“The nonsensical and counterintuitive mantra of the gun nuts (a term that often is appropriate) is that more guns will make us safer from gun violence,” the Fargo Forum editorial board writes today. “The facts prove otherwise. There are more guns than ever out there. Yet, the proliferation of death and injury from firearms is at epidemic levels.”
That may be how things look if you get your information from within the ideological bubble of MSNBC polemics and the New York Times editorial board. Unfortunately for the folks at the Forum, the facts don’t substantiate those comments.
Whatever side of the gun debate you’re on, can this chart (compiled by Professor Mark Perry) really be said to illustrate a causal relationship between increased gun ownership and increased gun violence?
As you can see while the number of guns per capita has increased dramatically – by more than 54 percent – the homicide rate has declined nearly 49 percent. And it’s not just homicides which have declined. Per the Washington Post which cites data from the Pew Research Center, non-fatal criminal firearm victimizations have also seen a sharp decline, from 726.3 victimizations per 100,000 people to 174.8:
Even if we look at the total number of gun deaths – which include suicides and accidental shootings – the trend is downward. Though, as you can see, the suicide trend line specifically is up in recent years. But suicides aren’t crime, and they’re not what the Forum or other advocates for gun control are talking about.
The data does not support the “epidemic” position and the only people who claim otherwise are poorly informed or ignoring facts inconvenient to the political position they’ve staked out.
I won’t claim, as some do, that the increase in guns has contributed to America’s decline in violent crime. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were true, but I haven’t seen a definitive case made beyond a correlation in the numbers. But certainly this dispels the nonsense about gun crime epidemics.
Not to mention this ugly jab from the Forum: “The NRA and its allies have made the nation more dangerous and more violent while filling their coffers with money from gullible members and very savvy gun manufacturers and marketers.”
How can the nation be more dangerous when the data shows that America is seeing less crime, generally, and fewer deaths and injuries from guns specifically? Despite a very large increase in the number of guns in our society?
Even if you make an argument based on the type of gun involved in crime – I’m talking about the demands for a ban on “assault rifles” – you’re talking about something used in just a little more than one tenth of one percent of all homicides. If you consider the cost of trying to ban so-called “assault rifles” in terms of implementing and enforcing the policy – not to mention the confiscation of already owned guns which is what some of the more extreme advocates want – is it really worth the benefit of addressing such a tiny fraction of crime? Even if the policy were effective which it probably wouldn’t be?
I do think we should be concerned about what appears to be a rise in mass shootings. Mother Jones editor Mark Follman has a letter to the New York Times disputing some of the wilder statistics about mass shootings left-wing media outlets have been using and touting his publication’s own measure. The Mother Jones data looks solid, despite that publication’s ideological leanings, and it shows an increase in incidents.
It’s hard to say at this point if it’s a statistically significant increase. Certainly there is a perception they’ve increased given intense media and political focus on them. But even supposing there is a real increase in mass shootings, an aberration in America’s overall declining gun death/injury numbers, are guns the cause of the shootings?
The answer, bluntly, is no. The cause of the shootings seems to be primarily one of two things: Extremist ideologies (the San Berdoo shooting and the Charleston shooting), mental health problems (James Holmes, Jared Loughner) or some combination of the too (the Colorado Springs/Planned Parenthood shooting). Guns in these incidents are merely the implement, not the cause, of the mayhem.
We’d be better off focusing on the cause, but demands for gun control are better fodder for trite political messaging and self-righteous social media posts.