My take on statistics, guns and the Constitution

Gene, you wrote that "There were a total of 9,900 gun deaths in 2009 - out of over 270 MILLION guns owned in U.S. That's 0.00004%."

(Your stat was off: it's not 0.00004% - it's 100 times greater: 0.004%. It's still a pretty small number, so your point is taken.)

Here's where statistics can mislead. If (and that's a big "if") the reason for citing the statistic was to show that guns are specifically obtained with the intent of killing people, a very, very low percentage like that would serve to disprove the point.

I'm not aware of anyone, pro or con, who's making the argument that one gun automatically equals one gun death.

What might be more illustrative is comparing the total number of murders with the number of gun murders.

If we look at 2010 (source), there were 12,996 murders in the US. At least 8,775 of those murders were caused by firearms: the number could be higher because Florida doesn't track this statistic, and Illinois' data was incomplete.

8,775 out of 12,996 - that's 67.52%

More than two thirds of all the murders committed in the US in 2010 were committed with a gun.

That's an improvement over past years: according the to Department of Justice, firearms were used in 70% of the homicides committed from 1993 to 2001. (source (PDF))

We often hear the expression "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." That's both true, and meaningless. A gun is a passive object - a weapon. More than two out of three times, when one person kills another in the US, they use a gun.

Gun advocates, quite rightly, make the case that owning a gun is a Constitutionally-protected right. They're correct to say so. What I don't hear many gun advocates say, though, is that this right comes at a price. And it's not a price the advocates have to pay themselves: other people bear the price on their behalf.

The self-evident truths identified in the Declaration of Independence are: all men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Life was listed first because without life, liberty is impossible. Without life, the pursuit of happiness is impossible. Without life, each of the rights contained within the Bill of Rights (including the right to bear arms) is impossible.

Insofar as any of our unalienable and Constitutionally-protected rights comes into conflict with life, that right must give way. The right to bear arms is not a Constitutional right to kill.

Let's go back to the original argument about very, very small percentages.

The US population on Census Day, 2010 was 308,745,538. 12,996 of that populace were killed in an act of homicide. That's 0.00421%.

We prosecute homicides. The miniscule number in comparison to the hundreds of millions of Americans is irrelevant. Why should the number of firearm homicides be rendered irrelevant?

One more thing: in addition to the 9,900 homicides, there were 36,909 reported suicide deaths in 2009. Half involved a firearm. (source)


  1. While I appreciate your concern, I'm not sure we can conclude that those 8,775 murders would not have occurred if guns were not available. Switzerland has higher gun ownership than the U.S. - and a lower murder rate. Much of the problem is our lack of a value system. If gun laws are the answer, why are there more murders in cities with aggressive gun control than in those where concealed carry permits are readily available. Also, the suicide number is meaningless. People who want to kill themselves find a way. My uncle tried to drive under a truck, then hung himself. Another friend took pills, but when that didn't work, legally purchased a gun.

    You really need to focus more on the CAUSE of murders, and less on the means - if you really want to reduce the murder rate in the U.S.

  2. I just came across this news story. The headline reads "Florida man kills door-to-door salesman: I’ll kill anybody that steps on my property"

    "A man in Cape Coral, Florida on Wednesday was arrested for shooting and killing an unarmed door-to-door salesman on his property."

    "A co-worker who witnessed the shooting said Rainey had knocked on Roop’s door, but received no answer. While Rainey was walking down the drive-way, Roop pulled up in his pickup truck and asked why Rainey was at his house. Rainey explained that he was selling steak and seafood. The witness said Roop then pulled out a black handgun and shot Rainey. As Rainey lay on the ground, Roop fired another bullet into the back of his head."

    Gene, I can only conclude that this murder occurred because this shooter had a gun.

    As to the suicide number being "meaningless," I can only disagree. The source I cited earlier says this:

    "Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for 'protection' or 'self defense,' 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner."

    The source also states that 90% all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death, and that 60%-75% of all people who commit suicide suffer from depression.

    You mentioned Switzerland. Why do they have a higher percentage of gun ownership? I'll quote from Wikipedia:

    "Switzerland does not have a standing army, instead opting for a people's Militia to defend their country. The vast majority of men between the ages of 20 and 30 are conscripted into the militia and undergo military training, including weapons training. Due to this fact, the personal weapon of militia is kept at home as part of the military obligations."

    If anything, the example of the Swiss sounds exactly like Founders' rationale for the Second Amendment:

    "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

    So, how to sum up? The cause of the murder in the example above, as well as the suicides, seems to be related to psychiatric disorders: the shooter in Florida was referred to as "the neighborhood crazy," and the suicide stats speak for themselves.

    The example of the Swiss seems to bear out the original vision of the Founders, not the version that we adhere to today, where bearing arms in America has no relation whatsoever to the participating in a "well-regulated militia."

    You referred to "our lack of a value system." I put it to you - given that gun owners enjoy all of the benefits of the Second Amendment, but do not bear any of the responsibilities when guns are used in homicides and suicides, wouldn't you agree that establishing a value system would begin by restoring that linkage between rights and responsibilities?


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