Since July 1, at least 77 shootings have taken place in the city, with 10 people killed and at least 26 injured. (“Two shot in gun violence flare-up,” Nov. 10).
Several weeks ago, when I wrote about guns (“Making a wish to save some lives,” Oct. 6), I left a few loose ends dangling. This is about tying up those loose ends.
First, the situation regarding firearm homicides is worse than it appears.
The FBI is tasked with publishing data on crime in its annual Uniform Crime Report, drawing on information from more than 18,000 city, university and college, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies. Participation in the program is voluntary. That is a critical bit of information.
As impressive as the number of cooperating agencies is, the gathered data is not necessarily complete. For example, a footnote in the UCR explains that “limited data for 2018 were available from Iowa.” In 2017 “limited data” were received from Illinois and Alabama.
Presumably, if the data were complete from all participating agencies, the number of reported firearm homicides would be even higher.
There is a further problem with information in the UCR regarding firearm homicides. Based on data provided by law enforcement agencies, the 2018 UCR reports firearms used in homicides according to these categories: handguns (6,603), rifles (297), shotguns (235), other guns (167) and total firearms (10,265).
Doesn’t add up, does it? That is because there is another category: Firearms (type unknown). The participating law enforcement agencies did not tell the FBI the type of firearms that were used in 2,935 homicides, and evidently the FBI didn’t follow up.
We know that handguns were used in 90% of firearm homicides in which the type of weapon used is known. If handguns were used in 90% of all firearm homicides, known and unknown, the number of handgun homicides would be more than 9,000.
Second, a reader claimed that the number of Americans who take their own lives would not be diminished significantly if all guns disappeared overnight; people who are intent on ending their lives would simply find some other means of doing so. Numerous studies have found that is simply not the case.
Most suicide attempts are not successful. After surveying hospital emergency rooms for instances of wounds consistent with self-harm, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that only 11% of suicide attempts result in death.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that 70% of people who failed to take their lives made no further attempts. Just 7% of people who attempt suicide eventually die by suicide.
There is a serious caveat to the preceding statements: Most people who attempt suicide do not succeed — unless they use a gun. According to CDC data, 90% of people who use a gun in an attempt to take their own lives do not survive to re-evaluate their options, re-think their lives and/or seek help.
Since guns are involved in just over half of suicides, it is reasonable to think that there would be a dramatic reduction in suicides if guns disappeared overnight.
Third, determining how often gun owners use their firearms in self-defense — one of the reasons most often cited for owning a gun — has proven to be more difficult than it might appear. You can find studies that claim that instances of self-defensive use of a firearm are less frequent, about as frequent, or more frequent than the offensive use of a firearm by criminals. I have found estimates ranging from 100,000 to 2.5 million. Not surprisingly, there are studies of the studies, trying to figure out why a clear-cut answer is so elusive.
What is not in question is that ours is a gun culture. There are more guns in America than there are automobiles, cellphones or TVs. There are more guns in America than there are people. There are more than twice as many guns in America as there are dogs and cats combined.
Even though 70% of Americans do not own a gun, 51% of us oppose eliminating assault weapons.
What is also not in question is that we pay a heavy price for being a gun culture. An estimated 45,000 Americans lose their lives to guns — whether homicides, suicides, acts of self-defense or accidents — every year. That is equivalent to a 9-11 every month, month after month, year in and year out.
Evidently, that is a number we are prepared to live with.
Is there a point at which we say enough is enough? If there is, we are not there yet.