Sugarmann twisting stats, using suicide, and #doingsomething

Sugarmann twisting stats, using suicide, and #doingsomething
AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

Our perennial friend Josh Sugarmann, the Executive Director of Violence Policy Center (VPC), sent out a “look at what we’re doing” e-blast recently, and I had to dig in. One of the “studies” was “States with Lower Gun Ownership and Stronger Gun Laws Have Lowest Suicide Rates”. We all know how trustworthy Sugarmann is with his “studies”, considering the VPC still flagrantly keeps his quote up which purposely misleads people when it comes to semi-automatic rifles.

…coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons… 

In my opinion, aside from Sugarmann being completely off base, a gun grabber at heart, and a liar, I’ll further state that there’s no recovering any form of credibility until he takes ownership for lying to people knowingly. Further, Sugarmann’s bunk studies have inflicted change in law in the United States, so we can’t discount him as just the quack that he is, in my opinion. His work is, or at least was dangerous to our freedoms.

What’s this most recent study have to say?

States with lower rates of gun ownership and stronger gun violence prevention laws have the lowest overall suicide rates in the nation according to a new Violence Policy Center (VPC) analysis of 2020 data (the most recent year available) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Conversely, states with the highest suicide rates have higher gun ownership rates and weaker gun violence prevention laws.

The topic of death by suicide by firearm is a rather important one. But right there in the opening, we’re dealing with some weasel words such as “stronger gun violence prevention laws”. Talking about suicide and violence in the same sentence is insulting to people that die by suicide, or have contemplated it. Like every other anti-freedom caucus member out there, VPC is conflating self-harm and violence. But let’s take a look at the number’s Shugarmann’s group is touting.

The state with the lowest overall suicide rate in 2020 was New Jersey (7.64 suicides per 100,000 residents) with a gun suicide rate of 2.04 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. New York ranked second lowest (overall suicide rate of 8.49 suicides per 100,000 residents) with a gun suicide rate of 2.39 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. Rhode Island ranked third lowest (overall suicide rate of 8.89 suicides per 100,000 residents) with a gun suicide rate of 2.84 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. In each of these three states guns were used in 32 percent or fewer of the suicides reported that year and all had a household gun ownership rate below 21 percent. Compared to the three states with the highest suicide rates, each of these states has stronger gun violence prevention laws.

The state with the highest overall suicide rate in the nation in 2020 was Wyoming (31.25 suicides per 100,000 residents), which also had the highest gun suicide rate (21.98 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). Alaska ranked second (27.90 suicides per 100,000 residents) and had the second highest gun suicide rate (18.19 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). Montana ranked third (27.76 suicides per 100,000 residents) and had the third highest gun suicide rate (17.49 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). In each of these three states guns were used in 63 percent or more of the suicides reported that year and all had a household gun ownership rate above 54 percent. Compared to the states with the lowest suicide rates, each of these states has weak gun violence prevention laws.

Let’s look at those states as line items from their chart:

State

Rank Overall Rate
p100K
Gun Rate
p100k
Overall
Number
of Suicides
Number
of Gun
Suicides
%
Involving
Guns

Household Gun
Ownership 

Wyoming 1 31.25 21.98 182 128 70% 68.8%
Alaska 2 27.90 18.19 204 133 65% 54.6%
Montana 3 27.76 17.49 300 189 63% 65.9%
Rhode Island 48 8.89 2.84 94 30 32% 15.0%
New York 49 8.49 2.39 1,642 462 28% 20.5%
New Jersey 50 7.64 2.04 679 181 27% 15.2%

 

Basically the correlation that the group is making is that those with more lax laws have more instances of people dying by suicide by gun than those with strict laws. Specifically, this is how they define the “strength” of a law:

The VPC defined states with “weaker” gun violence prevention laws as those that add little or nothing to federal law and have permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public. States with “stronger” gun violence prevention laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation that is absent from federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous and deadly types of firearms (for example, assault weapons), setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and restricting the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public.

There are so many other causal factors and elements to this study that are ignored, it’s not even funny. Let’s just consider the number of deaths attributed to firearms as a whole. We’re going to borrow some data from Giffords Law Center. That should be alright by fellow pinko gun grabber VPC, right? 

The STATE OF GUN VIOLENCE 50 State Factsheets put out by Giffords in 2020 tells an interesting story. The data I do believe is from 2019, but they don’t actually say that on the report. They also don’t have these “factsheets” available for other years that I could find, or at least not readably available.

The data we’re going to look at from the Giffords sheets has to do with % of all gun deaths that are suicides versus what we assume to be murders/violence. While Sugarmann’s group is clicking their heels about their numbers, they’re actually a very sad representation of what’s going on in our country.

We’ll work our way backwards.

New Jersey

Nearly 40% of gun deaths in New Jersey are suicides, and nearly a quarter of all suicide deaths in New  Jersey involve firearms.

New York

Nearly 54% of gun deaths in New York are suicides, and more than 27% of all suicide deaths in New York involve firearms.

Rhode Island

Nearly 70% of gun deaths in Rhode Island are suicides, and more than a quarter of all suicide deaths in Rhode Island involve firearms.

Montana

More than 85% of gun deaths in Montana are suicides, and nearly 63% of all suicide deaths in Montana involve firearms. 

Alaska

More than 70% of all gun deaths in Alaska are suicides, and 63% of all suicide deaths in Alaska involve firearms. 

Wyoming

Nearly 86% of gun deaths in Wyoming are suicides, and more than 63% of all suicide deaths in Wyoming involve firearms. 

What does that all mean? That means that 60% of the deaths in NJ that are attributed to firearms are presumed to be murders, as are 46% in New York. Rhode Island is “nearly” neck in neck with Alaska, which is showing a firearm death rate due to suicide “more than” 70%. That means that over 30% of the firearm deaths in Rhode Island are violent, and less than 30% for Alaska.

Maybe Alaska and Rhode Island can be our outliers for a multitude of reasons. Geography? Seasonal changes? Proximity to other states? Body shaming complexes over their sizes, smallest and biggest states in the Union? But looking at the remaining states of Montana and Wyoming, only 14-15% of the deaths via firearms are violent in nature.

The state that they’re claiming is the worst, Wyoming, has people that are more willing to use a firearm on themselves rather than turn them on others 85+% of the time. While New Jersey, being painted as some sort of a bastion of safety, has a staggering rate of 60% of gun deaths being murder. The numbers don’t look so good in this light do they?

We can extend this further if VPC would like. Massachusetts, the most violent state in New England has a rate of 44% deaths due to firearm violence versus New Mexico’s 32%.

I also like to bring up New Hampshire, neighboring violent Massachusetts, a permitless carry state with not too bad gun laws, has over a 90% rate of deaths via firearm by suicide. This means that less than 10% of the gun deaths in the Granite State are violent in nature. 

What we’re actually seeing if we look closely at the numbers is that states with so-called “weaker” gun laws have fewer instances of deaths caused by violence with firearms than the states with “stronger” gun laws. Are there outliers? Sure. But trying to sum up every single possible variable for every single state cannot be done through a one page article and chart by a group that, in my opinion, knowingly puts out false information, any more than we can do so in a 1700+ word article.

Our more “civilized” states have people more apt to murder others as coping mechanisms rather than end their own lives.

I think it’s humorous that Sugarmann’s group keeps on sending out e-blasts patting themselves on the back with all the great work they’re doing. It’s probably time for them to hang it up and retire. Clearly they’ll do whatever they have to, to make whatever point they want. He can’t accuse me of manipulating the numbers, I did get them from Giffords, who we have to assume is trustworthy in his book, no?

The topic of death by suicide by firearm is complex and not one that can easily be solved by calling laws “weak” or “strong”. Groups that want to force everyone to store their firearms in a certain manner are also off base. The grander question all of these so-called academics should be asking themselves is “Why do so many people want to end their lives?” I think if our “big brains” looked into the causal factors rather than the devices used, we’d be treating the problem, not mitigating symptoms.