According to the CDC, it’s estimated that 80,590 Americans died from an opioid-related overdose in 2021, the vast majority of them (more than 71,000) involving fentanyl. That same year, again according to CDC data, 47,286 Americans lost their life in a gun-related incident, with more than 50% of those deaths the result of a gun-involved suicide.
No matter your views on the War on Drugs or the Second Amendment, in terms of lives lost opioids are pretty clearly the bigger threat to public health. And yet, in a new Axios-Ipsos poll, Democrats are far more likely to say that guns are the larger danger.
The split between Democrats and Republicans on “gun or firearm access” as a public health concern is understandable, but that doesn’t make the Democratic position any more acceptable. It’s not just that far more Americans are dying from opioids than from being shot, it’s that the same is true for almost every other issue listed above as well.
Obesity doesn’t lead directly to a lot of deaths, but the CDC notes that its effects “include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.”
Cancer killed approximately 605,000 Americans in 2021, while COVID-19 was responsible for 450,000 more deaths according to the CDC. The agency says that there were 42,915 traffic-related deaths that year as well. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are inclined to view unsafe roads or driving as the most pressing public health concern, but even though the number of fatalities are similar to gun-related deaths, Democrats were seven times more likely to name guns as their biggest concern.
Smoking and tobacco products were responsible for another 450,000 deaths last year, according to CDC, and alcohol-related deaths neared 100,000; with 52,000 alcohol-induced deaths and another 44,000 from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.
There’s clearly some cognitive dissonance happening among Democrats, but I think the survey also shows how much influence news and social media have over our thinking. The number of Americans dying from alcohol-related causes is almost as high as the number of drug overdose deaths, and twice as high as gun-related deaths, yet they’re rarely covered in the media. The days of the Anti-Saloon League and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union are also long gone, so there’s no teetotaler lobby demanding an end to the sale of alco-pops, birthday cake-flavored vodka, or cheap booze sold by the pint or in airplane bottles. It’s easy to not know how big a problem we’re talking about, at least until one of those deaths impacts you personally.
Similarly, we’ve been told ad nauseum that guns have replaced traffic accidents as the number one killer of kids; a statistic that is only true if you include 18-and-19-year-olds as children. But the fact that traffic fatalities have been steadily rising in recent years and in 2021 were the highest in more than 15 years has received scant attention from the press. Maybe that statistic was reported on the day of its release, but no major media outlet is routinely covering traffic accidents with the same attention they pay to violent crimes where a gun is involved.
The media also tends to focus its coverage on shootings where victims were seemingly chosen at random, or where there were a large number of victims. That’s kind of understandable from a news organization’s perspective, but it can also lead to a skewed perspective on the part of viewers. Americans are far more likely to randomly die in a car accident than they are in a mass shooting or an armed robbery, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by watching your local or national news. And coincidentally or not, I can’t help but notice that there’s no group out there advocating for “common sense” restrictions like a 25 mph speed limit or banning “high-powered” vehicles designed for a raceway and not a highway.
We pay attention to what’s in front of us, and for Democrats that means consuming media that almost exclusively portrays gun ownership as the biggest threat to both public health and public safety. Republicans, on the other hand, are hearing more news about the influx of fentanyl coming over the southern border, and some of the highest drug overdose death rates are also found in red states; with West Virginia leading the way with a staggering 81.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, and Kentucky, Delaware, Ohio, and Tennessee rounding out the top five.
It’s not just a red state problem however, and I’m guessing that among the 17% of Democrats who picked opioids as their top concern there were a lot of residents of places like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco who witness the epidemic of overdoses and the other threats to health and public safety that have resulted from the incredibly increase in fentanyl and other deadly analogues.
I honestly don’t know how I would have responded if I’d been a part of this survey, but I know that I wouldn’t have chosen “access to firearms” as my primary concern. Of course homicides and suicides are a legitimate problem in this country, though I think they’re two entirely separate issues; neither of which can be seriously addressed through gun control laws. Heavily-regulated alcohol and drugs like fentanyl that are utterly prohibited from possession without a prescription are killing far more Americans every year than the trigger pull of a gun, so why would anyone believe that the regulation and prohibition that lie at the heart of the gun control ideology work any better? For some, it’s simply a matter of faith; for others, party fealty. I can’t help but think that there’s also a group out there who might choose differently if they were informed of the facts instead of instilled with fear by gun control activists and their media allies. I don’t know how large that collection of Americans might be, but it’s my own article of faith that they’re out there and worth engaging.