NRA's Wayne LaPierre blames violent crime for most gun deaths, and demands incarceration of all felons for 5 years as the solution. In fact, with current CDC and FBI data, less than 1 in 15 deaths are caused by crime. Even ignoring that fact, this study finds the NRA solution would at most save 1 in 9 lives, and at worst, would actually increase total fatality, due to a nine-fold increase in suicide likelihood by those with an incarceration history. This study also finds that NRA propaganda to blame firearm fatalities on acts of crime alone has been very effective in distorting the ability of gun supporters to accept the truth.

Firearm Fatality Causes, 2014
Firearm Fatality Causes, 2014
This article is a sidebar to the thorough analysis, "A Benthamite Solution to Gun Control" (Yofiel, 2015) on this site.

NRA Blames Crime

After publishing an article on an ideal method to reduce gun violence, I continued to receive numerous statements from gun supporters, particularly the NRA, blaming most gun deaths on crime, specifically gang burglaries. When asked where this information came from, they cited, if anything, 'FBI data,' without any actual reference to the actual data supporting the claim.

In fact, this delusion appears to arise from frequent and unsubstantiated comments by NRA spokesperson Wayne LaPierre. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," was his favorite phrase for many years. More recently he has said, "Under the existing federal gun laws, [Obama] could take every felon with a gun, drug dealer with a gun and criminal gangbanger with a gun off the streets tomorrow and lock them up for five years or more" ("Wayne LaPierre challenged President Obama to a debate on guns in America," Forbes Magazine, 14 January 2016). "If you have had enough of the dishonest debate, if you're sick and tired of politicians blaming you and your guns for their failure, demand truth and justice." (Wayne LaPierre, "How to stop violent crime," NRA News, undated).

The Truth

So let's have the truth then. I gathered applicable data for 2014 before, leading to an estimate of 5.4%. Now I have revised it with the most accurate current data from these sources:

  • Total deaths, suicides, and police fatalities: from Center of Disease Control (CDC) at "WISQARS."
  • Homicide data: "Offenses known to law enforcement," (expanded homicide table 11, column 2), FBI, 2014

That is the best data currently available, due to NRA-driven limits on government research (for a detailed description, see "Guns are More Dangerous to Owners than Criminals," Yofiel, February 2016). Here are the numbers:

Hide LIne Numbers
  1. 33599 /* Total gun deaths                    */
  2.  
  3.   442 /* Total justifiable self defense      */
  4. 1.32% /* PERCENTAGE SELF DEFENSE             */
  5.  
  6.   464 /* Total police shootings              */
  7. 1.38% /* PERCENTAGE POLICE                   */
  8.  
  9.  8124 /* Total homicides                     */
  10.  3267 /* Unsolved homicides                  */
  11.  1262 /* Known homicides caused by crime     */
  12. 3.75% /* percentage known caused by crime    */
  13.   849 /* likely unsolved caused by crime     */
  14.  2111 /* Total caused by crime               */
  15. 6.32% /* PERCENTAGE DEATHS CAUSED BY CRIME   */
  16.  
  17.  3235 /* Total involuntary                   */ 
  18. 9.63% /* PERCENTAGE INVOLUNTARY              */
  19.  
  20.  3527 /* Known homicides caused by murder    */
  21.  2372 /* likely unsolved murders             */
  22.  5899 /* Total murders                       */
  23. 17.7% /* PERCENTAGE DEATHS CAUSED BY MURDER  */
  24.  
  25. 21334 /* Total suicide                       */
  26. 63.6% /* PERCENTAGE SUICIDE                  */

6.34% of all gun deaths were due to felonious crime (robbery, burglary, narcotic felonies, arson, vice, gambling, etc). That is, compared to the number of deaths due to crime:

  • Twice as many were due to involuntary manslaughter and acts by children 16 and under.
  • Three times as many were due to personal disputes (brawls, juvenile killings, gang fights, romantic triangles, babysitters killing children, etc.).Note: the FBI also reports that the total number of Americans who killed a relative, boyfriend, or girlfriend in 2014 was 2,225. That number alone is almost double the known number homicides caused by crime (1,262).
  • Twelve times as many were suicides.

By any reasonable measure of effectiveness in saving lives, the primary efforts should be to reduce suicide, minimize the likelihood of guns being used in domestic violence, and increase gun safety first; and THEN devote efforts to reducing crime after that.

Notes

  1. Definition of Firearm Fatality: About a third of the respondents to this article confused murder with homicide and fatality. This study reports on the total number of all firearm fatalities, which includes suicide, accidents, acts by children, and homicides. The number of homicides are significantly more than the number of murders. The homicide numbers from the FBI, and the numbers used in this study, includes all ages 17 and over.
  2. Definition of Violent Crime: While homicide is itself a violent crime, this study distinguishes between homicides CAUSED by crime, as opposed to homicides arising from disputes in personal relationships. That is, a husband killing his wife is not CAUSED by crime, and so the act cannot be blamed on criminals.
  3. On Suicide: Many have objected that suicide is not gun violence, and that guns are not the cause of suicide. I am forced to state the obvious fact that the topic of this article is firearm fatalities, of which gun violence is a subset. With regards to suicide itself, there are half a dozen studies indicating the presence of a gun increases likelihood of a suicide attempt by 20x-30x, and that suicide attempts with a gun are more likely to be successful than by other methods by a factor of 10x-100x (see "Creating consensus on reducing gun violence, Section 4-2: 'Suicide Doesn't Count'," Yofiel, January 2015). I am also forced to add that whatever the ethical stance on suicide, it is necessarily illegal in the United States as it is a violation of the Lockean human rights from which the government derives authority in this nation (see "Gun rights, natural rights, and the declaration of independence," Yofiel, January 2016).
  4. On Constitutionality of Death Prevention: Constitutional rights are subject to revocation for people who are of insufficient mental capacity, or have committed acts of crime, to maintain the Lockean social contract on which this country was formed (see "Gun rights, natural rights, and the declaration of independence," Yofiel, January 2016). for example, convicts in prisons may be denied the constitutional rights to vote and bear arms. On this basis, and in defense of natural rights, Section 922(g) of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993) prohibits any person from shipping, transporting, or receiving any firearm if the person is mentally defective, has committed a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, is under restraining order for harassment, or has been imprisoned for a year or more for any crime (see "Brady handgun control," Government Publishing Office, 1993). The Brady Bill has been in place for 23 years, and there has never been a challenge to its constitutionality. Regarding general statements of 2nd-amendment infringement, see "The new 2nd-amendment loophole" (Yofiel, January 2016) .

Preventing ALL homicides, including those resulting from
crime, personal disputes, police suppression, and self defense,
would only prevent
1 in 4
of all firearm fatalities.

Effect of Incarcerating all Felons

Let us assume that the stated solution of the NRA, to incarcerate all felons for five years, would stop all homicides by felons altogether, totally ignoring whether the homicides were actually caused by crime. What the result be?.

FBI data indicates almost exactly half of homicide offenders have prior criminal records. Even after including acts of self defense and police, stopping every single homicide by putting prior offenders in prison for life would only reduce firearm fatalities by 11.9%.

This does not include suicide or accidental killings, for the following reason. first, data on the number of suicide attempts by known felons is scant. A study in Sweden indicated that suicide attempts were triple as frequent by male teens are by people with criminal records ("Teen suicide risk linked to criminal record," Contemporary Pedriatics, November 2011), corroborating a prior study in Denmark with the same finding. However, a very comprehensive American study shows that suicide is nine times more likely after a person is incarcerated ("National study of suicide in all people with a criminal justice history," Arch Gen Psychiatry., 11 June 2011). That is, the act of incarceration actually increases the likelihood of suicide, which by societal evidence (in inability to find employment, etc.) is understandable. Thus, it appears that incarcerating all felons. as the NRA states, would actually increase firearm fatalities from suicide, rather than decrease it. It is reasonable to assume that a nine-fold increase risk in suicide by those with criminal records more than offsets any accidental killings which are stopped because the accident was by a person with a felonious record. Thus, the best that can be claimed for the NRA solution is as follows.

The NRA solution, of incarcerating all felons for 5 years, could perhaps, optimistically, save 1 in 9 lives from firearm fatalities.

At worst, the NRA solution would actually increase total fatalities, due to nine-fold higher suicide rates by those with prior incarceration history.

The Justice

In view of these findings, let's consider LaPierre's demand for truth and justice again.

NRA members now decry the 'wasteful expenditure of $80 million' on fixing some broken parts of the background checks system ("Obama's gun control order runs into first legal challenge," RT, 19 Jan 2016). The NRA itself designed the background check system, but now blames others for it being broken ("The truth about background checks," NRA, undated). Ludicrously, LaPierre again calls others 'liars,' takes credit for inventing a broken system, and then blames politicians for not fixing it when the NRA itself has been blocking the effort for years ("Never mind new guns laws: the NRA keeps weakening the existing ones," Daily Beast, April 2013). Meanwhile it continues to push for greater punishment of criminals as the real solution, and almost every day, more news appears of its efforts to prevent upholding the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act (for example, "NRA launches campaign against Obama's gun control," PressTV, 23 January 2016).

If the USA did exactly what the NRA wants, and spent a hundred billion dollars putting every criminal alive in prison, it wouldn't make more than a rat's whisker of a difference, compared to the far greater benefit that preventing suicides and increasing gun safety could provide. Nine out of ten deaths are still people killing people themselves, or killing people they know in personal disputes, or from involuntary and children acts. So who is really the real bad guy with a gun now? At the moment, that would have to be LaPierre, who only blocks efforts to save their lives, while blaming criminals for everything. If LaPierre truly demands truth and justice, then he is guilty first of perjury, and second for the injustice to those gun victims he causes himself by obstructing their protection. By all available data, the bad guys with guns this time are the NRA and its posse, not the criminals.

Responses to this Article

In the first week, there were ~200 responses with ~100 page hits. About 50% stated opinions without actually reading more than the article title, the same rate as for the main article in this series, which contains deeper examination of the responses. However, 95% of the replies stated the statistics were wrong, significantly more than for the Benthamite solution, and only a few criticized my statements about the NRA.

Of those who did read the article and comment on it, about 3 in 4 were initially incapable of understanding the difference between homicide, murder, and firearm fatality. For those, if I explained to them patiently what the difference is, while ignoring the insults during the exchange, then they invariably had an inability to distinguish between 'gun homicide' and 'a crime causing gun homicide.' I tried explaining, repeatedly, if someone shoots someone (including themselves) while not engaged in a felonious crime (robbery, arson, etc.), the shooting was not CAUSED by crime. But it didn't matter how many times I said it different ways; it remained incomprehensible.

At least two people a day wrote very long, insulting messages along the lines of "You are a pompous liar who is faking FBI data. You know perfectly well almost all people killed by guns are killed by gangsters during robberies in Chicago, and the FBI data on criminal murderers proves it. Stop writing this moronic drivel." I tried explaining that the FBI data on criminal murders is only a subset of the total number of firearm fatalities, but they insisted the other deaths were fake.

A further 20% got as far as looking at the pie chart, then got very angry because suicide with a gun doesn't count as a gun fatality. None of them actually read the article, or even could find the section on 'suicide,' even after I explained it was in the 'Notes' section under 'suicide' in bold. These people were the most emotional of all.

About a dozen people said my remarks on the NRA proved I am a liar and ignored the statistics entirely, except to say I must have taken them from biased liberal sources, because there could be no other explanation for them.

With a year's experience listening to many thousand such responses, I didn't believe it necessary to gather more feedback. My conclusion is that the NRA campaign to blame all firearm fatality on violence by criminals has been far more effective than most people realize, and certainly has persuaded the typical gun advocate to believe that firearm fatalities from accidents, children, domestic dispute, and suicide are so minimal as to be totally irrelevant.

 

 

About the Author

I am a retired scholar and Master Freemason in The Wild of the 16th-century lodge of Devonshire (UK). I was born in Washington DC, studied philosophy and psychology at Oxford University, and now live in Sacramento, California. I am not paid for this work, and this is my personal website, which is named after the archangel of divine beauty. In the past, I worked to further pluralism and multinational cooperation to create a better life for all in Silicon Valley, California. I worked on specifications for the Pentium I (for Intel), the first 802.11 wireless internet protocol (for AT&T), the HTML/CSS/DOM interface for digital TV (for Comcast, Rogers, Shaw, and others), and the iPad microprocessor (for Apple). Prior to engineering work, I worked as a journalist in New York.

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