Yes, Breitbart, 33,000 People ARE Killed with Guns Each Year

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

There is absolutely nothing controversial about Hillary Clinton’s claim that, in the United States, “We have 33,000 people a year who die from guns”–except maybe to those who don’t understand how words and numbers work.

Yet, AWR Hawkins, breitbart.com’s “Second Amendment Columnist,” posted a “Fact-Check” column, titled “No, 33,000 Not Killed with Guns Each Year” following the third presidential debate, claiming that Clinton deliberately inflated the CDC numbers of firearm deaths by adding in suicides. This is not the first time Hawkins has posted similar complaints.

What Hawkins fails to do is explain how suicides by firearm somehow fall outside of the “33,000 people a year who die from guns.” Certainly, Hawkins must understand that somebody who uses a gun to kill him/herself is dead, and did use a gun in order to die—making that person someone who ‘died from a gun.’

Using Hawkins’ preferred language of people “killed with guns each year” still doesn’t change anything. A person who commits suicide with a firearm still was, in fact, killed with a gun.

suicide-gun-mouth

Hawkins also strikes out by putting the phrase “gun violence” in quotation marks, saying that the use of that phrase (which Clinton did not use in the quote he complains about) somehow plays into Clinton’s strategy of fooling the public. But, again, killing oneself with a firearm does qualify as “gun violence”–first of all, because it involves an act of violence; and secondly, because it involves a gun. Or you can reverse that so the gun is first and the violence is second—still doesn’t change anything.

I don’t want to get into speculation about things that Clinton didn’t say, but perhaps if she had used the phrase “gun crimes” or had referred to murders using guns, then Hawkins would have a better argument. But Clinton didn’t. So Hawkins doesn’t.

And, in case you’re wondering, the 33,000 figure is dead-on. Here’s a chart, showing the CDC numbers of gun deaths for the years 2010 to 2014 (2014 being the most recent year statistics are available) clearly showing that gun deaths have reached well above 33,000 per year for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and averaged 32,964 per year for the five-year period.

avg-gun-deaths-2010-to-2014

A handy chart of CDC statistics on gun deaths, lifted from Everytown for Gun Safety at  https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/

Now, I get that gun-loving Americans, including the Breitbart crowd, don’t like to believe anything negative about guns. They also don’t like to believe that they may, at some point, end up so distraught, or so deep in the throes of mental illness, that they might use their guns on themselves, and/or their family members or other loved ones—or perhaps even neighbors or random strangers.

By pushing the suicide statistics aside, or pretending they ‘don’t count’, Hawkins ignores a harsh reality here: that people who own guns tend to kill themselves with those guns far more than they kill an intruder in their home, or otherwise defend themselves from the big, bad, scary world out there. People who own guns kill themselves with those guns more often than criminals use guns to kill innocent citizens; and more frequently than ‘gang violence’ leads to gun deaths.

There is also considerable overlap in the “murder/suicide” category—where gun owners kill their significant others, family members, co-workers, or random strangers, prior to turning their guns on themselves. And because guns are such a quick and effective killing tool, the decision to use them in an act of violence on loved ones or oneself is often impulsive—a few too many bad days in a row, a bad argument following a few too many beers, or even a partner deciding they want out of a relationship, and the gun comes out as the ultimate way to put a stop to whatever is so aggravating.

As for mental illness, Hawkins’ argument becomes even less convincing in the face of all the clamoring about how we don’t have a gun problem in the U.S., but we have a mental health problem. Of course, people who make such an argument are usually talking about the mental health issues of mass shooters. Yet, if we (properly) view suicide as a mental health issue, then the numbers of firearm suicides become that much more disturbing. Gun owners kill themselves at a rate roughly twice as high as the rate of gun murders. That’s a vast mental health issue that’s not being addressed, and that is being exacerbated by guns.

Yes, I know that many of the people who want to argue in favor of guns like to point out that people who commit suicide will find the means to do so, even if you take their guns away–an argument which is demonstrably false in terms of overall lethality. There are many ways to map out the evidence showing this falsehood, including the high rate of suicide by firearm–roughly 50% of all suicides in the U.S. are completed using guns. Another way to conceptualize the difference in suicide methods is to compare suicide completion rates using firearms relative to suicide completion rates using other methods. For instance, plenty more people survive suicide attempts by overdosing on pills than survive suicide attempts using guns.

Those who are willing to brush off the connection between firearms and suicide also sometimes argue that suicide is a matter of personal freedom—of being allowed to end one’s life when one chooses. I will say that I’m not completely opposed to people being able to end their own lives on terms they choose. However, I’ve learned enough to know that people are least equipped to make that decision quickly, impulsively, or while in a deep depression (among many other factors). Very few people attempt suicide while they are thinking in the clearest of terms, or making a rational decision based on a comprehensive review of the facts.

Depression and many other forms of mental illness are notorious for their association with cognitive distortions, aka, “thinking errors”—misinterpreting the world around one, the impact one’s actions have on others, and the view other people have of one (again, among many other factors). As I’ve pointed out before, the idea that a gun keeps one safe is, itself, a cognitive distortion. The suicide-by-firearm statistics make that clear.

There is also, perhaps, a great irony here, in that Hawkins believes he is advocating for gun ownership, when the “mental health” approach to suicide prevention involves removing the means for suicide. That is, safety planning for suicide prevention involves taking away those means most likely to be used in a suicide attempt, while the person at risk for suicide gets treatment.

So, how do we address the mental health problems associated with guns and suicide? Take the guns away, at least until the person moves beyond risk for suicide. Of course, mental health treatment is not predictive. Risk factors can be weighed, and support systems assessed, but given the ease with which a person can use a gun to end her/his own life, a dip back into depression, a few more bad days, a drift away from regular engagement with one’s (positive) coping skills, and the risk can escalate once again.

Hawkins thinks he is supporting gun rights by poo-pooing the statistics on firearm deaths in the United States. But what he is actually doing is pointing out that suicide is twice as big a problem, where guns are concerned, as murder is. His solution is to pretend the people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people who “die from guns.”

At base, he is arguing that people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people…or perhaps aren’t really people who deserve the support to go on living.

 

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7 thoughts on “Yes, Breitbart, 33,000 People ARE Killed with Guns Each Year

  1. Suicide by firearm should be lumped in with other suicides (40,000 per year), not homicide by gun (less than 10,000). It’s the death, and the causes of death, that matters, not the means, and this here is just a tired old anti gun tactic to pad the numbers.

    You’re just about as likely to know someone who died by murder or suicide by means other than gunfire: 4 out of 9 die by other means. This follows from 1/2 of suicides and 1/3 of murders are not by gun.

  2. There’s nothing “padding the numbers” about it. 33,000 people a year are killed with guns–whether by their own hand or somebody else’s. Hawkins stated that it is not true that 33,000 people are killed with guns each year. Look up the definitions of the words “killed” and “with.” Hawkins is blatantly lying. And statistics are not only lumped into one static category, and disallowed from being used in other categories. At base, people are more likely to kill themselves with their own guns than to kill anyone else with those guns, or to be murdered by anyone. Yet, the big argument for having guns is self defense.

  3. The trouble is this feeds into a misconception about guns generally, tending to treat the gun as a causal agent, which is illogical. There are two categories here, murder and suicide, not “gun violence” or “gun deaths”, which are political agitprop memes. We don’t say people are killed with razor blades, gravity impact, or tylenol, but by suicide: wrist slashing, jumping, poisoning – the actual causes, the impulse to take one’s life.

    The fact is this was for a long time part of the anti gun propaganda deception, to make it look like gun suicides were actually homicides (similar to the confusion deliberately sown over “assault weapons” and full auto). Now that, once again, the propaganda has backfired because people became wise to the ruse of trying to pad the numbers, the anti gun lobby is doubling down on the dumb.

    Just think for a minute about what you’re saying up front: ‘“We have 33,000 people a year who die from guns”–except maybe to those who don’t understand how words and numbers work.’ If you really had a reasonable point you wouldn’t have to put it that way. Dying from murder and dying from suicide are very different things, unless you have a strong anti gun bias.

    Here’s another common point of confusion and propaganda: “At base, people are more likely to kill themselves with their own guns than to kill anyone else with those guns, or to be murdered by anyone. Yet, the big argument for having guns is self defense.” This again confuses the gun for the cause. You must not confuse the average risk with individual risk, which is strongly peaked around a small minority that is at risk around guns: those who are suicidal and/or homicidal. For example, we can say, “Car ownership is associated with increased risk of drunk driving.” It is “associated” simply because people who drive drunk tend to be car owners, but having a car does not “cause” you to have an increased risk, not unless you have the risk factors of drinking. Similarly, the vast majority of people can make themselves safer with guns, and millions already have, since most homes do not have people who are suicidal and/or homicidal. And therein lies the validation of gun ownership for self-defense.

    http://peopleofarms.com/does-having-a-gun-make-you-less-safe/

  4. Actually, the gun is a major risk factor in suicide and homicide because it is a tool that is easily used to kill oneself and others. Again, you are trying to put things into static categories. A person is not necessarily suicidal or homicidal as a permanent and ongoing condition. States of mental health, as well as moods, states of high emotion, etc., are highly fluid. People can end up suicidal or homicidal through a variety of circumstances, as the post points out, whether that build-up is slow and over a long period of time, or the result of volatile situations, substance abuse, etc. The presence of the gun provides a handy tool, designed for killing, to do just that. Pro-gun organizations, in particular, the NRA, have used scare tactics involving crime, mental health, and the threat of government removal of guns to ramp up gun sales–with the majority of the people dying from those guns being the gun owners themselves. Pro-gun people like to believe they are immune to mental health concerns, and that mental health concerns are the problem of other people, and that a gun provides them with an additional level of control over the circumstances of their lives. As the statistics show, the control they achieve over their lives is the ability to end them. And, yes, most homes do not have somebody who is suicidal or homicidal–each year, roughly one out of every 2,0000 homes where a gun is (or guns are) present experience a suicide by firearm. So, sure, let’s use the categories “murder” and “suicide” and let people know what’s really going on. But since the attitude of gun owners tends to be that it is only ‘other people’ who have, or could have, mental health conditions, they are being fed a bogus narrative about the personal power and protection a gun provides.

  5. I’m pretty sympathetic with what you’re saying overall. To take particulars, “States of mental health, as well as moods, states of high emotion, etc., are highly fluid.” Well they can be, and if someone wants to have guns around then he or she should really be aware of their own issues and vulnerabilities and make their decisions accordingly. As Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” And take account if there are emotional and psychological changes or stages of life that might make the gun in the home a hazard rather than a help. At the same time, we don’t go through life not having guns around because we’re afraid we might become suicidal and/or homicidal, any more than we choose not to have a car and drive because we are afraid of getting drunk and causing a tragedy. It’s a matter of personal responsibility to be armed, and naturally a matter of good citizenship, and while we can outsource the risks to government and police that only shifts the burden but does not eliminate it nor does it address the underlying issue, which is that we are responsible for our own security and for safeguarding the nation’s liberty.

    “Pro-gun organizations, in particular, the NRA, has used scare tactics …” Do not be mislead by the most prominent or noticeable rhetoric. It is really about responsibility, not fear.

    “the threat of government removal of guns to ramp up gun sales” Frankly, that’s on the gov’t, not the NRA. It’s the threats against guns and the right of the people that drive such scare sales, not the gun lobby.

    “Pro-gun people like to believe they are immune to mental health concerns” I really don’t agree with you there. I think most people are not mentally ill and are not bothered by the responsibility of having guns, nor should they be – do you really want to count on gov’t folks to be in charge of whatever is deemed mentally stable, etc.? Are we really to think that only gov’t and police can be trusted to have guns and that each of us mere citizens are just mental cases ready to snap? I don’t want to live under such a regime. The risks far outweigh the rewards.

    “As the statistics show, the control they achieve over their lives is the ability to end them.” Again here I have to point out you are confusing average for individual risk, which is completely different. With all due respect, you will not make progress until you understand that.

    “But since the attitude of gun owners tends to be that it is only ‘other people’ who have, or could have, mental health conditions, they are being fed a bogus narrative about the personal power and protection a gun provides.” First of all, it’s not about “gun owners”, any more than drunk driving is about “car owners”. And once again, it’s not really about personal power and protection; the salient point is that it’s a matter of responsibility. And the vast majority of people can handle it, just as the vast majority can handle driving without drinking. And if you want to argue the contrary, then who do we accept as our masters? Those who can handle the simple power of guns, while the hoi palloi cannot – do you really want to live under such a regime?

  6. I will say I appreciate the arguments you are making, as well as the personal responsibility for which you are advocating. Because you make the comparison to automobiles and drunk driving, arrests for drunk driving involve a little over one out of every 1,000 drivers in the U.S. each year–which, of course, does not necessarily mean that all of those people end up convicted, but also means that not all of those who are driving drunk are actually caught doing it. In addition, a much larger percentage of U.S. citizens own cars than guns, and use those cars nearly every day–with more gun-involved murders taking place each year than the total number of auto-related deaths–involving drunk drivers or not. Numbers-wise, particularly if you add in the suicides, that indicates the danger that guns represent relative to cars (as in so many more people using cars, and so many fewer deaths). Yet, automobiles and driving are much more heavily regulated than guns–limits on who is allowed to drive, limits on what types of vehicles people can drive where, greater access nationwide to information on driving records and automobile ownership, and mandatory insurance to own a car. On top of that, the NRA has become a lobby for the gun industry, and has thwarted the will of the public re: gun policy, largely via deliberate attempts to target politicians, and providing large contributions to politicians to keep them from enacting what their constitutents want. That is, even reasonable “gun control” laws are difficult to pass, except in areas of the country where politicians are not vulnerable to political attacks by the NRA. So, efforts at reasonable laws are generally shut down, and those gun owners who are least responsible (such as those who like to ‘open carry’ semi-automatic and other weapons, or those who actually believe that adding in more guns to volatile situations somehow makes those situations safer).

    I understand the difference between individual and average risk. And nowhere in the argument here did I advocate for taking away everybody’s guns, nor has Hillary Clinton (although, I will say the “need” to own guns is rather a strange view–particularly if you are looking at risk–individual or average–for being in the kinds of situations where your ownership of a gun is actually providing you with some increased measure of protection).

    You mention the average citizen vs. police and the government, where it comes to gun ownership and use–yet, the police and the military undergo extensive gun training. The average gun owner falls under no such requirement. Also, the number of people with law enforcement or military backgrounds who kill themselves with firearms is out of proportion to the general public.

    And, whether you like it or not, government entities are largely responsible for determining what counts as a mental health risk, leading to who can have their weapons taken away from them under such circumstances–temporarily or permanently.

    And again, why not be direct and open about the fact that 33,000 people a year are killed with guns–with 2/3 of those being suicide? The NRA uses the bogey man of crime to encourage gun ownership; and they steered the gun conversation toward mental health. So, why not discuss that openly?

  7. I too am sympathetic to what you are saying overall. And I also appreciate the points you make concerning statistics. This has often proved to be an uncivil discourse and I personally find that extremely disheartening. I am a gun owner and an enthusiast. I enjoy competetive shooting sports. Despite that, I would like to see changes to our gun laws that would result in a safer society. One thing I think you fail to address is the reason for the 2nd amendment. The prevention of government overreach argument. This, to me is the only legitimate argument for citizens to keep, and bear arms. Many new laws I have heard proposed would not have prevented the school shootings we all find so heinous and appalling. I would like to continue owning guns and enjoying shooting sports but I do wish there was a more extensive training requirement in place for this. I also wish that once a person was certified to own guns and carry guns that that right was recognized nationwide. That said, your points about mental health being inconstant are valid. A yearly certification process including a psyc evaluation might address this but who pays for it and what appeals process would there be? I’m in favor of an overhaul of our laws but it would have to involve sweeping changes that might infringe on State’s rights. I’m at a loss as to how this might be accomplished.

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