Gun Control Activists Pad Gun Death Statistics?
04 March 2004
Gun control activists should reconsider the inflation and skewing of statistics on dead children.
Last week's release
of police documents and evidence on the April, 1999, Columbine school shootings
has sparked many questions -- not only on the specifics of Columbine but
also on the general issue of guns.
The answers are unsatisfying on all counts.
Take, for example, the issue of how many children die each year in gun-related
incidents. That question has been prompted not just by the new Columbine
evidence, but by the impending Million Mom March on Washington, D.C., planned
for Mother's Day.
The first anti-gun MMM in 2000 attempted to redirect the focus of Mother's
Day from flowers and card giving to the gun deaths of children. The 2004
event continues this focus as its press release reminds us, "[W]ith memories
of the horrible events at Columbine High School ... people gathered [in 2000]
on the Mall in Washington, D.C., to demand saner gun policies." The release
quotes Mary Leigh Blek, the "president emeritus" of MMM, as saying that almost
14,000 children "have died from gun violence" since "our last march."
Where does that figure come from?
To begin with, Blek is probably referring to the 2000 MMM event. (In 2001,
only about 100 people participated and the event is now virtually ignored.)
This means she is stating that almost 14,000 children died from gun violence
between 2000 and 2004. The figure is almost certainly an extrapolation from
The definitive source for data on injury-death in America, including gun
deaths, is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Taking relevant
data for 2001, the latest year available, and multiplying the results by
four should provide a figure close to 14,000.
During 2001, the CDC reported a total of 157,078 injury-deaths. On their interactive Web site,
if you click "Firearm" under "Cause of Injury," the figure becomes 29,573.
For deaths in children, click on <1 as the lowest in the age range and
17 as the highest. Also select the "No Age-Adjusting Requested" option. The
figure becomes 1,433. Multiplied by four, this is 5,732, or roughly 40 percent
of what MMM asserts.
The 5,732 includes at least two categories of death that do not clearly belong
because they do not clearly support MMM's anti-gun arguments. That is to
say, MMM's use of death statistics coupled with calls for legislative control
as a "solution" unmistakably implies that the cited deaths could have been
prevented by gun control. It is misleading, therefore, to include deaths
that would probably have occurred whether gun laws and, in some cases, whether
guns themselves -- were present.
Maria Heil of the pro-gun Second Amendment Sisters comments on one of the
misleading categories: "They [MMM] are not upfront that over half of those
deaths are suicides. Suicide is not committed because there is a gun. Studies
show that our suicide rate is on par with other industrialized nations, including
ones with very strictly regulated guns."
Guns are merely one of many methods available.
The 5,732 also includes deaths that result from gang activity in which the
guns are usually illegal. These deaths would not have been prevented by gun
control any more than gang members' drug use is prevented by drug laws.
The honest question for anti-gun advocates is, how many children's deaths were "caused" by a lack of gun control?
The easiest way to reduce both suicides and gang deaths from swelling that
answer is to eliminate teenagers from the data; both suicide and gang membership
are overwhelmingly teen rather than "child" phenomena.
(Moreover, "child" traditionally refers to someone who is pre-pubescent,
pre-teen. That's the image invoked by MMM's references to "children" and
Changing the age parameters on the CDC site to register the gun deaths of
children between <1 and 12 years old renders the number, 223 for 2001.
Multiplied by four, this becomes 892 or about 6 percent of MMM's asserted
figure. Anti-gun advocates should be stating that, between 2000 and 2004,
the gun deaths of 892 children could have been avoided through gun control
or prohibition. With valid statistics that are properly used, real debate
could then begin.
The figure of 14,000 child gun deaths closes off the possibility of honest
debate. Indeed, the only way to arrive at that number at the CDC site is
to include suicides and gang-related deaths, and to define a child as "anyone
under the age of 21." In short, MMM has padded the statistics.
The death of any child is tragic and should not be diminished, but neither
should it be used to political advantage. I believe this is what MMM is doing.
MMM hopes to create a groundswell of public outrage against guns. But, MMM
should reconsider the inflation and skewing of statistics on dead children.
As a strategy, it looks cruel and heartless and could easily backfire.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. Her
new book is Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century.
Reprinted with permission of ifeminists.com.
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