Dishonest Journalism is a Public Health Threat

Guns kill 35,000 Americans a year. They’re a threat to public health. Let’s act like it.” A bold claim by Dylan Scott of Vox. To make matters worse, we are told, “Congress has made it effectively impossible for federally funded researchers to study gun violence.” Taken at face value, these remarks make it appear that tens of thousands of Americans are murdered every year with guns, all while the federal government refuses appropriately to address this menacing threat to public health.

Scott doesn’t spend a lot of time digging into that 35,000 number, however, he just uses it to set a very unsettling premise and build around it. To his credit, Scott is sort of right, but he rounds up the number. There were indeed a total of 33,636 firearm deaths in 2013. Of that number, 21,175 (63 percent) gun-involved deaths were suicides, according to the CDC. Most gun-involved deaths in a given year are the result of suicide and, for the most part, gun-involved homicide has dropped sharply. The Pew Research Center reports:

Since the CDC began publishing data in 1981, gun suicides have outnumbered gun homicides. But as gun homicides have declined sharply in recent years, suicides have become a greater share of all firearm deaths: the 61% share in 2010 was the highest on record. That year there were 19,392 suicides by firearm compared to 11,078 homicides by gun (35% of all firearm deaths). The rest were accidents, police shootings and unknown causes.

I say “for the most part,” because backlash in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. has resulted in the “Ferguson Effect,” where police have backed away from actively policing in high-crime areas, which in turn has resulted in an increase in violent crime in those communities.

What about the rest of the deaths in Scott’s claim? Do gun-involved murders account for the difference? Not quite.

It is true that in 2013, 11,419 Americans were firearm homicide victims. As the CDC notes, “homicide” is the killing of a human in any case, including those instances justified in self-defense and police shootings. The FBI data shows that that defensive gun uses (DGU) occur an average of 67,740 times per year, though not every DGU results in death. Note that there are far more DGUs than there are gun-involved deaths, and this might make a good case for responsible firearm ownership and proper use as an effective means of self-defense, one that does not regularly result in the death of the victim or their assailant.

That number of 11,419, what’s left of Scott’s initial claim, can be further broken down into justifiable homicide (self-defense, police shootings), manslaughter (accidents involving a firearm, such as a negligent discharge resulting in death), and murder. The actual number of gun-involved murders in Scott’s original claim is 8,454, according to available FBI statistics. That number dropped to 8,124 gun-involved murders in 2014, while murders specifically involving a rifle accounted for 248 deaths, “fewer than the number committed with knives, blunt objects, and fists or feet. Three percent of gun murders involved rifles.”

There are real public health crises and there are manufactured ones. Consider that in 2016, 64,000 Americans died of legal and illegal drug overdose, making overdose “the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., surpassing peak annual deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents, guns, and HIV infection.”

The social and cultural issues that have correlated with an epidemic of drug addiction and overdoses, particularly single-parent households, are related to increasing crime and suicide rates as well, but there is noticeably less concern for one over the other. I presume there’s little point in misleading readers about an issue like opioid addiction, the way the media often does with shooting statistics, if it can’t be used against the president.

About Pedro Gonzalez

Pedro Gonzalez is associate editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He publishes the weekly Contra newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @emeriticus.

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18 responses to “Dishonest Journalism is a Public Health Threat”

  1. This also includes justified shootings thay won’t till about that number

  2. Very unfortunately, the massacre of 17 high school students has tragically proven, AGAIN, that “gun free zones” will never work.
    So; In keeping with the equality the Democrats persistently demand, every teacher and student should be issued their own AR 15 to put them on a “level playing field” with the next homicidal maniac that attempts to shoot up a school.
    Even with absolutely no training, I’m betting the collateral damage from the next attempted shooting would be a lot less than 17.
    It would be “suicide by pupil” instead of “suicide by cop”.

    • Great idea! Let’s give guns to teachers. Let’s not forget to license them as Peace officers as well. That way when they need to break-up a fight between a couple unruly brats, they can just put them in a chokehold, squeeze till they pass out, put them in shackles and cart them off to the pen where they belong.

      Now, the teachers are going to need more than just a gun, they’ll need kevlar vests as well, because obviously the unruly brats are going to want to pack heat as well, now that Mrs. Smith is loaded for bear.

      This is going to make Pep Rallies really exciting. When the cheer leaders have concealed carry permits, it’s going to be hard to find a holster that fits under one of those outfits. Don’t want them jumping around too much though, sure don’t want an accidental discharge!

      • DERP! The “licensed Peace officers” stood outside and did nothing. Your fear of inanimate objects is truly pathetic.

    • You mean like the ‘gun free zones’ at Mar-a-Lago?

  3. If we are honest, a significant percentage of gun murders relate to drug trafficking. I’d love to see an attempt to assign the percentage of gun murders to the underlying reason. I suspect that drugs are THE reason for most gun murders as well.

    • The vast majority of gun murders are gang-related. While many of them are interpersonal disputes and anger management problems rather than deliberate business actions most gangs are at least partly about drugs so you’re probably right.

    • If we were TRULY honest, we’d point out uncomfortable facts. For example, nearly half of all gun murders in the US are committed by a group that represents maybe 3-4% of the population — black males aged 15-45.

      An uncomfortable fact like that tends to be inundated with blather and noise about Jim Crow and slavery and poverty and discrimination. But at the end of the day, it’s still there, ugly as ever — 4% of the population is committing 50% of the gun murders.

      Unless and until we can face such facts without flinching, with something approaching honesty and a willingness to see the obvious, all these discussions are doomed to fail.

  4. Amweican Greatness, FOX (fake) News, and all other right-wing propaganda factories are destroying America from the inside1!

    • A well reasoned comment. Public school teacher?

      • Possibly, but judging by the spelling and typing, certainly the product of a public school education.

  5. Talk about bureaucratic over-reach! Guns do not cause, nor are they a symptom of, disease. Why does the CDC collect statistics unrelated to disease in the first place?!

    They should be keeping statistics on the disease of spending taxpayer dollars. It appears to be rampant in DC. Half the country apparently has this “stealing from your neighbors” disease. Look at the harm done from the “I paid in” disease! Economic catastrophe!

    • Why does the National Aeronautics and Space Administration take a lead role in climate science and Muslim outreach? Why does the USEPA enforce the mandatory injection of ethanol into our motor fuel supply, when every exhaustive study has shown that ethanol in general, and corn-based ethanol in particular, is detrimental to the environment when compared to the petroleum-based fuels it replaces? Why does the Department of Education issue “letters” that amount to administrative lawmaking that govern the way felony sex crimes are handled on college campuses?

      Government is a disease, not a remedy, not a cure, not a solution to any problem.

  6. the left is always looking for a crisis to take advantage and fake news gladly provides them with plenty of crisis