no significant association with rates of total suicide. Of eleven studies measuring an association between measures of gun availability and the total suicide rate, nine found no statistically significant positive association … one found a significant positive association … and one … obtained mixed results …
This pattern of results supports the view that where guns are less common, there is complete substitution of other methods of suicide, and that, while gun levels influence the choice of suicide method, they have no effect on the number of people who die in suicides. [emphasis added]
These results are also fully in accord with the CDC’s First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws which states (in part):
Overall, evaluations of the effects of acquisition restrictions on violent outcomes have produced inconsistent findings … One study indicated a statistically significant reduction in the rate of suicide by firearms among persons aged >55 years; however, the reduction in suicide by all methods was not statistically significant.
Brian goes on with his explanation and analysis, but since his entire premise is completely incorrect I see no reason to waste more electrons debunking him any further.
 Targeting Guns, Gary Kleck (1997), pp. 49-50