NEEDLESS, PREVENTABLE DEATHS


“I don’t think it’s about more gun control.  I grew up in the South with guns everywhere and we never shot anyone.  This (shooting) is about people who aren’t taught the value of life.” (Samuel L. Jackson).

I’m not Mr. Jackson, a famous actor.  I’m Mike Smith, a nobody, but I have training in analysis of data Mr. Jackson doesn’t have.  Words like his get read by millions.  My words will be read by a couple of dozen.  Maybe.  But mine are worth more.  Here’s why: Mr. Jackson talks of a time that never existed.  I know, because I am 16 days older than he (fact 1), and we grew up when 7 people per 100,000 died from firearms (fact 2).  Back then, the population was 150 million, not well over 300 million today (fact 3), so there were fewer than half the deaths.  We didn’t have 24 hour a day rehashing of many deaths due to firearms, either.  There were no social media to post information, making it sound some days like we are in a free fire zone.  Teaching “the value of life” is a platitude.  It sounds good; it doesn’t give details exactly what is supposed to happen. Lot of good churchgoing young boys raped girls and did bad things where I grew up, Mr. Jackson. Let’s leave anecdotes and go to a few more facts.  I like facts.

Deaths from firearms per 100,000 peaked in the 1970s and 1980s (fact 4), and have declined significantly since 1993 to a number not much different from the 1950s (fact 5).  Back in the 1950s, there were 3 TV channels.  The news was on at 6 and 10; there was no other TV news.  There was no Internet; we heard about major events on the radio, TV, or newspaper.  Gun violence, incest, priest pedophilia, unwanted pregnancies were hushed up, lynchings were common, people died at more than twice the rate they do now in motor vehicle accidents, children died from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, rather than being cured, poliomyelitis and other infectious diseases were a scourge.

To the anti-gun crowd, gun violence deaths are not increasing per 100,000 people.  Fact.

To the pro-gun crowd, gun violence is a problem.  Fact.

It is a major public health issue, and it was politicized enough to hold up the Surgeon General’s nomination, because he agreed.  When I looked up information about gun deaths, I saw one link that said that “knifes” (sic) cause more deaths than rifles.  Note the misspelling of the first word and the use of the second, rifles.   Yes, for a few years knives killed a few more than rifles.  However, handguns cause 20 times more deaths than both knives and rifles combined. (Fact 6).  Handguns have a bad connotation, which is why we have the National Rifle Association, not the National Handgun Association.

Comment on knives:  Against a knife attack, I have a decent chance to escape without death and maybe without injury.  Knife attackers have to TOUCH their victim, significant.  With firearms, one may inflict death from hundreds of yards, never touching the individual. One might be talked out of using a knife, whereas with a handgun, it is a quick twitch and cessation of existence for the other person.

Shootings with assault weapons get the public’s attention.  Less attention was given that in the last two days, three people in Eugene died from handguns, two murders, one suicide, associated with a murder.  You won’t read about this in upstate New York, but the people are just as dead.  The murder-suicide was over a woman, who at least wasn’t killed herself, although three women die daily due to violence from men they know.

Background checks aren’t perfect.  So?  Neither are seat belts.  That doesn’t mean we don’t wear them.  They improve the probability that if we are in an accident, we will survive.  One less gun where it doesn’t belong and saves one life would seem to me to be worth it.  We need liability insurance to drive a car.  We ought to have it when we own a gun.

Fact 5 is that the death rate from firearms has fallen compared to two decades ago.  Indeed, crime has fallen in every major category (there are 9), not just per 100,000, but ABSOLUTE numbers, in the last two decades.  (fact 7) Here is the link: http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm In other words, we are safer.  That doesn’t mean people aren’t dying or being robbed; they are.  We need to do better.  But, we are safer than we have been in our history. Yet people still buy guns, believing in a myth that we aren’t safe.

Suicides, however, are a major problem.  Sixty per cent of firearm deaths in the US are suicides, the highest percentage ever (Fact 8).  Why can’t we do research into this issue to try to prevent nearly 20,000 of them annually?  http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/guns-and-suicide/   Depression is treatable.  We can’t cure everybody, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  Keeping guns out of the hands of those prone to depression is difficult, but rather than use it as an excuse that “they aren’t murders,” we ought to try to address the problem of controlling guns in the hands of seriously depressed people.  Easy? No, but let’s stop saying “fix mental health” and actually deal with it as a country.

A friend commented 390 children drown each year, and the 60 to 100 children who die accidentally shot by another child is a smaller number.  Actually, the number is at least 1100, (fact 9) and the fatality rate in hospitals has fallen from 0.5 per 100,000 to 0.3, a statistically significant drop. (fact 10). It’s easy to look at a link that says something you want to hear, but it is a lot more work to delve into the link to see what it says.  More than a thousand children under 14 die each year in automobile accidents. Should we therefore ignore drownings? Why do we tolerate this carnage?  Drownings are completely preventable and safety mechanisms must be enhanced, not “Be careful”.  TV ads help, but we need a system that makes it impossible for a young child to drown.  Why are guns available for children to accidentally shoot their parents?   One death a year is too many.  We require special car seats for infants and toddlers, and they decreased deaths by 71% and 54% respectively.  Perfect? No, but the 8-14 age group death number fell 50% in the last decade.   What about firearm deaths? Between 2006-2012 the number fell 20%.  Why not 50%….or 100%? Children’s curiosity about guns outweighs their parents telling them “don’t touch them.”   Yeah, it was a convenience sample, but it’s worth reading. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11389238

To those who misuse statistics to prove everything they can to that gun violence isn’t bad, I say loudly, ANY unnecessary death is a loss to society.  Suicides are a special case of gun violence.  Can’t both sides agree that maybe this is one area we look at controlling access to firearms? Depressed people with firearms present at home are at high risk for death.  Difficult to control guns here?  Yes.  I thought America was good at dealing with difficult problems.  It used to be.  Want a dollar cost?  For children alone it is $8.4 billion in medical costs from firearms.  I am ignoring the “loss of enjoyment of life” and lost wages, which would increase that number 13-fold, I am told, but I can’t put a dollar cost on it.

Enough is enough.  Children shouldn’t drown, they shouldn’t die in MVAs, they shouldn’t die from leukemia, they shouldn’t die from child abuse, and they and depressed people shouldn’t die from guns.  We have made great progress in all of those areas but only modest progress on guns.  I don’t accept that. Mr. Obama has not taken one gun from one law abiding citizen.  Murder rates are down; let’s keep working to understand why and make them fall further.

To paraphrase Jimmy Carter, I’d like the last child to die from gun violence before I die.

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