Local Commentary

Editorial: Simply Taking The Guns Away

The September/October 2019 issue of Discover magazine cites the deplorable data. While 39,773 Americans lost their lives to firearms in 2017, since 1968, 1.625 million Americans have died from gunfire, more than the accumulated American deaths in all wars since the country’s founding more than 200 years ago.

The magazine’s article on the subject, ‘The Science of Gun Violence,” by Russ Juskalian, notes that firearm deaths in the U.S. in the last decade have begun to exceed deaths by motor vehicle accidents, over the course of 10 years, standing at 374,340 deaths from cars in the last decade to 342,439 from guns.

One terrible consequence of the gun lobby’s relentless efforts, sadly backed by most Republican lawmakers, is that there has been almost no money spent to determine the collateral impacts of deaths by firearms, or of solutions to mitigate the extraordinary rate, compared to almost every other form of fatality that the population suffers, whether from (as among the top causes) heart disease, cancer, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza, poisoning, sepsis or motor vehicles. Research funding per life lost stands at $63 per gun fatality, compared to all the others that range from $1,000 to $30,000, the median being $4,852, the article reports.

But in 2017, 60 percent of firearm deaths were suicides, being 23,854 people, most of them married white males over 50 with physical health issues. On the other hand, black men under 20 dying from homicides lowered that demographic group’s life expectancy by more than four years. Women make up about 10 percent of all U.S. gun deaths, and “are far more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner.” Overall, the rate of gun deaths in the U.S. is 25 times higher than in other high-income countries, and handguns are by far the most likely kind of firearm to cause a fatality.

The article notes that “perhaps the most striking about the gaps in current gun violence data is how little we know about the shootings that don’t result in death,” even though firearm injuries represent the vast majority of firearm casualties, at about 130,000 per year. The impact of gun violence, fatal or not, on what individuals and their families may experience as physical, psychological and financial repercussions is also not known.

Taking a science-driven public health approach can make a huge difference, as has been seen in other types of risk. Since the 1950s, the per-mile fatality rate from vehicles has fallen by 80 percent. In the U.S., limited data shows that while only about 13 percent of all suicide attempts succeed (with the vast majority of those trying it never making a second try), in those involving firearms, almost 90 percent result in death.

Simply taking the guns away, studies have shown, makes the biggest difference. Ironically, older white males stand the most to gain from gun control.