Should We Compare Civilian Gun Violence To Military Gun Violence? You’ll Learn How Violent We Really Are.

            I was at a hospital conference this morning where the speaker happened to mention that gun violence claimed more American lives since 1968 than were lost in every military engagement fought by U.S. troops since the country began. And while this is a shocking notion – the idea that we are more the victims of our own violence than the violence suffered when our country is at war with other countries – I decided to take a deeper look at those numbers, in particular the gun injury numbers from the Civil War.

            Why look at the Civil War?  For two reasons.  First, in terms of wartime deaths, it was far and away the costliest war of all.  We used to think that the final toll was somewhere over 500,000; that number was recently revised upwards to 750,000, which appears to be closer to the real mark. But this global number hides a significant issue that must be explained when it comes to comparing war deaths to civilian gun violence, namely, that two-thirds of the soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865 were victims not of wounds from warfare, but died from diseases caused by unsanitary conditions on and off the battlefield, and at least another 15% died from other causes not related to battle engagements at all.  In fact, it is estimated that only 20% of all the men who died on both sides during the Civil War actually were killed during the fighting itself.

            According to the Congressional Record Service, and I tend to think their research on all issues is about as valid as any research can be, the total number of battle deaths suffered by U.S. troops since 1775 is 575,000.  This number excludes casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, and also doesn’t count Confederate soldiers who lost their lives between 1861 and 1865.  Throw them into the overall figure and we are still something just beyond 600,000 victims of gun violence in warfare over the entire history of the United States.  According to the CDC, the total number of gun deaths for the civilian population of the United States since 1999 is 497,632.  And everyone thinks that gun violence has claimed more lives than Americans lost in battle if we go back to 1968?  Give me a friggin’ break. How about just go back to 1995?

            I don’t think that comparing civilian gun deaths to overall military fatalities is a valid comparison at all.  For the simple reason that men and women in uniform die from all sorts of causes, natural and otherwise, which may have nothing to do with whether they were victims of hostile fire or not.  Soldiers are not infrequent victims of accidents in training, military suicides may be declining lately but they are certainly not unknown.  As far as we can tell, the great flu pandemic of 1918 probably first infected Western countries from an outbreak in a military base in France. The ratio of all military deaths to combat deaths in all American wars is in the neighborhood of 2:1. The percentage of marines killed in Desert Shield – Deseret Storm, of all the Devil Dogs serving in the Gulf, was one-one hundredth of one percent. Hell, you would have been safer walking around with the 1st Cavalry Division in Wadi Al-Batin than traipsing down Prospect Avenue in the South Bronx.

            Know what?  I’m sick of the 2nd Amendment and I’m sick of all the dopes and dupes who email me nonstop to remind me that the 2nd Amendment gives them the ‘right’ to protect themselves with a gun.  Because the truth is that the number of people who successfully use a gun to protect themselves and everyone else is about as many as the number of troops who lost their lives protecting Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.  Which by no means should be taken as even the slightest rebuke of those who participated in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. But carrying a weapon into battle and carrying a weapon as you walk through Walmart just isn’t the same thing.      


It’s Not A Matter Of Good Guys Versus Bad Guys – It’s A Matter Of Life And Death.

So now it turns out that, despite what Trump and other publicity-mongering idiots are saying about Chattanooga, that the recruiting centers attacked by Mohammed Abdulazeez may not have been gun-free zones at all.  Nobody’s yet going completely on the record, and nobody knows all the facts, but it appears that at some point during the rampage, the incoming fire at the Navy Operational Support Center, which was the second location hit that day, may have been matched by outgoing fire from guns carried by a Navy Commander as well as by one of the slain Marines.

chat                The shooter was ultimately stopped in an exchange of gunfire between himself and local police who followed him from his first destination at a strip mall adjacent to an interchange on the Lee Highway to the Naval Reserve Base on the Annicola Highway that skirts the Tennessee River just north of the center of town.  There definitely was an exchange of gunfire between Abdulazeez and personnel at the Navy facility; it’s not clear whether the Glock pistol found on the body of one of the dead Marines had been fired in response to the attack.

How long did it take the NRA and the gun lobby to get their rhetorical guns-for-hire out there to denounce the gun-free policy at military facilities that was initiated by the first President Bush?  The shooting first started at 10:30 A.M. and ended within 30 minutes of when it began.  Within eight hours after the shooting ended, John Lott was on the Lars Larson radio show telling everyone that the shootings occurred because both locations were gun-free zones. He put it like this: “Time after time attackers go after targets where the victims can’t defend themselves.”

But in this case, legally or not, the victims not only could defend themselves but obviously tried to defend themselves.  And what ended the shooting was what always ends multiple shootings where an individual shoots people at more than one location – the cops who arrive in time and bring the situation to its tragic end.  In fact, the FBI studied 160 of these shootings between 2000 and 2013 and found exactly five events, 3% of the total, which ended because an armed citizen intervened.

I have no issue with anyone who decides that a particular facility, public or private, requires the presence of armed guards.  I would hate to see an armed guard standing outside my house of worship, but if the congregation decided they needed to pay for such protection, by all means let them pass around the collection plate again.  Ditto with any other place where people might feel they need protection, including armed force.  But the gun-free zone nonsense being promoted by the NRA and its sycophants like John Lott has nothing to do with going out and hiring competent, well-trained armed guards.  It’s just a shabby and cynical way to push concealed-carry and more gun sales.

Here’s how Lott expressed it on the Larson show: “There are now 13 million people who have concealed-carry permits.  They’re all over the place.  If you go to a restaurant or a bank there’s a good chance that somebody nearby you will have a gun.”  So what?  I don’t mean in any way, shape or form to besmirch the beloved memories of the servicemen whose lives ended tragically and needlessly in Chattanooga last week.  But several of them were carrying guns and may have used guns, but the rampage ended when the folks who are trained to use guns showed up at the scene.

I want to end with a comment directed at my friends in the gun-sense community who, along with everyone else, were shocked and horrified at the Chattanooga events.  You are engaged in a serious fight with adversaries who want you to believe that this is an argument about Constitutional rights. It’s not.  It’s an argument about life and death and their proposals to protect the former only increase the risk of the latter.