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Blackboard blocks with maths formulae

By Stan Harvey

Numbers don’t lie. Sounds simple enough, right? While this is true, people do lie in how they interpret and portray numbers. I’ve consistently noticed that something is absent from our nation’s gun control debate: context. The antis usually get to frame the national debate, with us playing defense and being characterized as cold and uncaring (after all, it’s for the children!). Sadly, you can make anything sound scary by taking it out context, and our brains often work against us in this regard . . .

The availability heuristic is a cognitive bias that causes us to over-represent the frequency or probability of something because we can easily remember it. This bias comes into play with how the media covers gun violence. When we put a lot of focus on extremely rare occurrences, we assume that they are happening all the time and are more of a risk than they actually are. Once we start talking about mass shootings in particular, the odds go down to the level of dying from a lightning strike. The reality is that a number of common activities cause more deaths and are more dangerous to an individual or society than firearms, yet we hardly even discuss them nationally.

First things first, let’s put the following numbers in context. In 2010 there were 2,468,435 total deaths recorded. Total gun deaths accounted for 31,672, or about 1.3%, of that. The gun deaths can be broken down into 19,392 suicides, 11,076 homicides, 606 unintentional, 344 legal intervention/war, and 252 undetermined. So right off the bat we know that almost 2/3 of these gun deaths are suicides and therefore misleading to include, not that antis are known for being intellectually honest.

Contrast the 606 accidental firearms deaths with the 33,687 deaths due to motor vehicle accidents (out of the estimated 300 million or so of both that are in the US), and the hysteria is readily apparent. Something tells me that these same people, who are mortified of guns, probably are not shaking in their shoes every time they hop into their car to run errands. Just wait until they find out that they are significantly more likely to die from traffic accidents than they are from another person shooting them with a gun, intentionally or accidentally…Prius sales would plummet!

So what other things are more dangerous than guns? Turns out that you are one of the biggest threats to yourself. In the same 2010 statistics, unintentional injuries accounted for 120,859 deaths. To hear gun control advocates tell it, you’d think the top cause of death in this country is gun violence (it’s not even in the top 15). One common estimate is that the flu causes roughly 36,000 deaths per year (it was 48,614 in 2003-2004 but can vary a lot by year), so where is the call for taking away our right to assemble and requiring that we all just stay in our homes during flu season? Chances are these same gun-phobic types are still going to work, shaking hands with people, touching shopping carts, and not wearing a mask all day.

For that matter, where is the outrage over the 100,000 deaths per year from known side effects of prescription drugs, the 98,000 deaths per year from preventable medical errors, or the 25,000 deaths per year from people falling down? The previous examples were mostly accidental, but what about voluntary activities that pose possible risks to our health and cause death? You can go into just about any convenience store in the country and purchase highly lethal substances like tobacco products (440,000 deaths per year), alcohol (88,000 deaths per year), and we can’t forget the fatty or sugar laden foods which contribute to the 400,000+ obesity-related deaths every year.

Irrational fear is not an effective basis for public policy in a just system of law. Above all, government actions should be evidence-based and results-oriented. We have rights so that we are not subjected to someones arbitrary whims or the tyranny of the majority.

No amount of laws or enforcement will ever be able to stop every horrific act of violence, or reduce all risks. As my mother says, “living is hazardous to your health”, and guns are potentially dangerous objects that on rare occasion can harm a user or bystander even when all safety procedures are faithfully followed. It is painfully transparent that the basis for most gun control arguments is fundamentally irrational, as they fixate on guns and the possible dangers they can pose while disregarding other things with equal or greater negative social impact.

Instead of getting drawn into their unwinnable arguments, we should re-frame the debate and ask why some people are so afraid of guns. Instead of getting pulled down to the lowest common denominator we should deconstruct their claims and put the issues in context. Firearms are simply not a significant enough problem to society to justify these debates and intrusions on our Second Amendment rights.

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  1. Substitute anti for liberal in those first sentences and you have the right idea as it stands the media will tow the liberal line regardless of facts. we just have to wait till traditional media dies which is happening before our eyes

    • Yep, most of the numbers came from the FBI crime statistics and the CDC. The others came from various sources and in some cases for estimates I looked at several different sources and picked the most common one or the middle numbers and not the extremes in the variation.

      • To help support your argument, could you do a few things?
        I want to be able to forward it to people, and have it be iron-clad…
        1) link to references (including ones you didn’t use, and why)
        2) have a table of the data (excel or something) so those of us who want to crunch it can.
        3) I don’t know where to find stats, but I’ve read about ‘suicide by cop’ as a symptom – it would be useful to break out that.
        4) Ditto for the single-car/driver-only fatalities that sure look like suicides: no car problems, no drugs/alcohol, no signs of braking: the driver just drives off the road and down a 500′ cliff. I’ve read that this too has been noted as a recurring event.

        Anyways, the more detailed the data, and more references, the harder it is to argue with it.

        PS: I read that gun-related violence in Chicago dropped when gun-ownership laws were tossed by a judge – that would also be a useful stat: Chicago deaths on month-by-month basis (per capita), with a marker indicating when Judge’s ruling changed (and when laws were put into effect).

  2. Good entry. I always wanted to create a risk chart that ranks the chances of death by doing things (like driving, and swimming) that are common for most people and cross that with gun deaths for people without a felony record (at least half of all homicides). Something that shows people how often they take risk in their life and don’t get hurt, but still consume themselves with worry over “gun violence.” Maybe that might be something for Nick to do when he gets a chance as his statistical kung fu is greater than mine.

  3. Just for the record, those “440,000 deaths per year” blamed on “tobacco products” is a complete fabrication, promulgated by various members of the Church of Antismokerism. Here are a few facts about tpbacco: “In this book, I will show that the case against smoking based on bogus statistics and downright lies. I will show that the case for a link between smoking and disease has not been proven and that, indeed, the international statistics suggest that there’s no link at all. “

  4. The GUN is a SYMBOL — it is the “other” culture’s “Flag”. Hatred for the symbol and the people who defend it, is drummed up VISUALLY and with simple slogans or cartoons. Gun opponents don’t really care about statistics or any suggestions that might increase their actual safety. Nor do they care about the Constitution — or individual rights. And *today* they trust the government (subject to change).

    It is not just analogous to the War On Drugs — the War On Guns is its identical twin — in another culture skin. Drugs are a SYMBOL. No one is trying to save drug users lives — drug users are simply scheduled for demolition by the state.

    Crack the pure Culture War conflict and The People of the Gun could make dramatic progress. Otherwise — we could be in big trouble. “Conservative” is NOT the dominant sub-culture in much of the US. If guns are ONLY a culture war — we can lose.

  5. I don’t get to wrapped up in statistics…

    Statistics are no solace to the exception.

  6. “…and guns are potentially dangerous objects that on rare occasion can harm a user or bystander even when all safety procedures are faithfully followed.” I guess I’ll have to disagree with that statement. Even if you follow only one rule (always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction) faithfully how can any harm occur?

    Good article. By the way when you look at how most people drive, it would be more accurate more of the time to refer to automobile accidents as “on-purposes” because anyone with half a brain could predict the outcome of their risky behaviors.

    • When I wrote that I was thinking of things like squib rounds, overcharged factory loads, catastrophic failure of the weapon due to defective materials or design, etc.

  7. I just can’t get all wound up over statistics. A certain percentage of gun violence is the price that comes with having a nation that will never be subjugated by force.

    • “I just can’t get all wound up over statistics. A certain percentage of gun violence is the price that comes with having a nation that will never be subjugated by force.”

      The thing that just sticks in my craw the worst is that every single piece of evidence, every observation, every statistic shows that more guns equals less crime, and they so steadfastly deny it.

      Oh, and there’s that “shall not be infringed” thing.

  8. The media’s necessity for news stories that will fill air time has no bias towards firearms. They will report anything that can cause an emotional reaction in their audience so they will stay tuned as developments unfold. It happens on both sides of the political aisle and will continue to as we entrench ourselves further.

  9. “Gunz r ickee”

    Why are you afraid of guns?

    “Statistic that 40% of all gun owners are Dick Cheney!”

    Don’t give me statistics, I’m asking you as a human being. Have you ever shot a gun? Would you be open minded enough to go to the range with me?


    So you aren’t open minded. Guess I’ll move on.



    Convert in the making.

  10. I live in a place that infringes my human right to have the tools of self defense. Permits to carry are given out to politicians and rich people. To top it off, I live next to multiple schools, so carrying near my house is not allowed.

    Yesterday I heard 5-8 gun shots outside my home. I went outside to see what happened. I see that a car has crashed into a wall. Apparently the person in the car was shot before the crash. After 5-10 minutes people started to notice the car crash and the family members of the victim started showing up. Of course the police have yet to arrive (as they don’t have a good response time). The first people to “arrive” were the fire department but they went to the wrong place. Because the fire department went to the wrong place they didn’t see anything so they left. After good amount of time the police finally started to show up. Then the fire department came back after the ambulance arrived. Finally they started to figure out the situation. They closed the streets, loaded the victim into the ambulance and waited for detectives to arrive.

    This event wasn’t surprising to me because this isn’t the first time someone was shot in front of my home. It’s not even the second murder/attempted murder to happen in front of my home. Keep in mind that I live in a gun free school zone. What is surprising is the reaction (or lack thereof) from the people outside during and after the event. I guess people don’t know what a gun sounds like and don’t care about car accidents because they were unperturbed. A bunch of kids were outside during the shooting, their parents didn’t notice the situation, meaning they didn’t bring the kids inside.

    Now should I carry a gun when I am outside my home? Well the local candidates up for election said a few days earlier that only the police or military should carry guns. That civilians need to be trained and go through a process to gain permission to carry a gun in public. You know… because they support the 2nd amendment but… don’t think everyone should have a gun or needs one.

    What can I do? I cannot get a concealed carry permit and there is no open carry. I live very close to 5 schools. Where I live there are school every where!

  11. Yes, yes, and yes! I have noticed how, consistently, the people-control crowd quote their stats with practically zero frame of reference.

  12. Good perspective but I disagree with the statement “…even when all safety procedures are faithfully followed”. Users and bystanders are completely safe, if ALL saftey procedures are failthfully followed. However it goes against human nature to expect that everyone follows every safety proceedure to the letter every single time they do anything. Ever see someone miss a stop sign? We are fallible, and accidental gun deaths being .0245% of all accidental deaths is proof enough for me. Stay safe everyone.

  13. Food for thought: What if the NRA (or any 2A group) was to call out the Anti-gunners to a public forum. Complete with media.

    Do you think the media would respond favorably to our perspective of facts, citing details as noted here?

    Would the anti’s participate? Or would they hide in fear of not being able to manipulate PR?

    Would the media still follow the money trail and continue the sensationalism or point out the overblown hype they cosume/fabricate?

    I would so like to see people wake up and see the facts over campaigns.

    /wakes from dream

  14. Great stats. Considering that the real agenda of the Democrat party is people control, not gun control, I wonder if we need to have ready the stats about the realities of a disarmed populace and how that has led to tyranny.

  15. If you look at the actual numbers of gun deaths not counting suicides is 11,000 people per year.

    Compare that with accidental, completely preventable deaths with Medicare at 180,000 people per year.

    Now take in to account there are fewer people on Medicare than own guns.

    Guns are a tool that can kill if need be. Medicare is a government program to help save lives.

    Save lives, end Medicare.

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