Teaching Americans gun safety is like teaching politicians how to lie. It comes naturally.
Despite the National Rifle Association (NRA)’s high profile political activities, gun safety training and marksmanships comprise the overwhelming majority of its activities. Roughly 80% of its budget goes to these types of programs.
Gun control organizations, recognizing a way to rebuild themselves and fool the public into being less critical of their gun ban messages, have deceptively rebranded themselves as “gun safety” groups. In the process, they distort conventional notions of safety training and ignore that organizations like the NRA have been conducting actual gun safety classes since Reconstruction.
This is one of the gun ban lobby’s more modern and transparent political canards. While the disingenuous rebranding ploy insults true gun safety trainers, the gun ban lobby’s attempt at “safely” positioning also ignores one truly relevant trend; thanks to real and very common gun safety training programs, accidental gun deaths and injuries are at historic lows, and still falling.
As gun ownership rates climbed, accidents declined
Nationally, the gun ban lobby has steadily lost each of its arguments, and so the patience of most of the voting population. They lost the Constitutional argument when the Supreme Court certified, again, that the Second Amendment protected a fundamental individual right; just as the NRA, and constitutional scholars, had said all along. They lost the self-defense argument over the last two decades as 42 states voted to allow citizens to carry concealed firearms in public — and the dire predictions of Wild West shoot-outs in the streets didn’t happen.
Exaggerating the risk of death in the home from guns is their last fear card. So they have turned the debate to “gun safety,” and mislabeled gun accidents as a disease.
Gun control advocates claim that firearms are inherently dangerous. Some go as far as to cite suspect research that insinuates (but, due to methodology mistakes, failed to prove) that the existence of guns in the home were contributory to deaths. But during the last few decades, private firearm ownership has steadily risen, while accidental firearm deaths have steadily dropped. The gun ban lobby’s claim that more gun control will improve safety runs counter to the data. That shows people are increasingly safe with firearms – even without the “benefit” of Vice President Joe Biden’s advice.
Overall, from 1979 through 2009 (a conveniently round 30 year window for analysis), the accidental death rate from all types of firearms has fallen a whopping 80%! It has dropped from 0.9 deaths per 100,000 people to less than 0.2 in 2009. Meanwhile, the accidental death rate from guns has fallen vis-à-vis handgun ownership at a much faster rate. Refuting the gun ban lobby’s claims is the fact that accidental deaths from firearms fell nearly 90% as a function of handgun ownership, dropping from four deaths for every 100,000 handguns in America to less than 0.5. This occurred despite the number of revolvers and pistols owned in private hands doubling in the same period.
The kids are alright
And kids are doing even better.
The gun ban lobby likes to make children, properly defined as folks under the age of 14, as a “gun safety” crusade cause (though certain gun control groups have included “children” as old as 24 years in the calculations). Yet, the firearm death rate for kids under 14 has dropped 82% over the last twenty years (the range of years used here is shorter due to limitations of government data online). Child accidental mortality rates from firearms are falling faster than deaths in the general population, so much so that in the last reporting year a mere 62 children nationwide died from firearm accidents. The trend is markedly different for the actual major causes of childhood death; motor vehicles kill over 1,200 kids, more than 1,100 die from suffocation, and the better part of 1,000 children under 14 drown.
Suicide is painful
Also, buried in sound bites slipping from lobbyist lips is that most of the firearm deaths in America are suicides. In the last reporting year, there were 75% more firearm suicides than firearm homicides. In fact, suicides composed a full 61% of all gun deaths.
There is a reason lobbyist and politicos don’t highlight the distinction. Nearly all studies (time-series and cross-sectional) concerning guns and suicides show that the presence or absence of a gun does not change the likelihood of a successful suicide – it just changes the means. A seriously depressed individual will find alternate methods to die; mixing pills and alcohol, hanging, tailpipe suffocation, jumping off of tall buildings and more. And the issue becomes even clearer once you consider suicide as a cultural issue. Japan has strict firearm laws. Very few people there own any. Yet Japan’s suicide rate is much higher than the United States, double the American rate not too many years ago. It’s not a gun thing. It’s a culture thing. To make their case, gun control lobbyist use linguistic trickery. When reciting statistics, be it for guns in general or suicide in particular, they use phrases like “America’s high gun suicide rates.” But no country’s suicide rate is affected by the number of firearms people own. America is downright average in terms of self-inflicted deaths, ranking 42nd out of 100 World Health Organization monitored nations (Lithuania, Russia and Korea have the most suicides, about three times as many per capita than the United States). The “Gun suicides” characterization then is a ruse because guns do not cause suicides. But “gun suicides” sounds great on a press release.
And though the data is a little harder to come by, most firearm suicides are committed with legally owned guns. In other words, the person who decided that life was not worth living used his already legally possessed firearm, or legally bought one just for that purpose. For longer than anyone can remember, the term “suicide special” has been law enforcement slang for an inexpensive handgun that is popular with people wanting to leave this world. What law will stop that?
This is why the gun ban lobby never mentions that a strong majority of gun deaths are suicides, encapsulating them as part of a mystically labeled “gun violence” figure. Suicide via legally owned firearms is completely outside of the efficacy of legislation. However, passing gun control laws requires the perception of a problem. To diminish the perception of a public threat would diminish demand for firearm prohibitions.
Safety came first
American’s have shown great concern for gun safety. Even in self-defense situations, where the victims life is on the line, American’s rarely shoot their attacker as a safety precaution – they prefer to brandish a handgun, or at worst fire a warning shot. Americans also have proven to not be suicidal above worldwide averages, despite owning more firearms than other countries.
We practice gun safety, be it through personal restraint or signing-up for a gun safety class. This makes the gun ban lobby’s “gun safety” slogan unsafe rhetorical grounds for them.
Accidental death statistics:
Center for Disease Control – Fatal Injury Reports
Firearm ownership data:
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Firearm Commerce in the United States, cumulative reports since inception of estimates and tracking
Global suicide rates:
World Health organization