Michael's essay: In U.S. gun control debate, angry rhetoric drowns out statistics

Photo: Getty Images/Petras Malukasafp

Photo: Getty Images/Petras Malukasafp


The Keystone Sporting Arms Company of Pennsylvania markets a series of single shot, 22 calibre rifles called the Cricket and the Chipmunk. The sales slogan is My First Rifle.

The company's business plan is to get 'em while they're young.
A few weeks ago, a five-year-old playing with his first rifle, a Cricket, shot and killed his two-year-old sister. It happened in Kentucky hill country, where long guns are a matter of pride, honour and patriotism.
Children accidentally killing children with guns is becoming a regular news story. If you look on the KSA web site, you see a series of photos of very young boys and girls playing with their first rifles.
It's the kind of photo gallery that gives the "top guns" of the National Rifle Association nocturnal emissions.
It also reinforces the idea that the United States is a haven of  right-wing Minutemen red-neck gun nuts who spend much of their free time shooting up shopping malls, movie theatres or elementary schools. When they're not buying their two-year-olds a first rifle.
I mean, how could anyone dare dream of three gunmen opening fire on a Mothers' Day Parade, as happened in New Orleans.
But hold on a second, Big Mouth.
Sometimes the media stories don't quite align themselves with the factual reality. Sometimes we pontificators promulgate conventional wisdom to an absurd degree. And sometimes we're off-target, so to speak, in peculiar ways.
The fact of the matter is this: gun violence in homicide and other gun crimes in the US has fallen nearly 50 per cent since 1993. Compared with 1993, the actual peak of gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49 per cent lower in 2010. There were fewer deaths, even though the population increased.
I'm not making these figures up. They come from the most respected polling organization in the US, the Pew Research Center. 

But they are not numbers you find in the everyday media. The researchers also found that 56% of Americans think gun violence is way up. Not surprising, considering the coverage given the mass shootings.
To gather the information, Pew studied the rates of firearms deaths assembled by the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Justice's national crime victimization survey. Reading the numbers compiled over the past 50 years, you can follow the trends of gun homicide rates. They began rising in the 1960s, surged in the 1970s and hit their peaks in the late 1980s and 1990s.
There are still an awful lot of people dying from guns; in 2010 the figure was 31,672. But most of those, 19,392, were suicides. The gun suicide rate has been higher than the gun homicide rate for more than 25 years. So the rate of gun homicides in 2010 was 3.6 per 100,000 compared to 7.0 in 1993.
Gun violence and gun control remain the most divisive issues in American political and cultural debates. Positions are staked out and  the rhetoric soars. Everybody is yelling at everybody else. It might leach some of the fear and anger out of the debate if both sides could get the arithmetic right.
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