Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Solummodo Rerum. Et logica.

Well the gun-control debate has been spiraling into the same mess of soundbites and memes as any other political discussion. Now there's a growing discussion that the Sandy Hook massacre is a hoax, and meanwhile everyone is trying to find statistics that support their point of view. Such as the FBI report that violent crime decrease in 2011 by almost 4%, following a five year trend demonstrated by this graph:
What the graph says is that nationwide, a little over 1.2million violent crimes were committed in 2011. Many pro-gun websites are using this report, along with a report of increased gun sales, to demonstrate that violent crime dropped because more people are carrying weapons. Their preferred soundbite: "More guns equals less crime."

The problem with that soundbite is that it is not necessarily true. For one thing, the report on gun sales is actually a report on background checks. Given the variety of reasons a background check may be called for (and the possibility that some people may fail their background check) it's actually incredibly difficult to determine how gun sales are doing.
It's also incredibly difficult to determine the effect gun sales have on crime. I couldn't find a website that showed the statistics on that, which isn't surprising given how difficult it is. You'd have to display crime statistics by region and match it with gun sales data for the same region in order to get anything resembling an accurate picture. And that still wouldn't be proof that more guns equal less crime because we don't have any way of knowing how many crimes would have been committed if there were less guns.

Here are some actual facts, that I think bear mentioning:

  • According to a 2007 Small Arms Survey, The rate of private gun ownership in the United States is 88.8 firearms per 100 people, ranking them number 1 out of 178 countries for private gun ownership and private gun ownership per 100 people.
  • There are 51,438 are retail gun stores and only 36,569 grocery stores and 14,098 MacDonald's restaurants in the U.S. It's statistically easier to buy a gun than a Big Mac or groceries.
  • According to Fatal and non-Fatal Injury data by the CDC, over the 5 year period between 2006 and 2010, the number deaths and injuries during an assault where a gun was involved hasn't moved much. In 2006 65,539 people were killed or injured by a gun during an assault, while in 2010 the number was 64,816. While that seems to show a downward trend, in 2008 there were 68,805 people killed or injured, so not really. The number of homicides by a gun are close to 2/3 of all homicides.
  • Also according to data by the CDC during the same time period, the number of dead or injured due to suicide or intentional self harm from a gun increased each year, from 20,073 in 2006 to 24,035 in 2010. One of those fatalities in 2010 was a child under the age of 10. The number of suicides by a gun are just about half of all suicides.
  • Unintentional fatalities or injuries from a gun during that same period trended upwards from 15,540 in 2006 to 19,396 in 2009, though the numbers dropped to 15,019 in 2010.

What do all these figures mean? Not much, besides the fact that guns are dangerous. How do these figures relate to the gun-control debate? I'm not sure they do. I'm not sure any facts relate. Because at the heart of things the gun-control debate is entire subjective. One side says "I feel safer with guns around" and the other side says "I feel less safe."

Here's what doing all this research has taught me: More guns do not equal less crime, and there's a chance that if you own a gun it will be used against another person.
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