Saturday, October 03, 2015

Statistics, damned statistics and guns

Yet another mass school killing in the Land of the Free, this one in the small lumber town of Roseburg, Oregon. Nine dead, seven wounded, followed by a suicide, pretty standard fare. 26-year old gunman, a bit of a weirdo and a loner, and had attended a school for teenagers with behavioural problems, but still managed to buy his 13 guns legally, nothing new there. Barack Obama tries to make sensitive but meaningful noises after a mass shooting for the 15th time in his presidency, and vows to make gun control a political issue, but don't hold your breath.
But even these stark statistics, like the top of an iceberg, hide much worse below. And in the usual heart-searching and tub-thumping that accompanies these sad events, some truly shocking stats have surfaced.
Yes, Obama has made 15 public statements after mass gun violence events, but he has presided over no less than 994 mass shootings in the three years since his re-election in 2012 ("mass shooting" defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed or injured by firearms), with 294 just this year so far (more than one per day). More specifically, this is the 45th school shooting in the United States this year, which, if nothing else, serves to highlight the fact that President Obama did not make any public statement after the vast majority of them.
In total, 9,956 people have been killed by firearms so far this year in the USA, and more than 20,000 have been injured. The 11,385 people who have died on average annually in firearm incidents in the US between 2001 and 2011, compares to an average of 517 Americans killed annually in terrorism incidents during that period (INCLUDING the 2,996 killed on 9/11). In fact, between 1968 and 2011, about 1.4 million American deaths by firearms were recorded, well over the estimated 1.2 million US deaths in every armed conflict from the Revolutionary War to Iraq.
The USA has by far the highest per capita number of gun deaths in the developed world, according to the Human Development Index, over 4 times that of next-placed Switzerland, over 6 times that of Canada, and 20 times that of Australia and New Zealand. Also, a much larger proportion of America's homicides (around 60%) are gun-related than in other developed countries. In the undeveloped world, though, Honduras racks up over 20 times as many gun deaths as the USA per capita, Jamaica 12 times as many, and Brazil over 5 times as many. In absolute numbers, Brazil suffers over 4 times as many firearms-related deaths as America, and Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela all register more annual gun deaths.
There are thought to be around 310 million guns in the USA, almost one per person on average, although they are concentrated in the hands of about one-third of the population, particularly in the predominantly Republican and rural centre and south of country. But there is no gun registry in America, so these figures are ball-park estimates only.
Statistics? I'll give you statistics. You won't like them, though.

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