Saturday, December 14, 2013


Subtle Inuendo Follows

Here is a heart-felt but somewhat flighty opinion piece in the Guardian by unknown-to-me Michael Cohen. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Cohen is not a supporter of American Second Amendment rights. He's upset that people are still being killed by guns in America after the tragedy a year ago in the school in Newtown, Conn. I'm upset by the number of Americans killed by medical mistakes, a number which dwarfs our gun murder rate, but that's not the subject. Everybody's got a thing. Let's look at Mr. Cohen's. Here's the title and lede:

A year after Newtown, America's gun carnage continues with no end in sight

Slate calculated that the US death toll from gun violence since Newtown is more than 33,000. When will we wake up?
I'm awake. So people who are intent on taking human life did not look on the horrible tragedy of 20 young grade school kids (and a half dozen teachers and administrators) murdered by a crazy person and immediately mend their errant ways and decide not to kill anyone else, ever. Is that the result that Mr. Cohen was rationally expecting? Let's start with his numbers.

Slate had indeed kept track of media publications regarding gun deaths in America since the Newtown tragedy and come up with 11,000 deaths, including murder, suicide and accidents. They think their 11k is a low number and the real number is closer to 33,000. They are probably right. Here is a breakdown from 2011. There were:
851        accidental gun deaths
19,766  suicides using a gun
11,000  gun murders

That total is approaching the Slate guess of 33k, so the Slate counters' strong suspicions are probably correct. I'm going to subtract out the suicides, which are nearly 2/3rds of the gun deaths per year in America. Suicide is a different problem than gun violence and accidental death and it completely muddies the water of debate to include those chosen deaths with the un-chosen, unwanted deaths of murder victims and accidents. The number of accidental deaths involving guns per year fluctuate between 500 and 1000. Each is a tragedy but it's not a pressing concern, unless all you can see are the deaths caused by guns. Drownings are a similar problem, particularly among young children, but no one is writing about water safety on the first anniversary of Newton.

The good news about gun murders in America is that they are much lower today, per 100,000, than they were even 20 years ago. In the mid 70s, 80s and 90s, the gun murder rate ranged from 6.1 to 6.7per100,000 Now it's between 3 and 3.5per100,000, a big decline. Cohen writes, however:
But a year later what is even more unimaginable, more difficult to comprehend and more shocking than this horrible act of violence – is that the carnage continues with seemingly no end in sight.
Yeah, you mentioned that we ought to stop gun violence, the how is the difficult question. He then complains that it is difficult to get the numbers for gun violence and he blames the NRA and Congress for blocking data collection. I really had no problem. I just went to the FBI crime statistics. It is confusing that one branch of the federal government says 11,000 were murdered in 2012 with guns and the FBI says it was only 8855. That's a difference. 

There is one thing that Mr. Cohen is sure of: Having a gun is bad.
A 2010 meta-study by a researcher at the Harvard Injury Control Center lays out the sobering consequences of expanded gun ownership:
The evidence is overwhelming … that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns.
So gun accidents and gun suicides generally occur in households that have guns. Isn't that a bit banal? If there is no gun in the house then gun accidents and gun suicides would necessarily rarely occur there, right? Most traffic deaths occur where someone is driving a car. Am I missing something here? Otherwise it seems completely, "no, duh!"

Ah, but what about protection say gun advocates? How will I ever keep my family safe from the hordes of home invaders? As the study says, "There is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in."

This is the former Democrat State Senator Evie Hudak's position--you think you can defend yourself with a gun but we know better. Only Harvard researchers could look at the hundreds of thousands of successful defenses by a gun each year to criminal activity and not see "credible evidence" that having a gun when you need it is a good thing. We non-Harvard types know better.

If there is one thing that we do know about gun ownership in America, it is that buying a gun and keeping it one's home for "protection" dramatically increases the possibility of dying (or having a family member or friend die) from gun violence.

Well, for sure if you go out and buy a gun with which you intend to kill yourself, your chances of dying by gunshot are increased substantially. And again, if there is no gun in the house, the incidence of gun accident there is very low indeed. As to the idea that the mere presence of a gun in the house increases your chance of being a victim of gun murder... That's not as clear. The study I believe Mr. Cohen is citing without attribution is not a good one as it did not take on causation at all, merely post hoc propter hoc.

It's even worse for children. By one estimate, more than 75% of guns used in suicide attempts and unintentional injuries in those between birth and age 19 were kept in the home of the victim, at relatives or with friends. Imagine if Americans were told that every time they went to the gun store to buy a weapon.

So 3/4 of suicides and accidents with guns for child victims involved guns kept "in the home of the victim, at relatives or with friends". So 1/4 involved guns held by non-relative strangers. Doesn't that seem high?

As Mr. Cohen notes, gun ownership has soared in the United Sates from an already high number to an even higher number. Despite the tens of millions of new guns purchased over the past several decades the rate of American gun homicide rate per 100,000 has fallen by at least 40%. Is that not refutation to anyone saying more guns lead to more gun crime, at least for the ultimate taking of another life?

Mr. Cohen doesn't mention that statistic.

The potential gun confiscators can't handle that truth.


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