We saw, over the weekend, another pair of mass murders occur, yet again, in America. Namely,El Paso and Dayton.
The usual process that seems to occur after every mass shooting occurred again. And the usual shitty arguments came up again too.
As a future doctor, I feel so much for these unnecessary deaths. As a realist, I despair but wonder what the purpose of getting angry would be when the above keeps happening. But as a scientist, I was outraged when Neil DeGrasse Tyson, one of the most prominent science educators in the world, put out this tweet:
Here was my response to this.
The Reddit Post and how or why it’s wrong
The Reddit post that Neil and millions of conservatives used is linked here – and it goes like this;
There are roughly 30,000 gun related deaths per year by firearms, and this number is not disputed. U.S. population 324,059,091 as of Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Do the math: 0.0092575708669133% of the population dies from gun related actions each year. Statistically speaking, this is insignificant! What is never told, however, is a breakdown of those 30,000 deaths, to put them in perspective as compared to other causes of death:
• 65% of those deaths are by suicide which would never be prevented by gun laws
• 15% are by law enforcement in the line of duty and justified
• 17% are through criminal activity, gang and drug related or mentally ill persons – gun violence
• 3% are accidental discharge deaths
So technically, “gun violence” is not 30,000 annually, but drops to 5,100. Still too many? Well, first, how are those deaths spanned across the nation?
• 480 homicides (9.4%) were in Chicago
• 344 homicides (6.7%) were in Baltimore
• 333 homicides (6.5%) were in Detroit
• 119 homicides (2.3%) were in Washington D.C. (a 54% increase over prior years)
So basically, 25% of all gun crime happens in just 4 cities. All 4 of those cities have strict gun laws, so it is not the lack of law that is the root cause.
This basically leaves 3,825 for the entire rest of the nation, or about 75 deaths per state. That is an average because some States have much higher rates than others. For example, California had 1,169 and Alabama had 1.
Now, who has the strictest gun laws by far? California, of course, but understand, so it is not guns causing this. It is a crime rate spawned by the number of criminal persons residing in those cities and states. So if all cities and states are not created equally, then there must be something other than the tool causing the gun deaths.
Are 5,100 deaths per year horrific? How about in comparison to other deaths? All death is sad and especially so when it is in the commission of a crime but that is the nature of crime. Robbery, death, rape, assault all is done by criminals and thinking that criminals will obey laws is ludicrous. That’s why they are criminals.
But what about other deaths each year?
• 40,000+ die from a drug overdose–THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR THAT!
• 36,000 people die per year from the flu, far exceeding the criminal gun deaths
• 34,000 people die per year in traffic fatalities(exceeding gun deaths even if you include suicide)
Now it gets good:
• 200,000+ people die each year (and growing) from preventable medical errors. You are safer in Chicago than when you are in a hospital!
• 710,000 people die per year from heart disease. It’s time to stop the double cheeseburgers! So what is the point? If the anti-gun movement focused their attention on heart disease, even a 10% decrease in cardiac deaths would save twice the number of lives annually of all gun-related deaths (including suicide, law enforcement, etc.). A 10% reduction in medical errors would be 66% of the total gun deaths or 4 times the number of criminal homicides……Simple, easily preventable 10% reductions!
So you have to ask yourself, in the grand scheme of things, why the focus on guns? It’s pretty simple.:
Taking away guns gives control to governments.
Well, ignoring suicides as if guns don’t cause them is ludicrous. Numerous studies show higher rates of suicide, not just in America compared to other Western, developed countries (where the US is the highest) but also in states with higher rates of gun ownership. Suicides, in 2016, due to guns resulted in 23,854 suicides. There were 44995 suicides in total. That’s over half of all suicides.
This isn’t just conjecture. Numerous studies from numerous bodies all show the same thing – none shows the opposite. Guns in homes, gun ownership and higher proportions of gun ownerships is correlated to, and cause more death.
States in the US which have more guns have higher suicide rates. In homes with firearms, 86 percent of people who used a had a firearm in their home used the gun to commit suicide. In homes without firearms, only 6 percent of suicides used a firearm. It’s pretty obvious… if you have a gun, you’re more likely to kill yourself with a gun. Gun purchasers had a 4.3x higher chance of suicide, and gun suicide (7.2x higher). For every 10% likelihood to have a gun in the household, rates of suicide went up 26.9%
They have similar rates of mental illness. 1/5 Australians experience a mental illness in any given year. Similarly, 1/5 americans in any given year.
States with more gun control – like Massachusetts – which, like Australia, requires licences before purchasing (Australia has PLENTY of gun ownership – as someone who’s hunted, I actually wanted to get a gun, and only had to do 1 day of training to get a licence to do so, similar to the Massachusetts process), suicide rates are some of the lowest in America. The only 2 states that top it also have comparitively restricitve gun laws, which don’t stop people from getting guns!
In terms of homicide… Gun violence PER CAPITA (per person) is highest in 3 states with some of the loosest gun laws – 21 – compared to 3.6 in Massachusetts. Yes – we absolutely should be doing more to curb gun violence in urban centres stated above too. But you’re more likely to be shot in Alaska than you are Chicago (18.02/100,000 in Chicago vs 19.8 in Alaska. Lousiana, and other states with no permit to buy a gun are higher too) DESPITE Chicago being declared a ‘warzone’ by many. Of the top 20 states in terms of gun violence per capita – 19 had ABSOLUTELY NO permits to own a gun (the only one that did, only required them for handguns!).
Just a bit of common sense to reduce rates of suicide which ARE INCREASED BY GUN OWNERSHIP. Ignoring them is completely wrong.
14995 people died to gun homicides. Add that to 23854 suicides, and you have closer to 40,000 than 30,000 deaths due to guns that this redditor claims is true. That’s equal or more than all the other examples cited WHICH ALREADY HAVE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS PUMPED INTO THEM TO COMBAT but medical error. Reducing rates of medical error is VERY TOUGH. We’re taught about systems thinking in medicine. I’m the founder of a startup creating lifesaving alert systems for elderly people. Things are already being done in this space. I know this.
What my company is doing to combat this.
Investment into gun violence and gun control is NOT proportional to the amount we spend on these other big issues. Gun violence RESEARCH is severely hampered. We could find out if things like video games or universal background checks or licences (which, as I’ve demonstrated above – DON’T RESTRICT YOUR RIGHT TO OWN A GUN) if we had more information on them. The reason why the CDC doesn’t conduct more research in this space is due to the Dickey Ammendment which hamstrings government funding to it. Why does the NRA stop research into guns? If they were not causing increased death and violence, and weren’t related to suicides and increased death as many people would have you believe, why NOT just spend $2.6million (which is 0.05% of the amount the American Heart Association has invested into heart research, despite gun violence causing 5% of its total number of deaths, according to this Reddit post’s own figures) – the amount which used to be spent on gun research to get to the bottom of it? Wouldn’t that shut the gun control people up?
Or is it more likely that 12000 business owners who make $11billion a year off guns, want business to continue on as usual? Guns cost us $17.4billion in indirect costs (wages lost, productivity), and $2.8 in direct healthcare expenditure to treat. Many people are injured, and suffer permanent life damage because of a gun too. Isn’t that a much more likely conspiracy? I explain how Australia does it below. We have pretty high gun ownership. If you want a gun, and you aren’t a suspected terrorist, mentally ill, or an ex convict, you’ll get it. We haven’t had anyone try and stop people from getting guns with a licence. Absolutely noone wants to take our guns. Why can’t common sense prevail? If you’re a responsible gun owner, it will not restrict you in any way.
Back to Neil’s Tweet
As for Neil’s tweet. Not only was it extremely tasteless, it was plain wrong too. First off, according to the CDC, 14995 people were killed by guns in homicides in the US in 2016. That’s not 40, but rather 79, or 80, per 48 hours. It appears that Neil made a math error to begin with, or deliberately chose only handguns (for some odd reason) instead. PS – I just destroyed the reddit thread where Neil got his numbers and argument from.
And he IGNORES the problem of suicide, which, as I showed above, can be reduced by reducing easy access to guns. As I mentioned in the video – higher prevalence of guns is related to more suicides too. 90% of people who got past acute episodes of distress of panic who didn’t have easy access to a gun wouldn’t go on to commit suicide.
Guns aren’t even that big an industry in the US. 12,000 businesses only generate $11billion in revenue per year, which seems like a lot, but the startup I’m working on is in the mattress industry, which generates over $14billion in sales. On the other hand, gun violence directly costs the US over $2.8billion in healthcare expenditure. That’s just the cost to treat people who turn up to hospital with injury. $17.4 billion is the actual pricetag if you include indirect losses in income and productivity as well.
The most abhorrent thing here though is that Neil’s tweets are going to be used, for decades, to justify gun violence, and oppose gun control. If ‘a prominent scientist’ said this, it means it must be true, to many. I understand his points. Hell, my startup, Australia’s Student Startup of the Year, is working to fix some preventable problems.
The Dickey Amendment, Again
Right now further detail and research into gun violence and attempts to mitigate its impacts aren’t being done. It’s pure politics. The Dickey Amendment , where gun lobbiest hamstrung the CDC, a body that’s supposed to be indepent’s, ability to conduct research which is the only reason why we don’t have more conclusive data on interventions that exist to reduce gun violence.
Do video games cause more violence? Do background checks, which are supported by 79% of republicans, and 91% of democrats, lead to lower rates of gun acquisition and violence? WE may never now.
I don’t hate guns.
I’m not against guns. I’ve had long chats about people very proud about their guns and their connection to it while traveling through Tennessee a few years ago. I’ve hunted before. As a fisherman, I know the impact good recreational policy and advocacy – led mainly by fishermen – has on fish stocks and resetoration of waterways. Fishermen and hunters alike are invested, personally in conservation. Hunting funds 55% of the US’s department of fisheries and wildlife directly. Policies guide and aid in conservation. Fines are imposed if these are exceeded. Even Australia, which is famously used as an example of the success of gun control policy (after a mass buyback of guns, following a mass shooting, Australia has had 0 mass shootings in almost 2 decades), has a thriving hunting industry which brings in $460-1300million in revenue to Australia. Comparable to numbers seen in the US. Massachusetts, which has similar policies to us – requiring a licence, which takes about a day, before you can get access to a gun (with similarly high approval rates of over 97%, and freedom to do what you will) had 3.6 gun homicides/100,000, compared to 21+ in Alaska. That’s the lowest in mainland America. Gun control WORKS.
Funding for the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife breakdown.
The only people unrestricted gun availability is benefiting is 12000 gun business owners, a few gun convention businesses, a bunch of politicians, while costing America billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. Neil’s tweet is only encouraging inaction. And that’s something I stand against.