Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Analysis of Gun Deaths

Inspired by this article at Pharyngula:

Nothing reduces the level of discourse like guns, getting otherwise intelligent people to say absurd things. This one jumped out at me:

"People who rely on guns for home safety most often have their guns taken from them, because the criminal is more experienced in this."

This from the guy selling pepper spray, and its about as objective as you'd expect from someone describing a competing product. Burglars aren't looking for a fight, and the vast majority of them faced with a homeowner brandishing a gun are going to do the same thing the Miami burglar did when faced with a homeowner brandishing a sword - run like hell. Only a guy enjoying a PCP high is going to try to grab a gun out of someone's hand.

"Guns exist for one reason only: killing.

What political claptrap. Objectively, guns exist to propel a piece of metal at high velocity at an intended target. The most common target is...a target, a piece of paper with lines drawn on it.

Here is a breakdown of gun deaths in the U.S. Notice:

1) The total is around 30,000. 30,000 out of 300 million. That's 1 person in 10,000. Yes, every death is tragic, but as a national issue, it just doesn't warrant the attention it gets.

2) 57% of the deaths are suicides. So whatever overall risk we all have of dying by gun, if you don't plan on killing yourself, you just cut it in half.

3) The number of accidental deaths is microscopic. So tragic as it is when a child finds dad's gun and shoots her schoolmate, it's irrelevant to a discussion of public policy.

4) Notice how strong the correlation is between the age of the homicide victims and the ages traditionally associated with high crime. By the time you are 45, your risk of being murdered with a handgun is 1/5 what it is when you are 20. It is VERY hard to reconcile that relationship with the idea that its all about the guns.

And while anecdotes might be entertaining, they are illustrations, not evidence. As such, I offer one friend's experience. He was home and heard a noise, looked out the window, and saw a young man who had broken into his car rummaging around in it. My friend's car had been broken into before, so he was extra peeved. He went and got his gun, walked outside to within 30 or so feet of the car, pointed the gun at the kid and yelled "Son! You're about to DIE!". The kid looked up, saw my friend pointing the weapon at him, jumped out of the car and ran like hell down the alley he presumably came from. My friend went on about his day, and no, his car was never broken into again.

No one died, the gun performed a purpose without killing anyone, and it won't show up in any of the crime statistics. From my experiences with, and the story's I've heard from the many real gun owners I know, (as opposed to the TV caricatures that so many here think represent reality), I suspect my friend's incident was far more typical than was the subject of this article, or even your typical murder.

And no, I'm not a gun nut. I own one gun, it was given to me as a gift, and it sits now somewhere in my closet, having not been shot in years. I don't even like guns, and frankly, if they banned them tomorrow I really, personally, wouldn't give a rat's posterior. Here in Texas that practically makes me a commie. I just know a lot of gun owners, and I'm an actuary, and just too much of what is said about guns makes no sense to either sensibility. So a gun in the house is more likely to kill a family member than an intruder. So what? So is the family dog, your sword, or your bathtub. Hell, for that matter, given the really bad drug bust flubs that happen, so are the cops! It doesn't do any good to get good data if you're asking the wrong questions, or getting your information from movies.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Very original and well thought out. I love reading blogs by people who can think for themselves and actually have something to say.

I've been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now and I apologize for not commenting sooner.

I believe I originally found you from a comment you made over on Orac's "Respectful Insolence" blog... but I've slept since then and could be mistaken.

He is another "critical thinker" and writes a great deal on my particular passion... the pseudoscience of alternative medicine. If you aren't familiar with his work, be sure to check him out over at scienceblogs.

Btw, I've added you to my blogroll. I hope don't mind the heading I've put you under.

- Dean

ScienceAvenger said...

"Skeptics, Critical Thinkers and other Malcontents:"

Fabulous, thank you. I read Orac often. I spent some time in an alternative medical field, so I've had my fill of fluff and woo, and share your views. Indeed, I was amused to see you compare chiropractic manipulation to knuckle cracking. I've been telling people for years "cracking your back does no more for your health than cracking your knuckles does. It just feels good."

The gun issue fascinates me because it's an issue that causes a lot of people I intellectually respect to lose it. They can't seem to deal with guns as just the most dangerous common weapon we have, rather than some special category of object, as if they are magical talismans that turn otherwise reasonable peaceful people into hair-triggered murderous wackos. They're just tools, with legitimate uses and dangers of design and usage like everything else.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I totally agree with you on the gun issue. They are just tools. It's completely irrational to assign blame or abstract concepts such as good or evil to an inanimate object.

It reminds me of the patient on "House" this week. She commented that her husband could fix anything. However, he wasn't able fix the motor on their boat because it was a stupid motor.

I hate it when I have to work on a stupid motor. :)

I'm glad you liked what I wrote about chiropractic manipulation. I (obviously) think it's an important topic.

I spent 10 years going to chiropractors for back problems and I can tell you it was a total waste of time and money. I write about it now because I wish someone had taken me aside and explained what was really going on way back when.

On the bright side, discovering that I had been duped caused me to begin questioning everything else about alternative medicine and the so-called natural health industry.

It's been an eye-opening experience.

By the way, thank you for the link. I really appreciate you adding me to your blogroll. I hope you'll share some of your experiences with alternative medicine with us one of these days.

- Dean