Tightening gun control could prevent more tragedies than you think

Conservative host Erick Erickson claims the media is skewing the numbers. The facts speak for themselves.

(CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
(CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

On Tuesday, conservative radio host Erick Erickson claimed that the media was skewing statistics on firearm-related fatalities in the wake of the Las Vegas concert shooting on Sunday night — which left at least 59 dead and more than 500 injured — in order to make the situation seem worse than it was. Unfortunately for Erickson, the raw data speak for themselves.

“Many of the gun violence statistics count legitimate self defense, hunting accidents, domestic accidents, and police shoots as mass gun violence. Remember that today as the press talks about ‘mass shootings,'” he wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. “They have skewed the statistics to make it look far worse than it is. This is done to perpetuate an agenda.”

Erickson added that the “media coverage of Las Vegas and gun violence in America would do Moscow’s fake news arm proud.”

In some ways, Erickson was correct: according to a June 2015 report by the Violence Policy Center, between 2008 and 2012, there were 1,108 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen, or gun deaths for which police later concluded that the shooter had acted in self-defense — certainly no small number and by no means a figure that should be lumped in without explanation.

Additionally, according to the Washington Post, there were at least 516 accidental firearm deaths in 2012, though the number may have been under-reported slightly.

However, those figures pale in comparison to statistics out of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. According to the Bureau, in 2012, there were approximately 8,342 criminal gun homicides — instances in which the shooter was not acting in self-defense. At least 129 gun deaths that year were the result of mass shootings (instances where there were multiple victims, not counting their shooters), the Post reported.

Then there’s this shocking statistic: according to the Annual Review of Public Health, of the 32,288 gun-related deaths in 2012, 64 percent — around 20,600 — were the result of suicide. In 2013, the following year, that number grew to 21,386, according to the CDC.

CREDIT: The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
CREDIT: The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence

A more recent study published by the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence yielded an equally troubling discovery: out of the 93 people who die each day from gun violence in the United States, approximately two-thirds, or 58 of that total, are suicides.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Brady Center found that “suicide with a gun is the most common and by far the most deadly suicide method”, and that simply having a gun in the home “is a strong predictor of gun suicide.”

“The reality that I have learned is that suicide is a rash act, and it’s one that the vast majority of people who attempt it who don’t succeed the first time actually never go on to commit again,” Brady Center Co-President Kris Brown told NPR in September. “That’s why the introduction of guns is such a dangerous factor because very sadly and as you know 90 percent of the time an individual who attempts suicide by a gun is successful.”

According to the Brady Center study — which cited data from the CDC, the Annual Review of Public Health, and the Annals of Emergency Medicine — having firearms in the home triples the risk of suicide.

The study noted:

This is true regardless of how the guns are stored or how many there are. Homes without guns rarely experience gun suicides. …While the vast majority of people (90 percent) who attempt suicide by another method survive, gun suicide attempts are almost always fatal. Nine out of 10 suicide attempts with a gun result in death, compared to just 3 percent for other common methods. …[T]the vast majority of Americans who attempt suicide with a gun never get a second chance to get the help they need.

Thankfully, there’s a solution to the problem, one that gun control advocates have long-touted as the ultimate safety measure (and one to which pro-gun Erickson –who once shot a New York Times gun control editorial and posted the photographic evidence on his Instagram — would probably object): simply remove guns from the equation.

Specifically, Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) allow family members, partners, and law enforcement officials to remove firearms from “individuals in crisis.” ERPOs also “prohibit new gun purchases (typically for two to three weeks under an emergency order, followed by a hearing to determine whether a year-long continuation is necessary),” the Brady Center study authors wrote.

“As communities marshal resources to battle the preventable tragedy of suicide, Extreme Risk Protection Orders are emerging as a powerful tool for local law enforcement officials, families, and intimate partners,” they added.

None of this has stopped gun advocates like Erickson from trying to ride out the myth that more guns somehow equates to more safety overall — even if the numbers they trot out are questionable at best. It was National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre who claimed famously that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Even President Trump has gotten in on the action on occasion, claiming in 2015 that, if professors at Umpqua Community College in Oregon had been armed during a mass shooting that killed nine, everyone “would have been a hell of a lot better off.”

But as ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser reported on Monday,

The intellectual basis for the myth that guns prevent crime can be traced back to a book, appropriately titled More Guns, Less Crime, by economist John Lott. But Lott is the sort of figure who, if he wasn’t useful to a powerful lobby group, would almost certainly be a discredited punchline. Lott, for example, justifies some of the claims in his book by pointing to “national surveys” that he claims to have conducted himself. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, there is good reason to doubt whether this survey data even exists.

Erickson is correct that it’s irresponsible not to clarify statistics when listing facts and figures related to gun deaths. But if he’s going to point out the comparatively low number of people killed in accidents or as a result of self-defense to argue against tighter gun control measures, he should also acknowledge that tightening security measures and limiting the number of guns in the country still has the potential to prevent a substantial number of deaths — whether from mass shootings or otherwise.