Is it wrong when elected leaders, or even people on Facebook, use tragedy to make a political point? Or should we use facts?
Yesterday, President Obama used the Charleston church massacre to make another pitch for gun control legislation.
“Now is the time for mourning and for healing, but let’s be clear.
“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it."
I was immediately subjected to Tweets and Facebook posts from people agreeing and disagreeing with the president.
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Several countries have a higher rate of gun deaths than the U.S., though they may not be considered "advanced countries."
In wake of the South Carolina tragedy, what I haven't seen reported is this: Gun homicide deaths are near all-time lows in the U.S. The homicide rate now is as low as in the 1960s and much lower than the 1990s.
The most recent data I could find is from 2011 and provided by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Here are the facts:
- Gun deaths are down 39 percent since 1993.
- Nonfatal gun crimes are down 69 percent since 1993.
- Guns are used in 70 percent of all homicides.
- When a gun was used in a homicide, a handgun was the type of firearm used 70 percent of the time.
- In 2004, among state prison inmates who possessed a gun at the time of their offense, about 10 percent obtained a gun from a legal vendor. Less than 2 percent obtained their firearm at a flea market or gun show. About 40 percent obtained their firearm from an illegal source, such as a street dealer. Another 40 percent of the guns were obtained from a friend or family member.
Using similar data from 1993 to 2010, the Pew Research Center deduced the following:
- Firearm homicide accounted for 35 percent of firearm deaths in 2010, the lowest share since 1981, the first year for which the Centers for Disease Control published data.
- Suicides with guns (19,392 in 2010) are more common that homicides (11,078).
- White people are more likely to commit homicide with a gun than suicide.
- Minorities are more likely to commit homicide with a gun than suicide.
- 51 percent of suicide victims use a gun.
- Males are the vast majority of gun suicides, 87 percent in 2010.
- The highest firearm suicide rate by age is among those ages 65 or older.
- Blacks represent 13 percent of the population and make up 55 percent of gun homicides and about 5 percent of gun suicides.
- Hispanics represent 16 percent of the population and make up 17 percent of gun homicides and about 4 percent of gun suicides.
- Whites represent 65 percent of the population and make up 25 percent of gun homicides and 87 percent of gun suicides.
- The black homicide death rate has declined 50 percent since its peak in 1993, and the number of black homicide deaths fell 37 percent from 1993 to 2010. The white homicide death rate has declined by 42 percent, the number of white homicide deaths declined 39 percent. The Hispanic shooting homicide rate fell 69 percent, the number of deaths declined 40 percent.
- Deaths from mass shootings are a relatively small share of firearm homicides. According to a Congressional Research Service report, 78 public mass shootings occurred in the U.S. from 1983 through 2012, claiming 547 lives and injuring 476 people. The count does not include the death of shooters.
- Less than 1 percent of homicides each year claim three or more victims.
- 84 percent of gun homicide victims in 2010 were male.
- Younger people are more likely to die from a gunshot wound. In 2010, young adults ages 18 to 24 were 30 percent of gun homicide victims but only made up 10 percent of the population. Similarly, in 2010, people ages 25 to 40 accounted for 40 percent of gun homicide victims, though they were only 21 percent of the population.
What about a ruling on Obama's assertion that mass killings with guns don't happen in other "advanced nations" with the same frequency as they do here?
The truth depends on which countries qualify as "advanced."
According to U.N. statistics , the U.S. firearm homicide rate and overall homicide rate are higher than those in Canada and in Western European and Scandinavian nations, but lower than those in many Caribbean, Latin American and South American countries.
Brazil has a gun homicide rate several times higher than the U.S. and is considered a major U.S. trade partner. So does Mexico.
I think gun violence is more frequent here than in Europe for a very obvious reason: We have lots of guns.
A 2012 federal report estimated that about 310 million firearms were available to or owned by civilians in the U.S. in 2009 — 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. The population of the U.S. was about 306 million in 2009.
The U.S. represents 5 percent of the Earth's population, but owns 35 percent of the world's guns, according to the U.N.'s "Small Guns Survey."
Maybe Americans got the idea that guns are a good thing from the Pentagon? The U.S. accounts for 37 percent of global military spending.
We're not going to run out of guns any time soon, it seems.