In the back and forth over the gun issue, tribal politics is in overdrive, even if the gravity of the Newtown shooting has caused many to rethink their positions. What has stood out to me, however, is the question of threat assessment, and how much our perspectives on the issue are grounded in actual statistical reality.
The vast majority of gun deaths are not mass, but rather individual shootings. There are over 300 million guns in the US, much more than any other country (about twice as many as the next highest gun-owning country). There is a strong correlation between the number of guns in a country and their homicide rate. People are more likely to die with the gun in their own home. About 16,000 kids are killed in gun accidents a year. About half of gun deaths are homicides, while the other half is suicides.
Richard Florida put together a very interesting graph showing correlations between socio-economic indicators and gun deaths.
As you can see, the top two indicators of risk for gun death is being in a Republican state and being poor. As Florida writes,
"Though this association is likely to infuriate many people, the statistics are unmistakable. Partisan affiliations alone cannot explain them; most likely they stem from two broader, underlying factors - the economic and employment makeup of the states and their policies toward guns and gun ownership."Overwhelmingly, gun violence seems most clearly to go back to poverty and lack of education.
I've experienced this personally in my work with poor kids. In my first year teaching Kindergarten in a lower-class, immigrant community, one of my kids entered school two months late due to having been accidentally shot in the torso by a family member. Two years a go, at a continuation high school, one of my students was shot in the head in a drive by, killed instantly, her 6 month old child was hit in the leg and survived. A family member of one of my students, again a from lower socioeconomic demographic, was recently in critical condition from a gun injury. I frequently hear about violence in the neighborhoods and lives of my students that is simply not present in the lives of better off families.
So basically, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you're going to be subject to the dysfunctional few who have been segregated into your community via social forces (family breakdown, economic exploitation, poverty perpetuation, incarceration, etc.). Now, having to live in a poor neighborhood is going to be much riskier, and it may indeed make sense to own a gun for self-defense. That seems a perfectly reasonable conclusion that individuals might make. Of course, other issues arise, such as the necessity of knowing how to properly care for such a deadly weapon. And in order for the gun to be an effective means of self-defense, having it at the ready is going to be important, which in turn opens up greater risk of accidents, especially among children. In poor communities, many of the gun owners are going to be relatively low human and social capital individuals, who may not have the proper where-with-all to keep their gun safe. And with regard to guns getting into the hands of criminal elements of the community, easing regulations on gun sales is going to only make it easier for criminals to get guns.
In the back and forth over the gun issue, tribal politics is in overdrive, even if the gravity of the Newtown shooting has caused many to rethink their positions. What has stood out to me, however, is the question of threat assessment, and how much our perspectives on the issue are grounded in actual statistical reality. Most of us are not in any near danger. Unless we live in poor neighborhoods. Otherwise, the presence of a gun in the family puts us at greater risk, especially if the gun owner is poorly trained, doesn't keep their gun secure enough, or someone is at risk of suicide. As I was just telling my students last week, after worries arose over the likelihood that someone would come and shoot up the school, that they were more likely to die or get a debilitating brain injury in a car accident. So if they were truly concerned about their safety, they would begin wearing a helmet when driving in the car.