The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this month their annual “Underlying Cause of Death” report, and the media has, predictably, zeroed in on data related to firearms.
According to the report, the rate of homicides committed with a firearm remained static between 2016 and 2017, while the suicide rate jumped from 7.1 per 100,000 people to 7.3. The overall rate of gun-related deaths also rose from 12 per 100,000 people to 12.2, which is about 1.6 points higher than the average since 1999.
So why the media frenzy? First, the total number of people killed in firearm-related incidents in 2017 (39,773) was higher than ever, as the Huffington Post points out in this inflammatory headline. But raw numbers don’t mean anything in national statistics. The population of the United States has also been growing each year, which accounts for the rise in the number of “gun deaths.”
But the media has also glommed on to the fact that gun-related deaths surpassed car-related deaths in 2017. Vox, for instance, published a piece titled, “Guns killed more people than car crashes in 2017” and noted that the CDC puts the car crash death rate at 11.9 per 100,000 people, 0.3 points higher than the gun-related death rate.
The problem, of course, is that nearly 60 percent of gun-related deaths are due to suicide, and the other 37 percent are due to homicide. It’s tough to compare either of these types of events to car crashes, the vast majority of which are accidental. Also, unlike guns, the editors at Vox aren’t calling for restrictions on car ownership, despite the fact that nearly as many people die in cars as are killed with firearms.
The article addresses suicides after the break, citing a number of studies that claim to have found links between gun control and a reduction in suicide. But nowhere does the piece mention the fact that many countries outside the United States deal with comparable or higher suicide rates while enforcing strict gun control measures.
South Korea, for example, has a suicide rate of 29.6 deaths per 100,000 people, but civilian gun ownership is nearly nonexistent. By contrast, even with hundreds of millions of firearms in civilian hands, the United States has a rate of 21.1 deaths per 100,000 people.
Japan (20.5), France (17.9), Ireland (17.6), and Finland (20.8) all deal with suicide rates similar to the U.S. while severely restricting gun ownership. If suicide could actually be prevented by restricting access to the “the deadliest means,” as the author suggests, then the rates in these countries should be extremely low.
This is not to say that nothing should be done to prevent suicide, and the pro-gun community has and continues to implement measures to reduce those rates. But if we want to effectively address these issues, obscuring reality to push an anti-gun agenda isn’t going to get us there any sooner.