What’s The Difference Between Homicide & Suicide? Where You Point The Gun.

Our friends at The Trace have just published an article on guns and suicides which shows that states with high per-capita gun ownership also tend to have higher-than-average suicides committed with guns.  Roughly one out of two successful suicides involve a gun, and it is the only type of suicide plan that rarely, if ever, fails.  So having access to a gun when something as impulsive as suicide is involved, becomes a very dangerous state of affairs.

suicide           The idea of a link between gun ownership and suicide is not new.  In fact, two of the true gun-violence research pioneers, Art Kellerman and Frederick Rivara, published research on this point in 1992, for which the NRA did not give them an award at their annual meeting that year or any other year.  In fact, it was this research among other efforts that was cited by the NRA as ‘proof’ that CDC-funded gun research was nothing more than anti-gun advocacy masquerading as science and led to the defunding of said research.

I happen to think that perhaps we should start taking the NRA and its various mouthpieces at their word and suggest that perhaps the medical community should forego any further treatment of NRA members altogether.  I mean, what the hell.  Since they have decided that getting your head shot off isn’t a medical ‘problem,’ obviously no other injury that a person might suffer should qualify as a medical problem either, right?

Now obviously I’m being a bit sarcastic here to make a point, which is that gun violence is gun violence whether you point the gun at yourself or at anyone else.  The difference, and it’s the only difference, is that it’s a lot easier to shoot yourself than to shoot anyone else, particularly if the ‘anyone else’ happens to be moving around.  And the fact that the official line from Gun-nut Nation is that suicide and guns have nothing whatsoever to do with each other only tells you how far from reality that bunch has strayed.  So let’s get back to reality.

Here’s reality: In 2014, the national gun-suicide rate (per 100,000) was 6.34.  The rate for Whites was 8.3, for Blacks it was 2.75.  Where do all these White suicide victims live?  In small towns particularly in Western states.  This is what the Kerry Shaw says in The Trace, this is what everyone says. And while a state like Montana has a gun-suicide rate seven times higher than New York State, comparing suicide rates at the state level can sometimes obscure as much as it explains. For example, Essex County, which is the far Northern chunk of the Adirondacks, has a gun-suicide rate of more than 10, which isn’t up to Montana but it’s not far behind.  The difference is that New York’s statewide population is overwhelmingly urban and suicides, particularly older suicides, tend to take place in small, rural towns, no matter where they are located.

It should also be mentioned that as the suicide-prone population ages, the use of a gun becomes more frequent.  The rate of gun-suicide for White victims above the age of 60 is 13.36, which is 60% higher than the rate for all White suicide deaths.  On the other hand, the gun-suicide rate for Blacks who are 60 and up is the same as the overall gun-suicide rate for African-Americans. Why is it that Blacks seem so resistant to suicide, in particular gun-suicide, whereas suicide and gun-suicide rates for Whites are three times higher and keep going up?  We have absolutely no idea, and it’s an issue which never seems to get discussed within the GVP community.

It should be discussed because it certainly wouldn’t hurt to figure out why gun violence seems to be endemic to certain population groups whereas other groups appear to be resistant to the gun-violence scourge.  After all, it’s not as if there is anyone in this great land of ours who can’t easily and readily put their hands on a gun.


Do Guns Make Us More Or Less Safe? The NRA Seems To Be Winning The Argument

In 1993 Art Kellerman, Frederick Rivara and several other colleagues published an article which found that guns in the home increased the risk of homicide in the home.  I recall reading this article a year after it was published and wondered how something so incontrovertible; i.e., guns are lethal, needed to be validated in a peer-reviewed medical journal.  I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t understand it now.  Of course there are lots of ways that you can kill someone, but a gun really doesn’t have any other purpose.  It’s not like a knife which you can also use to cut a slice of steak.

Nevertheless, within a year after this article appeared, the gun folks produced a contrary argument about guns, in their case an alleged national survey conducted by Gary Kleck, who claimed on the basis of an alleged 213 telephone interviews that Americans used guns each year to prevent more than 2 million crimes.  Did his publication appear in a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal?  No.  Did he attempt to validate in any way the reports of respondents who said they used a gun to prevent a crime? No.  But Kleck’s argument became the basic selling-point for justifying gun ownership and it remains the war-cry of the pro-gun movement to this day.  After all, even if Kellerman was right and guns lying around the home resulted in higher levels of injury and death, what’s 30,000 deaths from guns when compared to 2 million crimes that didn’t take place?

cdc logo     Meanwhile, within two years after Kellerman’s article appeared, the NRA successfully moved to cut off funding by the CDC of all gun violence research, citing Kellerman’s work among others as promoting a negative view of guns, gun ownership and gun owners, not necessarily in that order.  The debate between pro-gun and anti-gun advocates continued and went over the top again after Sandy Hook, with the two sides basically holding to the positions taken by Kellerman and Kleck.  According to groups like the Violence Policy Center and others who want more controls over guns, the greater number of guns floating around, the more violence will take place.  The NRA counters this argument by saying that every law-abiding citizen should be walking around with a gun because it’s all those good guys carrying guns that will stop the bad guys before any harm is done.

In 2011 David Hemenway published a review of the literature on this argument (through 2007) and found that the published studies confirming the idea that more guns equals more violence outpaced the published studies that argued the reverse by something like 20 to 1.  In other words, despite the fact that public health research on guns had not been funded by the CDC for more than ten years, when it came to the written word on this subject, the folks who said that guns constituted a social risk as opposed to a social benefit were way out in front.

There was only one little problem.  In the place where the argument really counts, the arena of public opinion, the folks who believe that guns are a risk have fallen far behind. This week the Gallup Organization published a poll on whether Americans feel safer around guns, the fourth time they have conducted this poll in the last 14 years.  In 2000, the poll showed that 35% of respondents thought the house with a gun safer and 51% thought it was less safe.  This year, more than 60% thought a house with a gun was safer and only 30% believed it to be less safe.

Why is there such a clear disconnect between the consensus among health researchers and the general public regarding the safety of guns.  Somehow, the results of an awful lot of research doesn’t seem to be getting through.  I’ve been a gun guy all my life and if anyone tries to convince me that guns aren’t lethally dangerous, it’s a discussion that will come to a quick end. But it’s not a discussion that seems to be happening between gun scholars and anyone else.