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Charles Schade: Why wouldn’t we try to prevent gun homicides?

Is having a frank discussion about how to protect people against becoming gun homicide victims too much to ask?  

Don Surber, in the Dec. 29 Gazette-Mail, missed an opportunity to present useful information about the impact of firearm misuse and start a thoughtful discussion of solutions.

Instead he chose misleading statistics purporting to show that increased numbers and availability of guns don't increase everyone's risk of being shot. Every single one of the examples in Surber's column involves one or more of the following:

  • Choosing incorrect time intervals for comparisons;
  • Using inappropriate measures;
  • Distorting differences with relative percentage changes;
  • Selectively applying or ignoring social and demographic influences on homicide rates;
  • Confusing cause and effect.

For instance, Surber compared Australian and U.S. homicides over the same time period.

He noted that Australia had tightened its laws after a mass shooting, but did not mention the Brady Act, which may have been responsible for some of the decline in U.S. homicides.

Then Surber applied relative percentages to total homicide rates to conclude that Australia was no better off than our country.

The total homicide rate in the United States fell from 9.9 per 100,000 to 5.8 between 1993 and 2007. Meanwhile the homicide rate in Australia went from 1.9 to 1.3.

But the Australian homicide rate is now at a record low. Ours hasn't been near that low in the past century. When we look only at gun homicides, the differences are even more striking.

In the United States, the proportion of homicides by firearm declined slightly during recent years. It's still stuck at 65 percent, while in Australia it was cut in half from 30 percent to 15 percent.

In 2007, the U.S. firearms homicide rate stood at 4.2. In Australia, it was 0.3, or less than 10 percent of the U.S. rate. In which country are you more likely to get shot?

Surber's tone is worse. A responsible newspaper invites discussion on issues of concern.   Surber uses ridicule and name calling.

Saying that someone "exploited" the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King is cheap and offensive. The term "liberal logic" is simply name-calling.

 Saying the purpose of gun control is advancing government power cultivates paranoia among gun owners suspicious that any responsible measures to reduce gun violence will lead to gun confiscation.

Perhaps Surber can explain what the Department of Education or War on Poverty has to do with gun violence. I'd call it changing the subject.

We have had yet another in a  series of very violent crimes perpetrated by heavily armed young men. We are again grieving the loss of innocent lives.

Common features of each mass shooting are apparent, and the most obvious is that none of these would have happened and none of these people would have died if the assailants had not had guns.  

When drunk drivers kill people, we rightly ask what combination of measures can prevent these unintended deaths.

We wonder if reasonable restrictions on alcohol sales or use might be effective.  

What is wrong with asking the same kinds of questions about gun violence?

How can we keep people who should not have guns from getting them? What kinds of weapons are too intrinsically dangerous to be allowed?

What kinds of reasonable safety measures should gun owners follow to assure that their weapons are used only lawfully?

Schade, who lives in Charleston, is a retired physician epidemiologist.



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