Thanks to Nashville and the Grand Ol’ Opry, Tennessee prides itself as being the place we think about when it comes to country music. But how ‘bout being the place we all think about when it comes to getting accidentally shot with a gun? Right now, according to the CDC, Tennessee not only ranks first in the number of accidental shooting deaths, but ranks so far above every other state that something is really going wrong every time someone who lives in the Volunteer State picks up a gun.
In 2014, we don’t have more recent numbers, 586 Americans killed themselves or others using a gun that was declared to have been an accidental shooting. Believe it or not, 105 of those deaths occurred in Tennessee. Now how did a state that contained 2% of the entire U.S. population in 2014 rack up 18% of the accidental gun deaths that year? I’ll tell you how they did. The numbers simply aren’t any good.
But it’s not the fault of the good folks in Tennessee. There’s a group down there, they call themselves the Safe Tennessee Project, and they have been tracking accidental shootings for the last several years, along with promoting a child access prevention (CAP) law which, like most states, Tennessee doesn’t have. This group brought the media’s attention to the alarming increase in accidental gun deaths, and they also talked to the staff at the state’s Health Department which verified that the number of accidental shootings was correct.
There’s only one little problem. It turns out that in 2014, Tennessee was only one out of eight states that reported a ‘reliable’ number for accidental shooting deaths to the CDC. That’s right – eight. And the accidental gun deaths in these states amounted to 324. There were 11 other states that furnished ‘unreliable’ numbers (meaning that you can’t rely on them for accuracy) and the remaining 31 states didn’t report anything at all.
There is another database out there, the National Violent Death Reporting System, which collects and evaluates information on violent deaths that not only gets information from the standard medical sources used by the CDC, but also picks up data from medical examiners and even funeral directors in cases of a violent demise. But its records are so scant that for 2013 it listed the total number of accidental gun deaths at 128, so we can forget them altogether in terms of helping us out.
Don’t think for one second that gun violence numbers are all screwy only when it comes to accidental deaths. How about the hottest button of all, what is called ‘legal intervention,’ which is a polite way of categorizing people, mostly Black people, shot by cops. In 2014 our friends at the CDC put this number nationally at 464, the FBI, which also tracks this issue, said it was 444. But the Washington Post put the 2015 number at 990, and so far this year the number stands at 681.
Ever hear of something called ZIKA? As of last week the CDC reported 18,773 cases in the United States, a number broken down to all 50 states and U.S. Territories, as well as whether the infection was caused by a mosquito-borne virus or was a travel-associated germ. In fact, the total number of residents of the 50 states who have so far contracted the disease because of a mosquito bite they received where they live stands at 43! That’s right – with all the big hue and cry about the public health threat posed by ZIKA, the odds that someone living in the 50 states will contract the disease without going to Puerto Rico are zero to none.
ZIKA is considered a ‘nationally notifiable’ condition; i.e., it must be reported to the CDC. Know what a condition known as gun violence that kills more than 30,000 Americans each year is considered? To Gun-nut Nation it’s not a public health problem at all. Unfortunately, the CDC appears to agree.