Saturday, April 13, 2013

Thinking about guns in America

Recently we were contacted by Horacio Gutierrez, an independent researcher who contributes to Slate’s tally and wanted to draw our attention to one recent murder in particular – that of Cathy Byus, 34, who was shot and killed by her husband in Shawnee, Okla., last week. Three years earlier, Gutierrez told us, Cathy’s parents were shot to death by three escaped prisoners who came across them while they were camping. She was their only child.
Joe Nocera in The New York Times
This morning my news station woke me with a reporter complaining about all the coverage we have been getting lately of individuals killed by guns. She was holding the position that the details of children accidentally killing other children would leave the listener with an incorrect perception of gun violence in the United States. Thus, few would realize that the largest number of gun deaths in the United States result from suicides.

Of course, part of the problem is that the gun lobby has influenced the Congress to bar the government from collecting and reporting statistics on gun violence. Indeed, the Congress keeps government health agencies from doing research on gun violence. So there are few accurate statistics on guns and gun violence available to the media.

I note however that PBS Newshour has been showing the pictures of the service men killed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. No one seems to have complained that viewers of PBS Newshour are likely to believe that more Americans are being killed by insurgents and terrorists than by other Americans.
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, between 2006 and 2010 47,856 people were murdered in the U.S. by firearms, more than twice as many as were killed by all other means combined. 
Wikipedia reports 4,977 American military killed in combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and an additional 1,303 killed in non-combat events.
I too regret the lack of good statistics on guns and gun related violence in the United States I also regret lack of research on why people use guns to commit violent acts against themselves and others, and the lack of research on the effectiveness of alternative approaches to promote gun safety.

However, and this is the point of this post, I recognize that statistics and scientific research can only go so far to promote public understanding of the problem. We think with our brains and our emotions. If we want a full intellectual and emotional understanding of the problem with guns in our society, I think we have to combine statistics and research reports with stories of real people who suffer from gun violence and gun accidents (as well as real people who benefit from and enjoy gun ownership).

I am old enough to remember the difference in the public reaction to the Vietnam war as compared with Korea and World War II. I think it was due to the photos coming back from Vietnam and the television coverage. "Seeing is believing." "A picture is worth 1000 words." A video is worth a lot of dry, tabulated statistics. The Sandy Hook massacre got to people emotionally and helped us to understand gun violence, and that is a silver lining to a very dark cloud.

 Image of the Slate Map / April 13, 2013
Source: "How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?, Slate
How is this for a startling statistic?
There are more than 129,817 federally licensed firearms dealers in the United States, according to the latest Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives numbers (as of Aug. 1). Of those, 51,438 are retail gun stores, 7,356 are pawn shops and 61,562 are collectors, with the balance of the licenses belonging mostly to manufacturers and importers of firearms and destructive devices.........Grocery Stores in the U.S. (2011) 36,569 (source: Food Marketing Institute)
"Guns in America, a Statistical Look", ABC News

No comments: