Saturday, October 20, 2012

Liz Braun sets bad example with gun rant

It is Liz Braun, entertainment writer for Sun News Network in Canada who is off target in her rant against Brad Pitt.  If you are not familiar with the story, Brad Pitt stated during an interview that he feels safer with a gun in the house.  Liz Braun took exception.  I think we can reasonably assume that Ms Braun has never held, fired, or owned a gun, but she is certainly able to spout inaccurate and misleading statistics with the best of them.  Let's start with the inaccuracies (I won't call them lies as we will assume, for the sake of argument, that she actually believes her statistics).

1) More than 31,000 were killed with handguns in the US in 2008.  That's actually with all guns, not just handguns, and given a population of 311,000,000 people, that's a death rate of less than 0.01%.  In other words, you have about a 1 in 10,000 chance of dying by a firearm.

2) 1,000 Americans were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq that same year.  Well, actually it was 469.  That is still a death rate of 0.5%, so your chance of being killed while actively fighting in a war is still 50 times as big.  If we were to take her number at face value that would be 100 times as great a chance at 100 per 10,000.

This is a great example of how to mislead by statistics.  Take the relatively small number of troops fighting in a war and compare it to the total population of a large country and then point out how horrific the numbers are for the total population, without ever admitting that the real comparison is the percentages.

So let's take a look at that 31,000 figure, shall we, and see how she misleads in other ways.

17,000 of those 31,000 were suicides while about 12,000 were  homicides.  Since there is extensive evidence that the presence of firearms doesn't appreciably affect the suicide rate (Japan, for example, has a dramatically higher suicide rate than does the United States) we can discount those deaths in any discussion of firearms or gun control.  Of the 12,000 around 2,000 each year are gang related so now there are about 10,000 firearm homicides per year in the US, again out of a population of a little over 300 million.  Running the numbers again we see that if you are not suicidal and not in a gang, your chance of dying in a firearm related homicide is about 0.3 per 10,000 people.  Sad for those involved, but not the same as 31 times as high as the death rate in a current war zone, as Ms Braun would have you believe.

Now let's look at her claim that you are safer without a gun at home.  She states:

Innumerable studies have shown the risks of keeping a gun at home (increased suicide risk, increased domestic violence risk, increased risk of having the gun used against you by the very criminals you seek to thwart) far outweigh any perceived benefits.

Well, actually it was mostly one study, performed at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, in which they interviewed gunshot victims to find out who shot them and where the gun came from.  Surprise, surprise, a major trauma center in the middle of a large city involved a lot of people being shot with guns owned by family members.  What this study didn't do was actually figure out if you are safer not owning a gun.  In order to figure that out you would have to figure out how many people are killed specifically because they owned a gun who would otherwise have been alive and then find out how many people are alive because they owned a gun.

Well, turns out there are also several studies that did the second part.  Gary Kleck, a criminologist at the University of Florida found that there were approximately 2.5 million incidents each year in which guns were used for self defense versus about 400,000 criminal uses per year. Even the Center for Disease Control, which has a history of attempting to regulate firearms without any authority, found earlier this year that approximately a half million people a year use a firearm to deter a burglary. (That's just burglary, in case you were wondering, not mugging, rape, assault, etc.)

I'll end with a few comments on Ms. Braun's emotional appeal for the sake of the children.  Routinely those opposed to gun ownership trot out the "500 children killed each year by firearms" statistic.  What they don't tell you is the actual breakdown of this number, where it comes from.  Well, here's a few actual numbers for you.
  • 28 children under the age of ten killed in firearm accidents per year.  That's right, 28.  Sad but not exactly an epidemic considering that there are supposedly 4.5 million households with guns in the United States.
  • The accidental firearm death rate is at an all time low (all time meaning since 1904 when these statistics were first recorded).  The firearm accidental death rate is down 94% since that  year in spite of the large number of guns owned by Americans.
  • The firearm accidental death rate comes in well behind motor vehicles, falls, poisoning (wasn't child proof caps supposed to stop this), suffocation, drowning, fires, pedal cycles (really, more than evil firearms?), environmental factors, and medical mistakes (yes, your percent chance of being killed by your doctor is higher than being accidentally shot).
  • The word "children" as used in these studies, often includes those as old as 24 years and thus includes gang members, who by their very choice of association are more at risk for firearm violence and accidents than your average kid.
  • While it is easy to make unsubstantiated claims that education programs such as the NRA's Eddie Eagle don't work, there is quite a volume of literature that suggests otherwise, including the fact that Eddie Eagle was introduced in 1989, has been taught to 18 million children over the past 23 years, and that firearms accidents in the targeted age group (K - 3) have dropped by 2/3 since then.  Eddie Eagle may not be the reason but it certainly doesn't hurt children to be taught the appropriate response to finding an unattended firearm.
To rewrite the last few sentences of Ms Braun's article: Given the actual statistics on firearms ownership, let's hope Braun decides to rethink the gun issue. And keep her mouth shut.

And let's hope no other ignorant, uninformed journalists decide to shoot themselves in the foot this week.

PS Ms Braun, if you'd like to go the range and see what it's like to actually fire a gun in a safe and controlled atmosphere, I am a formerly certified NRA Range Safety Officer and would be more than happy to take you shooting. Let me know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

FACT: People with televisions in their home are more likely to sit down and watch TV.

I can see where this form of logic gets it appeal. It's so simple i'm pretty sure I didn't actually have to think.