When the topic of gun control comes up, there are a few numbers most people are going to refer to. In particular, anti-gunners will almost always cite the total number of firearm-related fatalities in this country. That number is the total number of people who die as a result of a gunshot, and it’s a controversial number because it also includes suicides, which are a mental health issue rather than a criminal one.
Recently, one study did separate the two, at least to some degree.
However, it’s also seriously flawed in one key aspect.
I’ve written on this conflation of “gun violence” with “homicide” and “suicide” before (such as Faux Science: Claim that homicides surged under Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law), but in the past few days another large “gun violence” study that does precisely this has been published–The Impact of State Firearm Laws on Homicide and Suicide Deaths in the USA, 1991–2016: a Panel Study–and we’ll be seeing a lot of “news” stories based on this study in the usual gun control media (but I repeat myself).
The stated objective of this study is: “To examine the relationship between state firearm laws and overall homicide and suicide rates at the state level across all 50 states over a 26-year period.” (I note in passing that the study is behind a paywall and requires $39.95 to access the full text. This cost helps ensure that few private individuals will critically read the actual study, and instead will necessarily rely on the #fakenews anti-Second Amendment propagandized interpretation of the study.)
So, let’s take a look at why it’s scientific malfeasance to conflate “gun violence” with “homicide” and “suicide.”
“Homicide” ≠ “Unlawful gun violence”
Using “homicide” as a synonym for criminal conduct is unforgivably stupid at the best or aggressively malicious at worst, and in either case fatally undermines the credibility of the study’s authors.
Why? Because homicide literally simply means one person killed another, and not all homicides are, in fact, criminal conduct. Some homicides are unlawful killings, such as murder or manslaughter. Other homicides are not only lawful, but arguably a social good—such as a single mother shooting and killing the man attempting to rape and maim her and her child.
Researchers who study “gun violence” by examining “homicides” are conflating criminal predation and lawful self-defense, and essentially arguing that there is no legal or moral distinction between them. I disagree. And so does the law.
I tend to make that same mistake. I tend to look at homicide numbers in aggregate while not differentiating between justifiable homicides and criminal homicides. I know it, but I tend to fail to articulate it. I need to do better on that.
Author Andrew Branca, an attorney, also points out that suicide is a mental health issue rather than a criminal one, which is true.
However, this is the push we continue to see being made. The arguments I see coming from the anti-gun side seem to be shifting more and more toward suicide prevention rather than talking about crime. That’s probably because we routinely see crime rates drop as gun laws are liberalized (versus them being Liberalized).
But when it comes to discussions of homicides, we need to understand that not all homicides are the same. I’m speaking to myself as well as anyone else who needs to hear it.