Causes of Gun-Related Deaths in the US: Beliefs vs. Reality

In preparing for my Sociology of Guns class this week on suicide and guns, I came across an interesting story from the “Guns & America” series out of the DC PBS station WAMU in 2019.

The story included a GIF that highlights a fascinating discrepancy between what Americans think the main causes of gun death are (murder, mass shootings) and what the reality is (suicide).

The discrepancy is important for all sorts of reasons, but one reason that comes to my mind is that the way the public defines problems can affect its view of appropriate solutions. If murder and mass shootings are the biggest problem, that may suggest one set of solutions, while suicide could suggest a different set.

I don’t have time to get into a deeper analysis of this GIF, but wanted to put it out to see what others think in terms of the discrepancy and its potential consequences. What say you?

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8 comments

  1. The anti-gun activists certainly know how to spin it. They realize their usual technique of demonizing the object can’t work with suicide, as even a single-shot long gun, like the muskets they claim were the only firearms of which the Founding Fathers were aware, is sufficient for suicide.

    Thus their push for expanded prior restraint on who can possess firearms at all through Red Flag laws of dubious Due Process.

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  2. Reducing suicide ought to be a goal everyone at all points along the political spectrum ought to agree on. If the MSM is decrying gun deaths but eschewing discussion about suicide because murder, especially mass murder, neatly fits their narrative about guns and is scarier and gets more engagement, then we know they consider profit more important than people. As many in the Guniverse have pointed out, a magazine capacity of 1 is enough for suicide. I’m also struck by how much research (?) indicates that strong controls or outright bans on guns would nearly eliminate completed suicides in America. Japan’s suicide rate is generally a bit higher than ours, and it’s next to impossible to get a gun in Japan. Evidently these researchers have not studied the economic concept of substitution. Surely, the logic seems to go, Americans would never consider carbon monoxide, asphyxiation, gravity, drug overdose…

    One certainly cannot work toward solutions without a clear understanding of the problems.

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  3. One of the most common situations referenced to refute substitution is the experience of coal gas (stove gas) suicides in England. They note that when coal gas was replaced by law with safer gasses suicides dropped precipitously and another method was not substituted.

    I looked at a sociological paper on the history of the situation that noted that coal gas suicides actually rose as a unique method above the “baseline” suicide level over time, with no proportional drop in other methods, as more homes got coal gas and more coverage of such deaths occurred. That is, a “fad” of additional coal gas suicides began tracking with the use of coal gas. When coal gas was ended, the rates did drop, but just back to baseline levels. The people who had been killing themselves for “normal” reasons continued to do so as they always had.

    Unfortunately for those who would use that out-of-context drop as evidence that controlling firearms would lead to a similar steep drop in firearm suicides in the US, no such artificial increase or “fad” exists involving guns.

    Guns have been a baseline method of suicide as long as suicide was a recognized social phenomenon, and have remained at consistent percentages of such, among consistent demographics, throughout the data set. If somehow restricted, substitution would almost certainly occur, with persons of serious suicidal ideation simply moving, as in countries with lower firearms ownership, to hanging or long drops. John Lott did some numbers on “deadliness” of suicide methods. Firearms are high, but so is hanging, we are looking at 97% vs 99%, nothing really stat sig. Particularly when you control for cases with serious suicidal ideation versus “cries for help” using scenarios and methodologies designed to fail or be interrupted.

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    • The thing I noticed years ago was that the suicide-by-coal-gas example only ever mentioned this occurring in the UK. But coal gas was used in plenty of other countries with high coal production, such as Germany and Poland, so if the “take away the method” hypothesis held water, it should be trivially easy to provide data showing how suicide underwent a lasting decrease in each of those other countries as they abolished the use of coal gas, thereby demonstrating the validity of the hypothesis by showing replicability. But somehow, ONLY the UK ever gets mentioned.

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  4. I have long maintained that the reason they deemphasize suicide is that they don’t actually care about suicides. Why would they? Most suicides are white males over 35. Literally half of all suicides are white males over 35. From the perspective of the anti-gunners, another white male gun owner over 35 shooting himself is a win/win. One more body to use as a “GUN DEATH™” and one less pro gun voter.

    If they actually cared about suicide they would be doing things that would reduce suicides. Instead they attack gun ownership in general.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed,if not conscious on their part. After all an explicit part of the Progressive project has been devaluing traditional fatherhood, devaluing traditional male societal roles (by labeling them “toxic” contra-reality), devaluing the value of traditional male professions, and labelling all men oppressors and rapists.

      An active capaign, even if the deaths are unintentional, to create despair in men with traditional values.

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      • I guess the question is “if their explicit intention was to destroy manhood and destroy traditional male societal role models, what would they be doing differently?”

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