Debate Magazine

The Gun Violence Debate in the US Runs on Ignorance

Posted on the 17 January 2014 by Mikeb302000
I've already mentioned that the federal funding for gun violence research has been cut since the facts have an "anti-gun" bias and the Tiahrt Amendment protects the  illegal firearms trade, which means that the debate has been running on literal science fiction (not to mention the work of Lott and Kleck which is figurative science fiction).  "Fat Tony" Scalia produced a judicial "opinion" that was pure sophistry hiding ignorance of the facts.
The real point here is that even statistics are suffering in this battle to stack the deck.  Thus, The National Rifle Association likes to argue that criminals, or people intent on committing a crime, will obtain guns no matter what the law says. Among the 5,417 gun homicides in 2012 that the FBI assigns a circumstance to (3,438 are "unknown circumstances"), a mere 1,324 were committed in conjunction with another felony. Three times that (3,980) were committed by otherwise law-abiding citizens. Of that, over half (1,968) were the result of an argument that escalated fatally out of control.
To put it another way: otherwise unpremeditated murders, where people kill out of momentary rage, are the single most common type of gun homicide in America. More than gangland killings (822); more than murders committed during robberies (505) and drug deals (311) combined.
But, are the data which is coming from official sources even accurate in this matter?  Slate magazine tried to find out the facts, but like concrete data as to how many concealed carry permit holders actually go bad and who REALLY relies on the "get away with murder" laws, anything that has to be turned up needs to be done manually.
The feature was meant to be a provocation of sorts: We knew that those rows of figures, each one attached to a name, piling atop one another every day, made for an arresting visual, one that might trouble even the most ardent gun-rights supporter.
But as time went by and the interactive was discussed, questioned, and cited, this provocation also became a kind of experiment. How many deaths were being reported on, and how many were falling through the cracks? Why was it that no single source was collecting this data in real time? In other words, we wanted to know if an interactive like this can actually be valuable as something besides a provocation—whether crowdsourcing can produce real-time data and whether that data is useful and complete. (Hoping people might use our data for their own research purposes, we made it available as a downloadable file.)
A year after Newtown, the 11,400-plus human figures on that list remain a chilling reminder of the toll guns take on Americans every day. And the answers to our questions have started to become clear. Some people did use our data, for both interesting visualizations and public programs (sometimes, alas, without reading it carefully first). But we’ve also learned some tough lessons about how hard it is to track death by gun in America. The overwhelming likelihood is that our interactive missed more than half of the gun deaths in the past 12 months. The main reason there is no single source collecting this data in real time is surely because it is an enormous, daunting task—one that we only made a small dent in, with the help of devoted volunteers.
The statistics which are slowly, painstakingly assembled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from death certificates, find that about 32,000 people are killed by guns in America each year.  Unfortunately, the CDC's data in addition to possibly being incomplete is not published in a timely fashion.  For example, the most recent year for which preliminary data is available is 2011 and the CDC's "exact" number was 32,163. Slate also found that some gun deaths fell through the cracks.  Additionally, Slate used everyone who was killed by a gun (e.g. Tamerlan Tsarnaev), which caused an uproar from the right.
Slate also found that:
Suicides, it turns out, are this project’s enormous blind spot. Most every homicide makes the local paper, even if in large cities these stories are sometimes relegated to a mere news brief. Accidental shootings are usually reported upon, as are shootings by law enforcement and incidents in which civilians kill in self-defense. But suicides are mostly invisible. And the fact is that suicides make up 60 percent or more of all deaths by gun in America. In our interactive, misleadingly, only about 10 percent of recorded deaths were deemed suicides by our crowdsourced categorizers.
Slate has a companion piece to this The Missing 20,000 Gun Deaths. Suicide accounts for the bulk of gun deaths, which is a fact I know annoys you greatly.   On the other hand, the data also shows that owning a firearm is far more dangerous to the owner.
Ultimately, the lack of information filters down to researchers. Though most scientists Slate talked to said that they’d always found individual police departments forthcoming and helpful.  There is widespread frustration that data isn’t systematically available in a more timely manner for people doing the research. “I don’t know why we don’t have rapid case accounts,” said Harvard’s Cathy Barber. “It’s crazy that we are using 2010 data.”
The real bottom line is that we cannot have a serious discussion about this topic without accurate information.  The information which has been fueling the debate is pretty much wrong whether it is that the Second Amendment relates to private arms or studies that show more guns is the reason there is less crime.  Indeed, it doesn't help your side of the argument if the "facts" you provide are bullshit, or just plain non-existent.
It's time the debate started using facts rather than wishful thinking.

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