We live in a violent country. Unfortunately, violence has always been in human nature. Various ways of committing violence over time have resulted in too many deaths to count. Why are we so violent? The search for answers to that question has been centuries long and will always be with us. But we are living in this time right now and so are dealing with what is front of our faces every day. There is an understanding that purposely killing another human being is violence no matter the method. When people die by bullet(s) their deaths cannot be called anything but violent.
Mike the Gun Guy has written a blog post about suicide by gun and whether or not it should be considered in the category of gun violence. It is important to make this point because most gun deaths in our country are due to suicide. If the gun lobby wants to lower the number of people they believe are killed by bullets, they throw out the numbers of suicides. It doesn’t fit with their idea that a gun for self defense in the home can be used in other ways rather than self defense. I will discuss this later in this post. For now, let’s look at what Mike has to say:
But let’s drop the euphemism and look at reality: “States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide and overall suicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups. It remained true after accounting for poverty, urbanization and unemployment.” The link between gun ownership and suicide is particularly evident among teens, according to researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, and the fastest-growing age-group prone to suicides are teens. Since 2007, the overall rate of gun suicide has increased by 12%, the gun suicide rate among teens is up by 42%.
First of all, in a paragraph previous to the one above, Mike writes about the National Shooting Sports Foundation actually offering safety tips to gun owners on its’ website and comes close to saying guns are a risk in homes. That’s good news. In a recent blog post, I argued that if people understood the risks of owning guns they would, at the least, be more aware of their responsibilities to keep guns locked up and away from small kids and teens. One of the age groups with high rates of gun suicides are teens.
But then, Mike talks about the use of the word violence to refer to gun suicides:
Don’t think that suicide isn’t gun violence? Think again. Here’s how violence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary: “Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Notice it doesn’t say ‘someone else,’ because that’s a crime called aggravated assault.
Violence means damage and there’s nothing out there that can damage someone as effectively or quickly as a gun, particularly when you don’t even have to aim. As far as I’m concerned, at least when it comes to suicide, maybe the GVP community should just drop the ‘V.’
I say we don’t drop the “V”. Violence happens every day. But most of the violent deaths are committed with firearms. And most of the firearms deaths are suicides. There are solutions to this kind of violence. I write about them in almost every post. Common sense leads us to the conclusion that, since firearms are the cause of so many deaths and injuries, something should be done about the access to them, who should have them, how they are stored, how the firearms are sold, what sex, race and age group die in the highest numbers, etc. We are already doing some of this research but we need a lot more if we are to deal with gun violence as a public health epidemic.
So now I want to talk about the idea of guns for self defense since that is the reason a lot of people buy guns. The Violence Policy Center has released a new report about guns for self defense. From this press release about the study:
The study finds that in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, there were only 211 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the SHR. Twenty states reported zero justifiable homicides in 2013. That year, there were 7,838 criminal firearm homicides.
In 2013, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 37 criminal homicides. This ratio does not even take into account the tens of thousands of lives needlessly lost in gun suicides and unintentional shootings that year.
The study also finds only a tiny fraction of the intended victims of violent crime or property crime employ guns for self-defense. Over a three-year period from 2012 to 2014, less than one percent of victims of attempted or completed violent crimes used a firearm, and only 0.2 percent of victims of attempted or completed property crimes used a firearm.
“Self-defense is the big lie that the firearms industry and gun lobby use to promote gun sales. The fact is that any gun is far more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional killing than in a justifiable homicide,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann. “A gun is far more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense.”
Guns are designed to kill people so if a gun is purchased for self defense isn’t that because the owner intends to use it at some point to kill or injure another human being? If people were warned about the risks like smokers are when they buy a pack of cigarettes, would it make a difference? Maybe. If people had mandatory training before being able to acquire a gun, would it make a difference? Maybe. So why not do these things because they certainly wouldn’t hurt anything and they just might prevent some senseless gun deaths?
When States United to Prevent Gun Violence set up a phony gun shop in New York City and explained to prospective gun buyers that the type of gun they wanted to buy was used in a recent mass shooting, the buyers changed their minds. Reality hit. Take a look:
Guns do have a history. All guns start out as a legal purchase but get into the illegal market in several ways- sold without a background check to someone who shouldn’t have a gun or to someone who intends to sell the gun without a background check to someone the seller does not know; stealing; straw purchase; trafficked on the street. If a gun doesn’t have its’ own personal history, the type of gun sold does and perversely, after a mass shooting, some Americans rush out to buy the very type of gun used in that mass shooting.
Where is common sense?
I watched the movie American Gun. It is a movie that traces the history of a gun used to kill a man’s daughter. In the end ( spoiler alert) the gun used to kill his daughter was his own gun that had been stolen. Guns have histories.
Back to talking about the word violence. Many gun violence prevention organizations do use that word for a reason. People who die from gunshot injuries die a violent and usually sudden, unexpected death. There is no way around that. Whether the bullets came from a gun used in a suicide, a homicide or an “accidental” shooting, the bullets cause a violent reaction to a person’s body. And so we have:
And many more too numerous to list here.
Violence is pervasive in America. Gun violence accounts for much of violence. Our media is littered with reports about shootings and shootings cause violence to the bodies of the victims. It is a violent death for sure. Bullets are designed to do damage to soft tissue inside of a person’s body.
A new study also suggests that gun violence is worse than we thought it was. Vox.com has reported here:
Beyond the implications for policy research, the findings are simply alarming. It’s hard to imagine that America’s gun violence problem is actually worse than we think, given that the country, even after the big drop in crime over the past few decades, still fares much worse than its developed peers. But this study shows that may be the case. At the very least, we’re not counting a lot of shootings as shootings.
How can we not count shootings as shootings? Sometimes when shootings result in only injuries or minor injuries, they are not counted. A shooting is a shooting because it results in less safe communities and a gun culture where too many people become victims of devastating violence that has a ripple effect.
Unless we have the common sense to talk about the issue for what it is, nothing will change. Perhaps if we showed photos taken by law enforcement at shooting scenes our legislators would change their minds about doing nothing about the violence. Perhaps if one of the gun rights extremists who argued with me at the hearing this week in the Minnesota Senate on the background check bill had seen a photo of my sister lying in a pool of blood at the shooting scene, he would have had just a little empathy for why I am trying to prevent gun deaths.
More on this in my next post.
I just know we can do better than this. Not addressing gun violence as encompassing all kinds of gun deaths is putting our heads in the sand. More guns have not made us safer and to the affected families, no matter what the cause of the gun death, it was a shooting that took the life of a loved one in a dramatic, sudden, unexpected and violent way.