Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Great Gun Debate

With each new mass shooting another round of the Great Gun Debate is started. The Conservatives feel that, in order to reduce crime, everyone should have a gun, the Liberals feel that no one should. These two extremes both have their own data and research to support their views. Surveys can be worded or the multiple choice answers which are limited to get the results that support their view. Memes can be created to sway public opinion by not mentioning certain instances where the opposing view worked. The Great Gun Debate is more about media coverage and hype then about the actual realities of gun ownership and responsibility.

As for me I'm in the middle of the road on this one and I think many people agree. While the media would like us to believe that there are only two sides to the debate, Pro or Anti, there are really many, many more factors than just yes or no to guns.

Gun Ownership

According to some statistics 88.8 Americans out of 100 own a gun, giving America the highest rate of gun ownership in any country. The problem with this statistic is that the Small Arms Survey, which conducted the survey, does not include weapons that are technically owned by the government. Some countries, like Switzerland require that all heads of households, ages 18 to 42, have a gun and therefore issue and train each person on it's use. After the age of 42 citizens can request to continue keeping their weapon, at which point they are no longer considered government owned.

These weapons are not included in the survey. In reality, places like Switzerland and Israel, where most guns are also issued by the government, may have higher per person gun possession rank - even if gun ownership is lower.

Gun Deaths

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There is a belief, particularly after something as dramatic as a school shooting, that most deaths in the US are caused by violence. Specifically, by guns. The the actual facts don't reflect this. In 2013, there were 33,636 deaths in which a gun was involved. This means that only 10.6% of 2,596,993 deaths involved a gun. According to the Center for Disease Control guns only barely make it onto to the top 10 causes of death. They rank the top 10 as:
  1. Heart disease: 611,105
  2. Cancer: 584,881
  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
  4. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
  5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
  6. Alzheimer's disease: 84,767
  7. Diabetes: 75,578
  8. Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
  9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  10. Intentional Self-harm (suicides): 41,149
Note that homicides, at 9,146, didn't make the list at all. Even if you focus only on gun related deaths, homicide is not the most common. Of the 10.6% of deaths that are cause by guns, only 3.55% are homicides. Suicide ranks higher at 6.70%. Unintentional deaths (ie accidents) make up .16% and .09% of gun related deaths were declared as undermined. Guns are not the leading cause of death - but they are one of the more dramatic. 

Gun Violence

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I have always found this phrase amusing. Guns can't be violent. They are an inanimate object, a tool. Just like a shovel or a knife, both of which have also killed people. It's the people who are violent. Every time the Great Gun Debate surfaces the two sides face off by pointing to countries that illustrate their point. The pro-gun group points to Switzerland where gun possession (I can't technically say ownership) is high but crime rates are low. (57 gun related murders with 45% gun ownership and not at war) and the anti-gun crowd point to places like Afghanistan and Iraq (which there are no stats for but they are in the middle of a war so it's safe to say that there are a lot of guns.)

Rarely does either side look at the cultural aspects of the countries they are referencing. Countries like Switzerland have sense of duty and responsibility that is rooted in their social culture. Children as young as 12 are able to join gun clubs and are taught sharp shooting. Because of this most citizens of Switzerland have a respect for life and know how to shoot. By comparison the US does not promote gun education on a national level, instead it promotes violent movies and TV shows along with a conflicting messages about gun safety. In some states it actually illegal for certain people to practice shooting (technically it's illegal for them to carry the weapon to the range, they are only allowed to own it - not carry) - so if they are ever in a situation where they may shoot someone they will be completely unprepared. In other countries like Afghanistan children are also taught to shoot. They practice on the live targets of their enemies because in their culture there is nothing wrong with killing someone who does not abide by their beliefs.

When you analyze the data within the context of the cultural influences then it's no surprise that Switzerland has fewer murders than Afghanistan in relation to gun access. Access to guns without a respect for life is a recipe for a high murder rate. But even without the access to guns a lack of respect for life will still lead to murders - just through other means. A lack of access to guns leaves the citizens unprotected and vulnerable to attack by anyone. Sure the police will come when called but that can be anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes depending on where you live. You or your family could all be dead before they even arrive.

Personally I think the entire concept of gun control needs to be readdressed. What if, instead of adding guns that were never involved in mass shootings to the banned gun list and encouraging violence, we start treating guns like they are a tool and hold the individuals that shoot other people responsible for their actions. What if we teach children how to safely handle a gun, how to shoot, how to respect life and that killing is not the answer to every problem. (regardless of what they see on TV)

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