I know full well the pressures of finding enough content to publish a daily blog, but sometimes bloggers create stories which aren’t necessarily ready for prime time just yet. And an example of this, and I’m not besmirching the motives or talents of the blogger involved, is a story put out by our friends at The Trace about the downward drop in gun violence this past year.
According to Jennifer Mascia, it looks like overall gun deaths in 2018 will be roughly 7% lower than the previous year, in this case deaths count fatal injuries other than suicides, which may in fact end up being higher in 2018 than in 2017. The data comes from our friends at the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), which posts a daily listing of shootings based on whatever comes over the digital transom, a.k.a. open-source feeds from all over the World Wide Web.
The GVA readily admits that its data does not include gun suicides, because rarely, if ever, do these events get any digital mention at all. I am just as happy that the GVA doesn’t include gun suicides in its daily report, because I have all kinds of problems with considering suicides as ‘gun violence,’ even though the World Health Organization defines violence as an attempt to injure either yourself or someone else. Everything connected to suicidal behavior is so different from any other type of violent behavior (most of all our continued reluctance to deal with suicide) that it may make gun violence appear to be a more serious threat, but it shouldn’t be used to justify any changes to the system we use to regulate guns.
Getting back to intentional injuries committed by one person against someone else, the good news is that the GVA number for gun homicides is close to the number published by the CDC, but the number for non-fatal assaults is so far off from the annual CDC count as to have no real meaning whatsoever. The head of GVA, our friend Mark Bryant, is quoted in The Trace article as putting this discrepancy down to “issues with the CDC’s methodology.”
C’mon Mark and Jennifer, you can both do better than that. In 2016, the most recent year for numbers on non-fatal injuries for the CDC, the agency said that 95,195 people were the victims of non-fatal gun violence. That same year, according to GVA, there were 30,645 non-fatal gun assaults. So we’re not talking about a discrepancy that can simply be put down to an issue of methodology, we’re talking about a discrepancy which is so great as to render any discussion based on either number null and void.
In her article, Jennifer says that “we don’t know what has caused the apparent drop in gun violence,” noting that fatal shootings have gone up in Philadelphia and D.C. With all due respect, I don’t think there’s the slightest chance that we will ever know why gun homicides go up or go down as long as we continue to think of fatal shootings as somehow different from the non-fatal ones.
They’re not. They are exactly the same. The only difference between the guys who end up dead and the guys who get stitched up is that the guy who shot the latter types didn’t shoot straight. I just re-read Jimmy Breslin’s classic book, The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight, and if there’s one thing that Jimmy captures better than anyone else who has ever written anything about guns, it’s the idea that banging away at someone other than yourself creates the overwhelming possibility that you’ll miss.
But if we are ever going to reduce gun violence, we have to understand why less than 10% of the people who really want to hurt someone else, try hurting them with a gun. And you simply can’t understand this, or figure out what to do about it, if you don’t have the faintest idea where, when or how this kind of violence really occurs. Sorry, but fatal gun violence isn’t the whole story by any means at all.