This is my response to an editorial in the Guardian: "American gun use is out of control. Shouldn't the world intervene?" by British journalist Henry Porter - S.L.
Dear Editors of the Guardian / Observer newspapers of the UK:
Mr. Porter states: "The death toll from firearms in the US suggests that the country is gripped by civil war." Mr. Porter introduces this statistic: "The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing..."
For starters, Mr. Porter, I can assure you that if civil war was going on in this country, the body count would be a LOT higher than the number upon which you base your premise. In fact, during our last Civil War (more correctly known as The War Between the States also referred to in the South as The War of Northern Aggression) we lost approximately 52,000 during three days in July, 1863 that involved the Battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
Typical of journalistic writing, not all facts are needed for an unbiased opinion. Mr. Porter continues: "The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40% lower than in 1980)."
The first thing they teach you in Statistics 101 is that statistics can be used to prove anything. Then they teach you how to analyze statistics and how to weight the data. Let's have a look at the numbers:
In 2010 (a typical benchmark year) guns took 31,076 lives in the United States. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than three deaths each hour. 73,505 Americans were treated in hospital emergency departments for non-fatal gunshot wounds in 2010. Firearms were the third-leading cause of injury-related deaths nationwide in 2010, following poisoning and motor vehicle accidents. (Source: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention WISQARS database)
Now let us ask how many of those deaths were homicides, versus suicides and unintentional shootings (accidents) - and how many involved law enforcement vs criminals?
Guns were used in 11,078 homicides in the U.S. in 2010, comprising almost 35% of all gun deaths, and over 68% of all homicides. (Source: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention WISQARS database) On average, 33 gun homicides were committed each day for the years 2005-2010. No mention of how many of these were law-enforcement related, or legitimate cases self-defense resulting in acquittal in a Court of Law.
Firearms were used in 19,392 suicides in the U.S. in 2010, constituting almost 62% of all gun deaths. (Source: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention WISQARS database) Over 50% of all suicides are committed with a firearm. On average, 49 gun suicides were committed each day for the years 2005-2010.
White males, about 40% of the U.S. population, accounted for over 80% of firearm suicides in 2010. Firearms were used in nearly 44% of suicide deaths among persons under age 25 in 2010.
Unintentional Deaths and Injuries:
In 2010, unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people. From 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings. Over 1,300 victims of unintentional shootings for the period 2005–2010 were under 25 years of age. (Source: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention WISQARS database)
A federal government study of unintentional shootings found that 8% of such shooting deaths resulted from shots fired by children under the age of six. This is a tragic statistic could be mitigated with proper training and the correct storage of firearms and ammunition as required by existing laws.
Gun Homicides by Race:
According to the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) in 2009 there were 6,505 black homicide victims in the United States - the overwhelming majority of whom were killed by blacks - this kind of homicide statistic is delicately referred to as "Black-on-Black" if and when it is referred to at all.
During the time frame of the SHR report, the overall national homicide rate in the United States was 4.76 per 100,000. For whites, the national homicide rate was 2.92 per 100,000, while the homicide rate among blacks was a staggering 17.90 per 100,000.
The significant statistics of black-on-black crime can be legitimately considered to be driven by extraordinary cultural and economic conditions.
If we take Mr. Porter's number 32,000 gun-related homicides per year and subtract suicides (62% = 19,840) and fatal gun accidents (606) the number is 11,554.
This is roughly .003% of the population of the United States. Again - no mention of how many of these were law-enforcement related, or legitimate cases self-defense.
If we subtract the figure of black-on-black gun homicides, the number of gun-related homicides per year is 5049, or about .0005% of the population of the United States. Take black-on-black crime out of it - which IS a cultural epidemic of troubling concern - and this place is safer than Canada; certainly MUCH safer than Mexico. Or Syria. Or North Korea.
It is noteworthy to observe that the overwhelming majority of these black-on-black homicides are occurring in locations with the most stringent gun-control laws in America: Chicago, Detroit, New York, Camden (New Jersey), Baltimore, and Washington DC.
Mr. Porter's Outrageous Proposal:
"To absorb the scale of the mayhem, it's worth trying to guess the death toll of all the wars in American history since the War of Independence began in 1775, and follow that by estimating the number killed by firearms in the US since the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 by a .22 Iver-Johnson handgun, wielded by Sirhan Sirhan. The figures from Congressional Research Service, plus recent statistics from icasualties.org, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171. ... If this perennial slaughter doesn't qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does."
Mr. Porter, please tell me one place on Earth where UN intervention has succeeded in controlling violence of any kind? Lets start with the Koreas - the UN's first intervention. Fifty years later half that country is still run by a lunatic dictator who's killing machine includes the world's largest concentration camp which makes the Third Reich look like a Sunday School picnic. I saw first hand the UN's failure in Bosnia - right in the heart of civilized Europe! Everywhere the UN goes, misery, death & destruction follows.
The United States of America is a sovereign nation. I don't recall a UN presence in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. It always struck me how an island nation with 100% gun control had a guerrilla war going on within its borders for the better part of three decades - featuring military weapons up to & including belt-fed, crew served machine guns, mortars and rockets, and the Maze prison which was ten times worse than Guantanamo on its worst day - and UN intervention was never even considered - not even observers.
Mr. Porter's article includes the following image and caption:
Simple image analysis tells us that it is extremely unlikely that this man is on a rifle range. A) He is indoors - yes there are indoor rifle ranges but they are a rarity, B) He is not wearing any hearing protection, C) The rifle does not have a magazine inserted into the magazine well, and D) there is a plastic zip-tie protruding out of the magazine well - standard procedure to render the weapon inoperable at a gun store or at a gun show. There are plenty of pictures of Americans handling semi-automatic rifles on actual rifle ranges - if you're going to post propaganda, at least get the simple stuff right.
A Final Word
It is interesting that Mr. Porter mentions Lexington, the first engagement of America's first war. This is significant because the issue driving that conflict were the rights now enshrined in our Bill of Rights: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, right to due process under law - specifically search & seizure - freedom from quartering of troops, and of course the single right that guarantees all the preceding rights: the right to keep & bear arms.
Bottom Line: Mr. Porter you and your readers on the other side of the puddle need to be aware of an item we have over here known as The Monroe Doctrine i.e. you can say what you want about us but at the end of the day this is OUR hemisphere, EUROs KEEP OUT.
P.S. Please be aware that I am dual-citizen US/Australian, and by virtue of my father's British birth (and grandfather, great-grandfather & great-great-grandfather going back to at least 1066 and probably a lot further) I possess a British Certificate of Patriality which makes me also a British subject. Primary loyalty is to the United States, of course - due to the fact that I earned my US citizenship via military service - but because of the Special Relationship I do not see a problem with the status of my citizenship. I am not aware of Mr. Porter's status. - S.L.