The truth about gun deaths: numbers and actual solutions

When the President went on television after the Oregon college mass shooting he issued a challenge to the media. He asked them to show America the number of gun deaths as compared to the number of terrorism related deaths since the 9/11 attacks. The media dutifully complied and soon every network, newspaper and magazine was putting up startling graphics, such as this one tweeted by CNN.


These graphics and figures were almost uniformly followed by comments about the mass shooting and the “pressing need” for background checks and other gun control laws. Unfortunately, all of these numbers flashing around were dishonestly offered up with no context or details. As it turns out, however, the real numbers are available from a variety of sources including the FBI and the CDC, among others, so let’s take a look at them. It takes federal agencies a long time to compile and publish their statistics, so the last full set of data we have is from 2011 and the figures can shed a lot of light on exactly how mendacious gun control advocates are being with these studies.

First of all, look at the number of gun deaths on that chart from 2011. It’s 32,351. That’s a lot of gun deaths to be sure. So that’s the total number of murders by gun owners, right? The answer is not only Hell No, but it’s not even remotely close. It’s true that this figure is close to the total number of human lives ended in incidents involving a gun, but that’s all incidents. So how did those deaths happen?

Straight from the CDC where most of the media is drawing their numbers (while not as good of a source as the FBI or the Justice Department) we can find out that of those 32,352 gun deaths, 21,175 of them were suicides. That leaves us with 11,177 deaths to account for. But as it turns out, the FBI records that 8,583 deaths were murders of various sorts involving guns of all types. The remaining roughly 2,500 were accounted for by accidents and unintentional injuries. These include hunting accidents, toddlers getting hold of unsecured weapons and shooting somebody or just plain idiots who proved Darwin right.

Before we move on, those FBI numbers deserve a closer look for a moment since we’re on the subject. What sorts of guns are used in actual crimes? I bring this up because each mass shooting elicits renewed calls for an “assault weapons” ban on guns like the AR-15 style rifle. Are those popular in crimes? Check out the figures from the FBI report.


Take a good look at those numbers. Of the actual 8,583 gun murders committed in 2011, 323 were committed with “rifles.” And that’s all rifles, including bolt action, deer hunting rifles and all the rest. The number committed with so called “assault rifles” were a fraction of that. When you ask how dangerous those rifles are, compare that to nearly 1,700 who were stabbed as well as nearly 500 murdered with blunt objects and and more than 700 beaten to death by somebody with their bare hands. Enough said on that topic.

So we’re down to 8,583 intentional killings using guns. That’s still one heck of a lot of bodies, and surely enough to justify new background checks and other restrictions on legal gun purchases, right? Again… not even close. The Justice Department has been studying the question of legal vs. illegal sources of guns used in crimes for decades, going back to this study issued in the early nineties. They admit that the numbers are simply too hard to track for us to pin down exact figures, but the trends are steady over the years. The vast majority of guns used in crimes were gotten through illegal means outside the legal purchase regimen followed by law abiding gun owners. Roughly one quarter of inmates convicted of gun crimes admitted to having stolen a gun in that study. For the ones that weren’t stolen directly, another 2004 study showed that 40% of convicts bought their guns on the black market and another 37% got them through the “gray market” in various illegal methods.

In fact, one study after another has shown that legally purchased weapons which followed all the normal firearms transfer rules accounted for somewhere between six and eight percent of all murders. And the majority of those were domestic violence incidents, violence between family members, crimes of passion and, yes… murders committed by the insane. But let’s give the gun grabbers the benefit of the doubt, round it up and say that ten percent were committed with legally purchases guns. That works out to around 850.

850 is too many people, but it’s a far cry from more than 32,000 per year.

So what do you want to do about it?

Now that we’ve discovered who is being killed by guns and how it’s happening, let’s put some actual solutions on the table. First of all, as we saw above, the vast majority of gun deaths are suicides. That’s not a gun control issue. Suicides largely fall into two groups: the depressed, hopeless and mentally ill or those suffering from terminal illness looking for a fast way out. For the former we definitely need to be providing more help and counseling to the hopeless and the depressed, allowing them to find a better way to deal with their problems than a terminal exit. And the mentally ill remain a major – but not gun control related – challenge for our legislators to deal with. For the terminally ill, as toxic of a subject as it may be, assisted suicide laws such as are already in place in a couple of states might at least offer those on their way out of this world a more peaceful and medically sound path than putting a barrel in their mouth.

Accidents account for too many deaths and that’s a place where responsible gun owners must always strive to improve in terms of educating the public. The NRA does some great work in this area, but there are still too many people making careless, stupid mistakes which wind up costing somebody their life. Also, the number of stolen guns can be cut down if more owners take the necessary precautions to make it harder for thieves to steal their weapons from their homes and automobiles.

As to the big ticket media item of real criminals committing murders and other crimes with guns, we’ve identified the lion’s share of those above. They are buying guns illegally because they can get away with it. That’s already illegal. The answer here isn’t new laws to restrict the law abiding who aren’t going to be committing crimes in the first place. We need to be enforcing the laws we already have. Get more resources on the job to find and confiscate illegal weapons from criminals. Stop hampering the police with politically correct restrictions and let them get back to the broken windows, stop and frisk, see something say something approach which finds guns in the hands of common criminals before they are used in a murder. We have laws on the books against all these things. We’re just not enforcing them.

There you have it. Problem explained and solutions offered. My liberal friends are now invited to tell me exactly what else you’d like us to do if you’re not willing to take these vary basic steps toward correcting the actual problem which you seem so concerned over. Unless, of course, you don’t actually care about the problem and are only looking for an excuse to flush the Second Amendment down the social justice drain.

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