Guns and Bombs
We are all at least temporarily stunned by the bombings at the Boston Marathon where tragically three people were killed and many injured. And before that, it was mass shootings. And as a result of the shootings, attention is focused on more thorough background checks, limitations on the number of bullets a gun can shoot without reloading, whether or not assault weapons should be banned, the Second Amendment, etc. In short, there is a sense is that something more is needed to curb gun deaths. And most certainly something more should be done: three people dead in Boston, but every day in the US, an average of 85 people die of gunshots. But that is not newsworthy gun deaths are an all too common occurrence to interest the media. Just remember: 85 gun deaths daily.
Homicides and Suicides
We are troubled by homicides, but how about suicides? If someone chooses to take their own lives, is that okay? It is worth discussing because in the US, there are twice as many suicides shooting deaths as homicides. Internationally, that ratio is low. For countries that have data on gun killings by type, there are six times as many suicides as homicides.
Table 1 provides data on suicide and homicide gun deaths for most developed countries. You will note there is no country on this list where homicides exceed suicides. So how do we feel about gun Suicides?
While I most definitely want control over when and how I die, I don’t like the idea of having to buy a gun to shoot myself. I live in Massachusetts, and a referendum legalizing physician-assisted suicides almost passed last year, despite the opposition of the Catholic Church.
I was troubled by an incident this week in Lenox where I live. A 58-year old lady, living in a low income apartment building, apparently decided to take her life. How? By lighting a fire in her apartment. The Fire Department was able to save her and put out the fire, but not before the fire did $500,000 worth of damage and 50 other apartment residents will have to live elsewhere for an indefinite period of time. The thought crossed my mind that there would have been less collateral damage if she had been able to use a gun.
Countries Where Gun Homicides Are Highest
Table 2 lists the countries where gun homicides are highest. Notable are the large number of Latin American countries on the list. This is undoubtedly related to the criminal drug industry made extremely profitable by the US war on drugs. As I have noted, this “war’, like most recent US wars, has been a complete failure.
Frequency of Gun Use to Kill
While the US has by far the highest number of guns for its population size (89 guns per 100 people), they are not used to kill people nearly as often as is the case in countries with fewer guns per capita. These data are presented in Table 3 for the countries where guns are used most often to kill. Once again, the “drug” countries are well-represented.
The US guns to deaths ratio is only 0.11.
Understandably, the media focuses on new disasters. Three people died in the Boston bombing. Guns kill 85 people daily, with twice as many suicides as homicides. The latter is hardly newsworthy. It happens every day.