“Gun Violence” as a Rhetorical Trick in the Gun-Control Debate

by Ryan McMaken

In its most recent attack on gun ownership, The New York Times went out of its way to confuse gun homicides with homicide in general. As I noted here, this is a rhetorical trick used to mask the true homicide rates in other countries in order to make the United States look like an outlier.

Another trick employed by gun control advocates is to lump gun-inflicted suicides in with gun homicides as in order to inflate the total number of “gun violence” events.

This tactic was employed by CNN after the Orlando shootings, as can be seen in this video. The host, Carol Costello, states “more than 100,000 people are victims of gunshot wounds.” Costello reports that the number is “stunning” and clearly believes 100,000 to be a very large number. Note that Costello does not present the number as a percentage or ratio. If she did, she’d realize that 100,000 people (in a country of 318,000,000) is 0.03 percent of the population. Moreover, the way it’s phrased might lead viewers to believe that Costello is talking about 100,000 fatalities. Viewers would be wrong in assuming this, since fatalities from gunshot wounds, according to the CDC, equaled 33,636 in 2013, or one-third the number Costello quotes. Costello is obviously including all non-fatal injuries in an effort to use more dramatic-sounding numbers. (See Table 18 in this document.)

Costello also admits that this number “includes suicides.” That’s fair enough, but how much of that “gun violence” is due to suicide? Well, it turns out that a solid majority of it is suicides. Indeed, in the 2013 data, there were nearly twice as many firearm suicides (21,175) as there were gun homicides (11,208). So, Costello begins a discussion about the Orlando shootings by talking mostly about suicide, which is irrelevant to the purported topic of discussion which is mass shootings at night clubs.

[RELATED ARTICLE: “Guns don’t Cause Suicide“]

Other commentators have even attempted to claim that suicide rates are notably higher where there are higher gun ownership rates. Looking at the international data on gun ownership from the Small Arms Survey, it’s hard to see how anyone could make this assertion seriously. Indeed, if we look at suicide rates, we see that the US is not especially notable for its suicide rate:

Source: World Health Organization.

The United States sits between Sweden and France in terms of suicide rates. Moreover, the firearms ownership rate is estimated to be more than double the rate in both Sweden and France. As we can see in the second graph, the US is an outlier in terms of private gun ownership, but unremarkable in terms of its suicide rate (suicide rate is n per 100,000):

Source: 2007 Small Arms Survey, World Health Organization (Firearms ownership estimates attempt to count unlicensed and illegal firearms.)

Indeed, if one wanted to build a case for variables that lead to suicide, one might point to “high levels of wealth” or “living at high latitude.” Or, as has been observed in the United States, high altitude may be a problematic factor as well. Obviously, the fact that private gun ownership is nearly non-existent in Japan and South Korea has not done much to keep the suicide rate low in those countries.

So, any time a pundit refers to “gun violence” when the discussion is about homicide, the statistics being used are probably being used for the purposes of obscuring the facts about actual homicide rates.

Continue: “Gun Violence” as a Rhetorical Trick in the Gun-Control Debate | Mises Wire

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