Saturday, December 5, 2015

Gun Violence Graphs and the Lesson of the 300 Pound Marathon Runner

By Bob Ferris

I think many of us were confused some by the recent piece in the Washington Post about a massive decline in gun violence in the US coming on the heels of the San Bernardino tragedy and others. Some probably thought: Crap, the media got us again by over-hyping the shootings and making us more scared when we should feel safe or even encouraged by the numbers. Maybe it is just to get us to buy more guns so we can all look more like Nevada Lawmaker Fiore (1,2,3,4) and her family pictured above in their X-mas offering?  Hmm.  But maybe we are just asking the wrong questions and the situation is more complicated and nuanced than some of us understand .

The first thing to realize about the Washington Post piece is that while it presents real numbers, they are not anchored to anything other than our own numbers in the US.  Certainly we have gotten better than what we were, but how do we compare with the rest of the developing countries of the world? The answer to that is in a graph from a 2012 piece in the Post (see above).  And if we look at both graphs combined a picture emerges that kind of reminds me of what a 300-pound marathon runner would say: Sure I finished dead-last again, but look at how my time improved.  We in the US think of ourselves as winners and we should be in this category as well.  But like the hypothetical, large long-distance runner mentioned above, we will likely have to make substantial changes to win, place or show in this particular measure.

Now I will admit that this is a complicated issue and there is a lot of information out there that confuses—some of it purposely.  Like the graph above mentioned in a Forbes piece that attempts to dampen the threat by “demonstrating” that Italian guns are much, much more dangerous than those in the US. That graph makes you think some, but even with all those dangerous guns out there Italy’s gun-related deaths per 100,000 is still considerably lower than the US.  The conclusion that can be drawn from these two seemingly contradictory ideas is that while guns in Italy kill more per unit there are a lot fewer guns in Italy per capita than in the US.  

It is hard to imagine someone less like those heroic pioneers and mountain men who originally carried this type of percussion rifle than Senator Mitch McConnell.
There is a problem with complex, multi-faceted issues that every horror movie fan can tell you about: Just when you are feeling relief from one threat and breathing easily something unexpected will jump out and get you.  So while we should balance our elation over progress on the gun safety front with recognition that we have a long, long way to go before we are leaders in this arena, we should also understand that mass-shootings appear to be on the rise and we have a growing and well-documented powder keg of well-armed and irrational domestic extremists (1,2,3,4,5) sticking their toes deeper and deeper into the terrorism pool with each Planned Parenthood shooting, mosque attack, or open-carry event.  And these extremists get emboldened each time some politician blows more air on the lit fuse with every awkward and unauthentic gun-oriented photo-op and ill-chosen word.  In other words, our rotund runner needs to be vigilant and disciplined on all fronts in order not die while losing weight from clogged arteries because his "friends" keep putting "freedom" fries within too easy a reach.

Senator Ted Cruz doing his part to fan the flames.  
[Disclosure: I am a gun owner and have been for most of my life, though I will admit that I own fewer now than I once did.]

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