How Many People Are Victims Of Gun Violence? Beats Hell Outta’ Me And The CDC.

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.

safeestIn 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.

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A Holiday Safety Message From Everytown Which We Should All Read.

I’m very lucky.  Every year when the holidays roll around I’m one of those people who will spend time with a loving, supportive family, entertain and visit friends and even attend an office party from which, if I’m careful, I can drive myself home.  But the holidays also mark a time when many of us don’t do so well; we are alone, or depressed, or drink too much during this and other times of the year.  Some of us don’t have family, don’t have friends, the Thanksgiving dinner if we’re lucky, is consumed at a shelter or in the street.

everytown logo               I’m sure you, like me, have responded to requests for donations to this or that program which will bring some cheer into other people’s lives.  Americans are generous, we like to help those in need.  I’ll pay for some dinners to be served at a halfway house, my neighbor runs Toys for Tots at our local KofC.  Which is why I was heartened to see that Everytown has just posted a Holiday Safety Message on its Be Smart campaign.  Because gun accidents, more than any other kind of safety issue, are chilling and scary events.  And if you don’t believe me, just ask the residents of Hayden, ID, who had to find the strength to get through the Holidays last year after a young and vigorous Mom was shot dead in Walmart by her two-year old son.

The Everytown holiday safety message continues a safety campaign started last year which tries to remind parents that there are ways to deal positively and properly with the risks of guns.  It’s a no-brainer to lock guns up when they’re not being used; ditto keep them unloaded around the home and, most important, always keep guns out of the hands of kids.  Children are naturally curious, they have no sense of risk or fear, they teach themselves about the world by touching everything around them and for sure this includes guns.

The gun industry has been promoting its own brand of gun safety largely through the ChildSafe program run by the NSSF.  The program distributes gun locks and safety literature and encourages parents to talk to their children about safe behavior around guns. But what this program does not do is tell parents to talk to other parents about their guns.  And this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, because parents who send their children to play at someone else’s home have a right to know whether that home is safe.  And like it or not, no matter what the NRA says about the benefits of gun ownership outweighing the risks, the fact is that a home with a gun inside it is a home where a gun accident could take place.

In 2013, the last year for which we have good data, 16,864 Americans were the victims of non-fatal, unintentional injuries from guns. Now listen carefully: 14,886 were males and 16,326 were over the age of 15.  In other words, when it comes to accidental shootings, what we are really talking about are boys and men playing with their own guns. Now don’t get me wrong; every life is precious and nobody should endure the heartache and pain of losing a life, particularly the very young. But gun safety, when all is said and done, is a function of the fact that we are humans which means we are careless and we forget.  The real value of Everytown’s holiday safety message is that it serves as a reminder that a memory lapse with a gun can have a terrible effect.

If there’s one thing the pro-gun community has decided is that groups like Everytown are just promoting gun safety to disguise the fact that the real goal is to confiscate all guns.  Let me break it to the pro-gun folks gently – there wouldn’t be any reason for Everytown to talk about gun safety if gun owners would all lock up their guns.

 

 

 

Will CAP Laws And Safe Storage Keep Guns Safe? I’m Not So Sure.

Yesterday comes the news out of Michigan that a 12-year old, mentally-impaired boy, who took a shotgun out of his grandfather’s gun safe, pulled the trigger and killed a pregnant, 28-year old woman sleeping in a different room in the same house, will now be charged with careless discharge of a firearm.  The sentence could involve fines and/or placement in a juvenile facility. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Michigan is one of 23 states that does not have a child access prevention law (CAP), which means that a kid who had no idea what he was doing gets charged in this death and grandpa, who owned the gun, gets off scot free.

gun safe                Every week or so the media seems to carry another story about a youngster who somehow manages to grab a gun and kill or wound someone else.  Probably the recent episode that garnered the most media attention was the shooting of Veronica Rutledge by her 2-year old son in an Idaho Wal Mart; Mom had a pistol in her handbag, turned away for a sec and – bam!  Rutledge was alleged to be a trained shooter who carried a gun for self-defense.  Some self-defense.

In 2013, the CDC estimates that 538 kids under 14 were unintentionally injured by guns and another 69 are estimated to have lost their lives because someone accidentally shot off a gun.  THE CDC also reports that 625 kids 14 years or younger died from drowning and 1,345 youngsters lost their lives in accidents involving trucks or cars. I’m not saying the deaths of 69 children for any reason should be ignored; I’m just trying to put it into perspective as regards the issue of safe guns.

Even though we don’t have exact data on how many children kill or maim themselves or others with guns, every time it happens we get the chorus about locking up or locking away the guns. The issue of gun safety needs to be understood beyond the degree to which young children are injured or killed because when we look at total unintentional firearm mortality and morbidity for all ages, the numbers dramatically change. Accidental gun deaths jump to 505; for non-fatal gun injuries the toll is 16,864. This latter figure, to quote one of my street friends, is serious sh*t.  And it would be a lot more serious were it not for skilled trauma surgeons who somehow manage to bring many shooting victims back from the dead.

The problem with relying on CAP laws and safe storage is that most unintentional shootings occur not because a little kid grabs a gun, but because the owner or one of his friends does something impulsive or dumb while the gun is being used in a lawful and legal way. In 2013, there were 2,590 unintentional gun injury victims ages 15 to 19, but nearly 2,000 of these victims were 18 years old, which meant that they were lawfully able to use a gun.  The gun accident rate for the 18-19 age group was 22.74, drops to 9.38 for ages 20-35, to 7.82 for ages 35-44 and down to 3.16 for ages 45-54.  This decrease in gun accident rates moving up the age scale is exactly what we find in rates by age bracket for accidents involving cars.

Everyone is in favor of using guns safely; the NRA talks about it all the time. What nobody wants to face, however, is the simple fact that when you have 300 million dangerous weapons floating around, a certain number are going to be used every day in stupid and senseless ways.  If CAP laws and safe storage prevented every unintentional gun injury to children, the overall deaths and injuries would drop by 3 percent.  CAP laws and gun locks are necessary, but they don’t really respond to the fact that 300 million extremely lethal weapons are owned by humans, and at some time or another every one of us will be careless or forget.