Emerging Threat or Problem Solved?

I found a discussion of an old Time/Life article on teaching children firearms safety.

The article specifically mentions that in 1956 there were 550 fatalities of children under 15 years of age from accidental discharges of firearms. Using that number and the CDC Wonder data, it is possible to create a time series of fatalities from 1956 up through 2010.

This shows that there has been a remarkable decline in these fatalities over the last six decades.


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More homicides with hammers and clubs than rifles

In reviewing my post on the USAToday graphic database I came across an interesting statistic from PolitiFact: more people are killed by hammers and clubs than by rifles of all types. In 2011 there were 1,694 people killed with knives and cutting tools, 726 with hands or feet, 496 with blunt instruments such as clubs or hammers and 323 with any type of rifle. PolitiFact also notes that in 1,587 homicides the type of gun was not reported. But if we assume that the unknown gun types have the same proportion as the known gun types, there were 396 homicides committed with rifles in 2011. In that case the statement is still true. The number killed with semi-automatic rifles would be some number less than that.

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Weapons used in mass shootings

USA Today has an effective graphic database on mass killings between 2006 and 2014.It shows, for example, that 887 of 1,172 deaths were from gunshots and 285 were from other weapons, such as fire, beatings, or drownings.

The first thing that I looked for was the use of assault rifles in mass shootings. They do not have such a list, but they have something close. The results show that 72% of mass shootings were committed with a semi-automatic pistol or a revolver. An automatic rifle was used in only 0.4% of the incidents. Since “assault weapon” is not a well defined term, there no category for it, but it would certainly be among the semi-automatic rifles. If we assume that all semi-automatic rifles are “assault weapons”, and add automatic rifles and automatic pistols, we find that less than 10% of mass shootings used an “assault weapon” or fully automatic weapon. They were also used in less than 7.5% of mass killings overall.

Using the FBI crime statistics for 2006-2010, for 2011-2012 and assuming that the number of homicides in 2013 was the same as 2012, it appears that mass shootings using an “assault weapon” or fully automatic weapon constitute less than 8 hundredths of one percent of all homicides over the 2006-2013 period.

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Columbia Mall Shooting

Evidence about the shooting in Columbia mall was recently released by the police. Since the investigation is ongoing I’m not sure why there would be a press briefing at this point, but so be it.

The shooter was apparently obsessed with the Columbine shooting, much as Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, was obsessed with the Norwegian mass shooting by Anders Behring Breivik.

It seems apparent that the notoriety of the shootings is partially responsible for later shootings.We know that there is a contagion effect for suicides in general. Wikipedia states

Publishing the means of suicides, romanticized and sensationalized reporting, particularly about celebrities, suggestions that there is an epidemic, glorifying the deceased and simplifying the reasons all lead to increases in the suicide rate. People may see suicide as a glamorous ending — with youth getting a lot of attention, lots of sympathy, lots of national concern that they never got in life. (referenced 3/16/2014)

If news outlets recognized this and acted responsibly by reducing the lurid, wall-to-wall coverage given to mass shootings, lives might be saved. I am not, however, hopeful.

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Fraction of homicides and suicides due to firearms

Has gun registration reduced the number of firearm-related fatalities? A simple analysis suggests that it has.

In the first figure I plot the number of firearm-related homicides and total homicides for the period 1979 through 2010. The total number of homicides peaked in 1991 and started a substantial decline after 1993.It leveled off in 2000 and now shows a smaller rise and fall into 2010. From the firearm-related homicides it is clear that the total number of homicides is following the contours of the firearm-related homicides.


But it could be argued that the U.S. is simply becoming less violent and that the fall in homicides reflects that. We can gather additional information by examining the number of suicides, total and firearm-related. If a more peaceful society is causing the decline we would not necessarily expect a decline in suicides. If background checks are the source, we might.


Total suicides rose until about 1986 and then remained level until about 2000 when a disturbing rise takes place. Firearm-related suicides started to decline in 1994 and continued until 2000. The decline is more pronounced than the total number of suicides but not nearly as pronounced as the decline in firearm-related homicides. The number of firearm-related suicides increases after 2005, but the increase is not nearly as substantial as the increase in total suicides.

We can also view the first two figures in terms of the share of homicides and suicides that involved a firearm.


Here we see that firearms form an increasingly large share of homicides until the Brady Act is passed, after which the share declines. The share increases after 2000, which might be related to internet sales. The share of suicides involving firearms was roughly level until 1994, when it showed a decline until 2007.

While there may be numerous confounding factors that weaken the result,  this very simple analysis provides some evidence that background checks are reducing the number of firearms-related fatalities.

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Effective Gun Violence Messaging

This document on how to relate the gun control position is so bad, it feels like some sort of “Elders of Zion” style document.

Among the highlights are:


Page 45: After a “high profile gun incident”: “DON’T ASSUME THE FACTS – AND DON’T WAIT FOR THEM”

I’m writing this blog specifically because of drivel of that sort.

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First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws

This is old news but worth repeating. In 2003 the CDC reviewed 51 studies of several different gun control measures and found insufficient evidence to “determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.” This does not mean that no policy was effective. It simply means that at that time there was no evidence that any of the policies were effective.

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