Are We In The Middle Of A Gun Violence Epidemic, Or Is It Something Worse?

I happened to glance at the remarkable Gun Violence Archive website today and two things caught my tired, old eyes.  First, the site has added maps, which allows someone at a glance to see the location of mass shootings, the places where law enforcement officers have been shot or killed, and the locations where people were shot or killed by police.  I’ll comment below on what these maps mean to me, but first I want to spend a few paragraphs discussing the other thing that caught my eye, namely, the number of people who have been killed this year by guns.

GVA            The figure for fatal shootings is unbelievable: 9,175.  If gun shootings continue at this level for the rest of the year, we end up at more than 14,000 who lost their lives due to guns, which will also be an unbelievable figure.  And it’s unbelievable for two reasons: first, because the number would mark an extraordinary increase from previous years; second, because the numbers captured and then published by the Gun Violence Archive go far beyond the numbers presented by anyone else, including the government agencies who are paid by us – the taxpayers – allegedly to track and publish these numbers on official terms.

According to the CDC, the total for all gun deaths other than suicide was 11,995, a number which includes homicides, accidental shootings and what is politely referred to as ‘legal interventions, which means that someone was shot (and killed) by a cop.  The FBI doesn’t track deaths, it tracks crimes, and they say there were 11,971 homicides in 2014, of which 8,124 were committed by someone who used a gun.  If we compare these 2014 numbers to the number in the GVA, both the CDC and FBI come up short.

I trust the GVA not because their numbers are higher than the other figures, but because their research is rigorous and comprehensive. But let’s not forget that since GVA pulls its information from media and other open sources, by definition even its number undercounts what’s really going on.  Notwithstanding these caveats, what the GVA shows is that gun deaths went up 7% from 2014 to 2015, and if the current carnage rate continues until year’s end, the 2016 figure will jump at least another 4% again. Is there a chance that we are now looking at an annual 5% increase in gun deaths every year?  That’s not only a good possibility; the numbers actually indicate that the increase in annual gun-deaths might be higher than that.

Now let’s take a look at the new GVA maps.  There are three maps that show the location of this year’s mass shootings, the location of cops shot or killed and persons shot or killed by cops. I am hopeful the GVA will eventually give us is a map showing the location of all person-to-person shootings because what I suspect we will see is that gun violence is generic to all 50 states.  And this should not surprise given the number of times each year that someone kills or injuries someone else with a gun.

If the annual rate of gun deaths continues to mount at 5% a year, by 2024 we will be over 20,000 gun deaths, and if we add that number to what has also been an upward trend in gun suicides, we could be looking at gun violence claiming more than 50,000 lives each and every year. Gun violence is often called an ‘epidemic,’ but I prefer the approach taken by one of our most brilliant gun researchers, Katherine Christoffel, who considers gun violence to be endemic to our society because it exacts a constant and more ongoing toll.

Feel free to download Dr. Christoffel’s article and consider what she has to say. The bottom line is that unless we take very dramatic and very forceful steps to curb gun violence, we may find ourselves with no choice but to accept this extraordinary loss of life as an ordinary state of affairs. And that is something we simply cannot permit.

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The Gun Violence Numbers Continue To Add Up. And Up. And Up.

Hey folks.  Something really crazy is going on.  I hope I’m wrong but I suspect I’m not.  But if I am, please correct me as quickly as you can.  Okay?  I really mean it.

According to my friends at the Gun Violence Archive, so far in the last 72 hours we have racked up 78 deaths from guns.  So far in 2016 the total gun deaths stands at 1,735.  Overnight there were at least 26 gun homicides, of which 6 were evidently the work of one armed citizen, Jason Dalton, who just drove around Kalamazoo, MI, firing a semi-automatic pistol at whomever happened to come into his sight. That’s more than one killing every hour, which is actually a slightly lower hourly rate than what has been going on since the beginning of the year!

conference-program-picAs Bill Clinton said when he re-nominated Barack Obama in 2012, let’s do the arithmetic.  So far this year we have gone through 51 days plus 9 additional hours on Day 52. This adds up to 1,232 hours since the great ball dropped in Times Square.  Which means that the per-hour gun killing rate is now 1.4.  Which means at this rate we end up with 12,297 homicide deaths by year’s end; let’s add in 1,000 unintentional gun deaths which is probably a decent estimate and then tack on another 22,000 suicides, another reliable estimate, and we wind up with a grand total of more than 35,000 Americans who will be killed by guns in 2016.

There’s only one little problem, and it’s not a problem with my math.  Taken together, January and February are the two lowest murder months of the entire calendar year.  January is actually higher due, of course, to the usual way in which many people celebrate the Holiday Season by getting drunk, getting into a brawl and then, God bless ‘em all, pulling out a gun. But February is the lowest month for all serious crimes because in most parts of the country, it’s just too darn cold.

On the other hand, when we get into the warmer Summer months, what happens in the Winter as regards violent crimes is just a fraction of what takes place between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with high-violence cities like Chicago, Detroit and DC racking up twice as many killings in those months as what is usually recorded at the beginning of the year.

This is why I began this blog with a plea for help in the hopes that perhaps the data I am looking at is wrong. But it’s not wrong.  The numbers so far this year reflect what has been happening with gun violence for the last decade, namely, a slow but steady upward climb from 28,685 in 2004 to 32,743 in 2014.  That’s a 14% increase in gun violence during the same years that the pro-gun noise machine has the unmitigated gall to keep telling us that guns are protecting us from violence and crime.  It’s as if the NRA and their media mouthpieces don’t care whether anything they say has even the slightest relationship to reality at all.

Remember this quote from Dickens: “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.”  I think these words really describe the gun debate today.  Because if the gun violence numbers so far this year continue and then increase as they surely will during the summer months, we will end 2016 with a body count that will probably crest somewhere above 38,000 or even higher, which takes us back to levels that haven’t been seen since the great crime wave that peaked in 1994.

Is it too much to imagine that yesterday’s shooting in Kalamazoo might provoke folks to consider the possibility that it’s not people who are the problem, it’s the ease with which people can get their hands on guns?  Recall again what Dickens said.