Obama and anti-gun liberals everywhere are citing a National Journal article that features a chart that purports to show that states with more gun laws have less “gun deaths”. Obama said “States with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens [to obtain guns] and criminals will still get their guns, is not borne out by the evidence.” There’s a problem with this claim though: it’s completely wrong.
The chart in National Journal ranks each state by their rate of “gun-related deaths” and a check list in column format showing whether each state has gun-restricting laws like waiting periods, state-level universal background checks, or requiring a gun permit to purchase a gun, and also laws that expand gun accessibility and use, like concealed-carry, or ‘right to carry’ laws and stand-your-ground laws. The chart’s is offered as the proof of the article’s title: The States With The Most Gun Laws See The Fewest Gun-Related Deaths.
There are several problems with this article and its chart: it includes suicides by gun to account for the vast majority (over two-thirds) of “gun deaths” which gun control policy doesn’t even remotely address, it employs gross distortion of the facts, focuses on gun homicides while ignoring the overall homicide rate in each state, and disingenuously includes “lawful” gun deaths by law enforcement and citizens who have lawfully defended themselves with a gun. It also completely ignores the other side of the coin, which is that according to the CDC and other Federal agencies, people lawfully use their gun to defend themselves, reduce injury and save lives far more often than people are murdered regardless of what means is used to murder (knives, guns, blunt objects, etc.). Even the most restrictive, conservative estimates show self-defense far outpaces murder in America.
Gun control doesn’t address suicide deaths
The largest problem is the National Journal article relies on suicide numbers to make “gun deaths” seem like an epidemic related to crime like gangland shootings and Roseburg, OR shooting at Umpqua Community College. The FBI Uniform Crime Reports show 8,124 firearms homicides, 444 justifiable homicides by law enforcement and 277 justifiable homicides by civilian in 2014. The CDC reports 505 accidental gun deaths and 21,175 gun suicides out of approximately 41,149 total annual suicides (page 22, Table 10, full PDF linked below) in 2013. There is some debate about access to guns resulting in successful suicide attempt versus other means, but unless anti-gun rights activists are taking the position that all guns should be outlawed and confiscated and destroyed, then this is a disingenuous point to quibble over. To date, very few gun control advocates are brazen enough to suggest repealing the Second Amendment and confiscating all firearms.
There are several problems with including suicide gun deaths in the total when pushing for gun control policy like universal background checks, magazine capacity restrictions, banning certain types of firearms, so-called “smart” gun technology, micro-stamping bullet casings, increasing waiting periods, or any of the other policies advocated to-date by gun control activists.
First, gun control advocates don’t actually at all about suicides. Anti-gun rights activists have been documented admitting that suicides are not their problem, nor are they interested in solving the issue of suicides. Falsely conflating suicides with gun homicides just a convenient way to make it appear that gun crime is three times as bad as it actually is. Which begs the question: if the anti-gun rights Left believed the facts support their case, then why do they feel compelled in exaggerate the facts and conflate data to make their case?
Second, the empirical data for suicide rates overall in the U.S. compared to gun sales rates do not logically support the idea that less guns results in less suicide. Gun sales have skyrocketed over recent years (with estimates ranging from 310 to 350 million), while suicide rates in the U.S. have plummeted. We have more guns and less suicide, which is the exact opposite correlation from the false narrative promoted by gun control advocates like Obama. Internationally, many nations with very strict gun control have much higher suicide rates than the U.S. does, which cannot be attributed to more guns in those nations. Japan, for instance, which virtually no gun ownership and no gun homicides but almost double the U.S. suicide rate. Australia, which is frequently referred to as a shining example of gun control in a developed nation, has higher suicide per capita than the U.S. does (13.8 per 100k vs 10.1 per 100k in the U.S.). The data does not support the claim that fewer guns results in less suicide. A Harvard-published study of 36 developed nations by professors Kates and Mauser found there is no link between gun availability and suicide rates.
Third, there is no gun control policy proposal that would logically reduce suicides. Magazine capacity restrictions? How many bullets over 1 does it take to suicide? How could a person even attempt to commit suicide by firing a weapon even 10 times, which is the current policy being advocated, much less a full 30 times? How would universal background checks solve suicide? What stops a person from passing the check, maybe years prior to attempting suicide, and then committing suicide later? The problem of waiting periods also suffers from the same issue: how does a five or 10 day waiting period stop a suicide attempt after they’ve passed the waiting period and now have possession of the gun? How would micro-stamping, which simply marks the bullet casing with a unique mark, prevent suicide? How would banning certain types of guns prevent suicide? Suicide has been successful even with .22LR, which is about the smallest, least-powerful bullet caliber available. The fact that anti-gun rights activists do not have a single proposal that would actually address suicide demonstrates that this is not an issue that genuinely concerns them.
President Obama’s was implying if only obstinate gun clingers would just get out of the way and let the benevolent benefactors on the Left implement some “common-sense gun controls”, then we’d see less mass murders like the Roseburg, OR shooting at Umpqua Community College. He asserted that states with more gun laws are somehow safer. But Obama’s comments have been criticized by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, who gave Obama “Two Pinocchios” which means “Significant omissions and/or exaggerations”. This is again largely because suicides are unrelated to gun control laws. The Washington Post cited academic studies (including by authors from Harvard and Boston University) that “have shown little connection between suicides and access to guns,” and “A 2004 report published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “some gun control policies may reduce the number of gun suicides, but they have not yet been shown to reduce the overall risk of suicide in any population.” The Post recalculated the chart taking out suicides and found no correlation between gun laws and gun deaths: some highly restrictive gun law states had high gun deaths, and some states with comparatively looser gun laws had fewer gun deaths. They note there is a mix and academics disagree on whether there is an overall trend.
Homicides or just gun homicides?
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh (author at the Volokh Conspiracy) wrote a response in the Washington Post titled “Zero correlation between state homicide rate and state gun laws”, where he writes “it turns out that there is essentially zero correlation between [homicide] numbers and state gun laws.” Professor Volokh’s approach is more honest when talking about crime reduction as he focuses on homicide rates overall, not just homicides committed with a gun. There are two common tactics by the anti-gun rights Left: one is to conflate gun homicides with other non-criminal gun deaths and refer to it as “gun-related” or simply “gun deaths” while they are purportedly advocating reducing crime. The other is to ignore other methods of homicides and focus solely on homicides committed by a gun, as if that somehow not crime, or that it is uniquely worthy of your moral outrage, where murder by any other means is somehow not. Murder doesn’t exist in a vacuum however, and focusing on one instrument by which it is carried out is morally bankrupt and intellectually inane.
Lawful interventions disingenuously included
There is additional criticism that both the Washington Post Fact Check and professor Volokh did not address. Neither tackles the fact that the National Journal chart includes lawful intervention in the context of criminal activity. The key here is that Obama and others on the anti-gun rights Left argue and/or imply that more restrictive gun laws will reduce criminal gun activity (“…criminals will still get their guns, is not borne out by the evidence.”).
Lawful intervention may be either by law enforcement or by law-abiding citizens. Neither is criminal activity. Do anti-gun rights activists want the police to not intervene to stop crime? Including lawful interventions as part of nefarious-sounding “gun deaths” is the height of duplicity. No crime is occurring when lawful intervention results in the death of (a criminal) by use of a gun.
Further, what is not considered in the anti-gun rights equation is the number of instances where guns are lawfully used for self-defense. According to the CDC, lawful self-defense with a gun occurs a minimum of 500,000 times annually, deters crime and reduces injury to potential victims when they use a gun for their own defense. Other academic criminologists have put the number of defensive gun uses much higher. Other studies found the number of instances to be 1.5 million annually (and higher). Whatever the accurate number is, anti-gun rights activists have completely ignored the lives saved with a gun, while fraudulently including gun suicides as justification for how bad “crime” is.
There is no clear link between gun control restrictions and reducing suicides, in fact, the empirical evidence shows quite the opposite correlation. Even if there were a clear link, there is no gun control policy being pushed that could be logically expected to reduce suicides. What is being promoted by the anti-gun rights Left is misinformation, cherry-picked partial information, and half-truths to outright falsehoods.
Criminal violence and mass murder are problems that we ought to work towards reducing. In point of fact, child homicides in schools, the national homicide rate overall, and violent crime nationally have dropped by half since the early 1990’s. It’s a good start. More could be done, but not by promoting falsehoods and misinformation. We ought to increase lawful gun carry, which is the CDC reports deters crime and is supported by law enforcement, and we should end completely ineffective “gun free” zones. We ought to address the underlying causes of violence, including drug abuse, the drug trade, gangs, poverty (especially urban poverty), and other factors that lead to increased crime per capita in Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA’s). Exploiting tragedies to push false narratives doesn’t genuinely help anyone.