Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to present his gun control proposals to President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Biden has experience in formulating U.S. gun control laws. He authored the Assault Weapons Ban that became law in 1994 but expired in 2004 without renewal.
"The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence, and prevent the very worst violence," President Obama said in his White House response to a gun control petition. "Ultimately if this effort is to succeed it's going to require the help of the American people... standing up and saying 'enough' on behalf of our kids."
But do the U.S. mortality statistics support Obama's reasoning to "reduce the very worst violence...on behalf of our kids" with gun control laws?
Very often, skewed numbers and anecdotal evidence are used by pundits, politicians, and journalists in the media to support one side or the other in the gun control debate. Brevard Times will present the facts and statistics as clinically as possible in the context of policy justification and formulation. But for readers who are skeptical about any numbers used by the media, the web addresses to all of the raw data can be found at the bottom of this article.
All numbers cited in the article are based on 2009 U.S. death statistics which is the most recent year published by the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
"Violence" is a broad term which could include suicides, homicides, and even when a police officer or crime victim shoots a bad guy in self-defense. To narrow the term to just criminal violence against someone else - suicides and legal intervention deaths are excluded - leaving only homicides as "the very worst violence" mentioned by the President.
The 15 leading causes of death in 2009 accounted for 80.7% of all deaths. Homicides were the 15th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2009 at 16,799 - far behind other behavior-related causes of death such as heart disease (#1), accidents (#5), diabetes (#7), and liver disease (#12 at 30,558 of which 15,183 alcohol-related.) It is true though, that a majority (68.4% or 11,493) of those homicides were due to the discharge of a firearm.
In the U.S., 998 children ages 14 and under died as a result of a homicide in 2009. However, the percentage of homicides due to the discharge of a firearm were much lower in that age range (23.4% or 234) when compared the the rest of the population.
Inflated Numbers Used By Gun Control Advocates
The use of the 30,000 number in annual gun-related deaths by gun control advocates is disingenuous in the gun control debate if the underlying policy goal is public safety rather than "they just want to take our guns away" as gun rights advocates claim. This is because 18,735 of those gun deaths cited by gun control advocates were suicides.
Firearms are the number one choice by suicide victims, followed by suffocation (which includes means such as hanging) at 9,000 deaths. Poisoning is the third most common method of suicide deaths at 6,398. The choice of method to commit suicide statistically appears related to a less painful, quicker, and more certain death. Not surprisingly then, suicide by the more painful and torturous means of fire is the least chosen method of suicide at 161.
Another reason to exclude suicide deaths from the gun control debate is that those deaths are often single-shot events that do not have a rational relationship with limiting the type of gun or the number of rounds in a magazine clip. Both of those proposals are being publicly aired by Vice President Biden prior to his meeting with President Obama on Tuesday.
There may be a reason to include suicide deaths if a study were undertaken that researches how all of the victims obtained the firearm used in the suicide. This is a complex sociological issue that may or may not be able to be proven with scientific certainty. It would be difficult to show which suicide victims chose a different method if a gun was not available due to a background check because the victims are not available to survey after the event.
If that elusive study somehow showed that more intensive background checks than those currently in place would have a significant reduction in suicide deaths, then, and only then, could firearm suicides be rationally considered in the gun control policy debate and formulation.
Public Safety "On Behalf of Our Kids": Drive 45 Before Taking Away 45s?
If the underlying gun-control policy is to protect children, then it would be prudent to look at leading deadly perils children face in their lives. Traffic accidents were the number one cause of injury-related deaths for children ages 14 and under in 2009 at 1,548 deaths, followed by drowning at 704 deaths. When accidents are included with homicides in gun-related deaths in children 14 and under, the number rises to 290.
For all age groups, there were 140,245 non-suicide deaths classified as injury-related in 2009. Of those non-suicide injury-related deaths, the number one cause of death for all ages was poisoning (35,194), followed by motor vehicles (34,485), falls (24,877), and then firearms (12,612 of which 11,493 were classified as homicides) .
To significantly reduce the largest number of children prematurely dying from injury in the U.S., the policy focus would then shift to the leading cause of injury-related deaths amongst children - traffic accidents.
The National Maximum Speed Law was enacted in 1974 to reduce U.S. fuel consumption due to rising gas prices and gasoline shortages resulting from the 1973 Oil Embargo. The federal law reduced speed limits to 55 miles per hour. Just one year after the Assault Weapons Ban went into effect in 1994, federal speed limits were repealed in 1995.
In 2008, an extensive study was published which analyzed the effect of speed limits and traffic fatalities from 1995 to 2005 following the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Law. The study estimates that the increased speed limits cost 12,545 lives and $12 billion during that period.
The study concluded that: "Reduced speed limits would save lives; they would also reduce gas consumption, cut emissions of air pollutants, save valuable years of productivity, and reduce the societal cost of motor vehicle crashes."
Policy Justification For President Obama's Gun Control Laws
In order for President Obama to have the moral authority and policy justification for gun-control laws, he would first have to address and solve the non-Constitutionally protected issue of speed limits which has a proven causal relationship between policy and a much greater reduction in deaths. Otherwise, gun rights activists are justified in claiming that Obama just wants to "take away our guns" for motives other than saving the lives of children.
Parenthetically, the absence of speed limit reductions becomes an elephant in the room when it comes to Obama's green energy policy requests for tax credits and regulation. Again due to the more proven causal relationship between the reduction in speed limits and immediate reductions in energy consumption and emissions.
Long-Term Effects of Repealing the National Maximum Speed Limit in the United States
CDC National Vital Statics Report