The United States and its gun laws are as talked about as which NBA bench player is banging or cheating on a Kardashian sister, which is to say, all the time. And there’s a reason for it: gun deaths are visceral, and the threat of violence — real or imagined — is scary to anyone willing to admit to it. Gun deaths in our country are fixtures of our headlines and our Google searches (spoiler alert: we care slightly more about the Kardashians than we do about guns in this country, but we give less than a fuck about the national debt).
Before diving in, I’ll be transparent in my views on the role firearms play in this country, which is of particular importance because I’ve told you in the title that I plan to be objective about it today. Historically, I have not been objective. Few of us are.
Specifically, I do believe in the 2nd amendment so long as it doesn’t supersede a human’s right to their own life. No, I don’t want mass disarmament of our citizens. But I want mandatory background checks. I don’t think AK-47s or AR-15s are a good fit for a civilized society. In the past, I’ve done quick Google searches to validate, well, whatever viewpoint I want to validate.
If I want data that show the U.S. is a gun hell, I can find it: The US has approximately 5% of the world’s population and 42% of civilian gun ownership (that’s true). I can show you that the number of those injured by or as a result of a mass shooting have steadily trended upward in the past 10 years, reaching a fever pitch in 2017 at a country music concert in Las Vegas (source: Mother Jones).
Rarely, though, does anyone bother to take up the argument of the other side, myself included. And it’s because I take the bait from Internet troll right wing gun nuts with bald eagles draped across camouflaged American flags in their Facebook profile pictures, and I decided I would rather make fun of them than have a civil conversation. Yet, despite their worst efforts, they’ve managed to be right about a few things.
Let’s start with some other things that are true, whether my political views align with them or not:
- There were more than 37,000 gun deaths in the U.S. in 2016, second in the world only to Brazil. (source: PBS)
- 64 percent of gun deaths worldwide were homicides; 27 percent were suicides and 9 percent were accidental shootings. (source: PBS)
- In the U.S., that trend is much different; 66 percent of gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides. Of them, 85 percent are male. (source: 538)
- When accounting for the U.S. homicide rate compared to the rest of the world — and removing suicide from the equation — the U.S. ranks 143rd at 5.30 deaths per 100,000 citizens. Still, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, China, Spain, Australia, and Germany all have a homicide rate per 100,000 citizens of 1.00 or less. (source: UNODC)
- 33 percent of U.S. gun deaths — 12,000 of them — are homicides. More than half are young men; 66 percent are black. 1,700 of them are women, or just 4.6 percent of all homicide victims. (source: 538)
- The rate of homicide among black Americans is 16.7 per 100,000. The rate of homicide among white Americans is 1.5 per 100,000; you’re 11X more likely to get killed if you’re black than if you’re white. (source: 538)
- When it comes to who’s doing the shooting, African Americans accounted for 52.5 percent of all homicide offenders from 1980 to 2008, with European Americans at 45.3 percent and “Other” at 2.2 percent. The offending rate for African Americans was almost 8 times higher than European Americans. (source: Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- Most homicides were intraracial, with 84 percent of European Americans victims killed by European Americans, and 93 percent of African Americans victims were killed by African Americans, which means the black on black crime rate is just over 10 percent higher than the European Americans on European Americans crime rate. (source: Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- Between 1992 and 2016, the percentage of youth homicides occurring at school each year remained at less than 3 percent of the total number of youth homicides, which means that by and large, schools are still much safer for kids than, well, mostly anywhere else. (source: NCES)
There is nuance to any data set depending on your intent of interpretation, of course, perhaps most obvious being how, through institutional racism, there is a causal relationship with the higher black on black crime rate.
But nevertheless, the numbers are the numbers. And in it are some truths.
The ‘gun crisis’ in the United States isn’t nearly as bad as the admittedly left-leaning media would have you believe. We do have a mental health crisis, or at least as suicide by gun data would suggest (but there’s still disagreement on whether health care is even a ‘right’). Black people do kill black people at a higher clip than white people kill white people — but white people also kill black people at a higher clip than than their proportion to the overall population. Schools are still pretty safe.
And while the United States isn’t quite El Salvador in terms of gun murder rates, we’re still not as star-spangled awesome as some might have you believe. Of the developed nations listed above with death by homicide rates of 1.0 or under, only one — Switzerland — has gun laws similar to ours. The others — Japan, Norway, China, Spain, Australia, and Germany — all have hyper restrictive gun laws.
Yet, as any pro-gun individual will tell you, our 2nd amendment is uniquely American, and it says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
That language is open for interpretation too. While ‘shall not be infringed’ is crystal clear, what exactly is a ‘well regulated’ militia? And similarly, how willing are we to continue fan-boy obsessing over the 2nd amendment just to stick it to the other side, reason be damned? A June 2016 Quinnipiac poll shows support for mandatory background checks on gun purchases at an astounding 93 percent among U.S. citizens. And we still don’t have them.
The one thing consistently missing from the gun debate in the United States is the one thing required to see if we’re even on the right side of it — objectivity. We do have constitutionally granted rights to bear arms. We also love boasting about how we’re the best country in the world, and well, when it comes to homicide, we’re not. The data bear that out.
Similarly, the countries that have hyper-restrictive gun laws, by and large, have fewer homicides. Again, this is objectively true.
And that confluence of truth — that the U.S. protects gun owners in its constitution and prides itself on moral superiority — is where the difficult question rests.
What is the right thing to do about guns in our country?