Myth-busting​: Addressing 5 of the top lies told after ‘mass shootings’

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Second Amendment guns

There are few narratives as well-honed as those on the side of gun-control in the aftermath of a mass shooting. The problem is that research, facts, and reason are frequently missing from the often-repeated talking points of those whose main goal is to limit the scope of the Second Amendment and see select cases of violence as their best opportunity for achieving that goal.  

I’ve put together the following fact sheet with as many non-biased sources as possible. Let’s start with the basics:

Myth: Mass shootings are increasing exponentially.

Objective findings: “The two figures below show trends in these types of mass shooting incidents and fatalities, respectively, using the data provided in Krouse and Richardson (2015). Extending the data back to the 1970s, two studies found evidence of a slight increase in the frequency of mass public shootings over the past three decades (Cohen, Azrael, and Miller, 2014; Krouse and Richardson, 2015). However, using an expanded definition that includes domestic- or felony-related killings, there is little evidence to suggest that mass shooting incidents or fatalities have increased (Cohen, Azrael, and Miller, 2014; Krouse and Richardson, 2015; Fox and Fridel, 2016).” Source: Mass Shootings: Definitions and Trends published by Rand Corp. March 2, 2008

Summary: There is no consistent definition of “mass shooting.” When you factor out incidents of domestic violence, gang violence, and other crime/drug violence to get to the cases of “mass public shootings” the incidence is so low it’s hard to track trends for them.

Myth: Mental illness leads to violence against others. 

Objective findings: According to a journal article published in the J Epidemiol Community Health titled “Violence and mental illness: what is the true story?”

“Patients with severe mental illness constitute a high-risk group vulnerable to fall victims to violence in the community. Symptoms associated with severe mental illness, such as impaired reality testing, disorganised thought processes, impulsivity and poor planning and problem solving, can compromise one’s ability to perceive risks and protect oneself and make them vulnerable to physical assault.10 ,11

The Washington Post reported, “People with serious mental disorders are 3.6 times as likely to exhibit violent behavior, according to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. But they are far more likely to be the victims of violence — at 23 times the risk, compared with the general population. A study published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology found that “the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness.”

Summary: Those who have untreated severe and persistent mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence than to perpetrate it. They’re also more likely to harm themselves than others. Those with the highest likelihood of being violent are those who suffer from both mental illness and substance abuse disorders. 

Myth: Deaths by firearms are increasing, therefore, the danger of being a victim is increasing. 

Objective Findings:  The Center for Disease Control released a cause of death report in December of 2018.  Deaths by firearm contributed to around 12-13 percent of deaths in the United States in 2017. Firearm deaths from 1999 to 2017 increased less than 2 percent, with the largest number of those reported as suicides.

Summary:  Reports continue to show that most firearms deaths are self-inflicted.  Suicide contributes to more than half of firearm deaths.  The danger of being a victim of death caused by heart disease or cancer is more likely to occur than being the victim of a firearm death (CDC death stats).

Myth: Our nation is becoming a more dangerous place. We should all live in fear. 

Objective Findings: “Half of America’s gun homicides in 2015 were clustered in just 127 cities and towns, according to a new geographic analysis by the Guardian, even though they contain less than a quarter of the nation’s population.

Even within those cities, violence is further concentrated in the tiny neighborhood areas that saw two or more gun homicide incidents in a single year.

Four and a half million Americans live in areas of these cities with the highest numbers of gun homicide, which are marked by intense poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation. Geographically, these neighborhood areas are small: a total of about 1,200 neighborhood census tracts, which, laid side by side, would fit into an area just 42 miles wide by 42 miles long.

The problem they face is devastating. Though these neighborhood areas contain just 1.5% of the country’s population, they saw 26% of America’s total gun homicides.

Gun control advocates say it is unacceptable that Americans overall are “25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries”. People who live in these neighborhood areas face an average gun homicide rate about 400 times higher than the rate across those high-income countries.”

The Guardian’s researchers went on to say, “58% of cities that saw a gun homicide in 2015 saw just a single one, and 95% of them saw fewer than ten.”

Summary: Sweeping gun control that targets lawful gun owners throughout the country is not the solution. Random gun violence is rare in most parts of the nation. 

Myth: Making guns harder to legally purchase will lead to fewer deaths.

Objective Findings:  A 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates found that 1 in 5 prisoners used a gun during their offense, but only 7 percent of those inmates legally purchased the gun.

“An estimated 287,400 prisoners had possessed a firearm during their offense. Among these, more than half (56%) had either stolen it (6%), found it at the scene of the crime (7%), or obtained it off the street or from the underground market (43%). Most of the remainder (25%) had obtained it from a family member or friend, or as a gift. Seven percent had purchased it under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer.”

Summary:  Implementing tougher gun laws will primarily affect a very small percentage of those committing crimes with guns.  Tougher gun laws are not likely going to change the avenue of how those who illegally use guns, acquire guns as they are already breaking current law.  

Myth: More firearms leads to more violence

Objective findings:  A report from the Congressional Research Service shows that from 2001 to 2012 gun sales showed a steady increase, but firearm deaths did not show the same pattern.  

“In the past, most guns available for sale were produced domestically. In recent years, 1 million to 2 million handguns were manufactured each year, along with 1 million to 1.5 million rifles and fewer than 1 million shotguns. From 2001 through 2007, however, handgun imports nearly doubled, from 711,000 to nearly 1.4 million.32 By 2009, nearly 2.2 million handguns were imported into the United States.33 From 2001 through 2007, rifle imports increased from 228,000 to 632,000, and shotgun imports increased from 428,000 to 726,000.34 By 2009, rifle imports had increased to 864,000, but shotguns had decreased 559,000.35 By the same year, 2009, the estimated total number of firearms available to civilians in the United States had increased to approximately 310 million: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns.

Per capita, the civilian gun stock has roughly doubled since 1968, from one gun per every two persons to one gun per person.” 

Summary:  If more guns caused more deaths than we would see a steady increase in firearms deaths.