Point Austin: The Death Cult of the Gun
The U.S. mayhem is ordinary and everyday
The gun deaths are literally uncountable.
That's what Slate discovered a few years ago, when the online magazine inaugurated a project to determine the number of U.S. deaths by gun violence every day following the 2012 Newtown school massacre. When it ended the partly crowd-sourced effort a year later (Dec. 31, 2013), the reporters had confirmed 12,042 deaths by gun violence. They had also discovered that it was far from the actual total, as Dan Kois reported: "The overwhelming likelihood is that our interactive missed more than half of the gun deaths in the past 12 months. The main reason there is no single source collecting this data in real time is surely because it is an enormous, daunting task – one that we only made a small dent in, with the help of devoted volunteers."
Slate was working from confirmed, reported deaths, and it turned out that U.S. gun deaths are so common that fewer than half are publicly reported. The Centers for Disease Control, from official death certificates, reports that there are annually about 32,000 deaths by firearms; the most recent confirmed number (2013) is about 34,000 (the largest omission in media reporting is of gun suicides). That works out to about 90 people a day. We hear about them mostly when there's a "newsworthy" element – e.g., a cop killed, a killing by a cop, or somebody gets shot on TV.
Ninety U.S. deaths-by-gun a day is difficult for anybody to comprehend. Despite the wide range of circumstances and motives, what do all these deaths have in common? The ready availability of guns. In the early Nineties, CDC researchers determined that the simple presence of a gun in the home tripled the risk of homicide, and "virtually all of this risk involved homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance."
What was the result of those illuminating findings? Congress, bullied by the National Rifle Association, defunded the CDC from any ongoing research into gun violence, on the grounds that the research (in this case, a statistical study) was being used to "promote gun control." Reiterating that position earlier this year, House Speaker John Boehner said, "A gun is not a disease." After Sandy Hook, President Barack Obama redirected the CDC to study the causes of gun violence – but in the ensuing two years, virtually no such research has taken place, because the scientists fear political backlash and defunding.
So even arriving at an accurate count of the consequences of ubiquitous firearms is a very difficult task. In the wake of the Slate project, a new nonprofit – the Gun Violence Archive (www.gunviolencearchive.org) is doggedly attempting to fill the gap. Judging by its overall numbers for 2015 – 8,725 deaths and 17,873 injuries, as of Sept. 2 – they're having similar difficulties. But it's a laudable effort, and a review of the website suggests that "good guys with guns" is not exactly the norm for American homicide.
As of Wednesday morning, the archive lists 56 deaths by gun in the last 72 hours (of about 250 shooting incidents, including injuries). That's a considerable number, but CDC's annual stats reflect it's still an undercount. A few selections from still fragmentary information of the deaths:
• New Orleans, Sept. 2: Man shot dead in his driveway.
• Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 1: Man shot dead in a "home invasion" apparently stemming from an insult.
• Twinsburg, Ohio, Sept. 1: Two dead in domestic homicide/suicide.
• Petersburg, Va., Sept. 1: Man shot dead on the street, after an argument.
• Hartford, Conn., Sept. 1: Man shot dead in the street.
• Bluefield, W. Va., Sept. 1: Bank robber shot dead by police.
• Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 1: Man shot dead in his barbershop, apparently ongoing dispute.
• South Bend, Ind., Sept. 1: Man shot dead in his truck, circumstances unknown.
• Longwood, N.Y., Sept. 1: Man shot dead on the street.
There are at least eight more confirmed deaths by gunshot (some in Texas) just on Sept 1. I could go on, but the Chronicle has only so much space. Read the archive.
The Bigger Guns
As I've written before, there are so many guns in the U.S. – about as many guns as people – that the manufactured hysteria over "government gun seizures" is not just exaggerated, it's laughable. The things we most fear are mostly not the actual dangers. (Case in point: the Forward reported in 2013 that U.S. toddlers handling unsecured guns kill more people – mostly other children – than do "terrorists.")
In one important sense, the "guns don't kill people" cliche is accurate – mass daily homicide also requires a reflexive gun culture, in which domestic disputes, street arguments, road rage, and the like, quickly escalate to settlement by gun. In that context, our militarized political culture – in which peace negotiations are for "losers," and war is the instinctive and grimly heroic option – reflects the same cultural impulse as our recently rising homicide rate.
In recent years, those deaths by U.S. gun violence are beyond uncountable.