You can’t go to a gun violence prevention (GVP) website without being confronted with the horrific numbers of people killed or injured by guns. It’s well above 100,000 each year and it’s far beyond anything experienced by any other advanced country, like 20 times as high. But if you think that such numbers really illustrate how big a problem we have in this country with guns, think again. In fact, the gun-violence numbers bandied about happen to be only a part of a much larger whole.
The GVP community relies for its gun-violence victim data on the CDC because in theory, hospitals do a pretty good job of keeping track of their patients, and showing up with a bullet in your stomach or your leg has a way of attracting lots of attention from the medical staff. The only problem with these numbers is that a lot of people who suffer physical injuries from guns don’t show up or aren’t counted – either way, we need to better understand this issue before we can assume that we really know the health toll caused by guns.
The FBI has just issued its 2016 crime report, a document which breaks down crimes in terms of what type of weapon was used. For 2016 homicides, the feds say that 15,000 people were murdered in 2016, of which 11,000 murders, or 73%, were caused by guns. They also say that 735,000 people were arrested for aggravated assault, in which 190,000 attackers or 25%, used guns. All fine and well except for one little problem – three out of ten non-fatal gun assaults are never reported to the police. So to our gun-violence totals, we should probably another 60,000 or so events.
The gun homicide numbers reported by the FBI are close to what we get from the CDC. On the other hand, the FBI numbers on intentional, non-fatal gun injuries bring the overall gun-violence toll close to 200,000, and that’s just a start. Because if the GVP wants to rely on the medical profession to tell them how many people are gun-violence victims each year, they should use as their calculus the definition of violence that physicians have adopted which comes right out of the World Health Organization (WHO) and goes like this: “the intentional use of physical force, threatened or actual, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death [or] psychological harm….”
You think it’s not harmful to have a live gun pointed at you even if it doesn’t go off? Because that’s what happens to the 125,000 people who are robbed each year at gunpoint, a violent crime whose ‘clearance’ rate is around 30 percent. So let’s add another 150,000 gun-violence victims to the total above and we wind up with what I believe is a realistic number of people who suffer physical or psychological injury from guns of around 350,000 or more. Which happens to be about three times the number of gun-violence victims that is usually pushed out.
Why does GVP only count gun violence victims who are physically injured by guns? Perhaps because we don’t have a precise method to measure the psychological impact of looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. I’m not sure we have a workable research methodology that can come up with an y kind of legitimate statistical result. So we end up falling back on vague generalizations about the ‘cost’ of violence in a community-wide or society-wide sense, and the specific number of people who suffer from the mental effects of being threatened by guns disappears.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) says that 284,000 Americans were ‘victimized’ but not killed by guns in 2015. Which isn’t far off from the calculation I made above and translates into more than 800 victims of gun violence every day. If the GVP community wants to keep saying that 315 people are killed or injured each day with guns, I only wish the real gun-violence number was that low.