The Trace Tries To Defend Using Suicide In Gun Statistics

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Suicide is one of those topics you never really want to have to deal with. After all, it’s not just unpleasant, but painful for millions of Americans. The idea of someone taking their own life is something that is the reality for so many people, something they’ve had to deal with.

Honestly, I’d rather we never have to talk about it here at Bearing Arms. After all, it’s not really an issue we should have to talk about. We’re a Second Amendment site and suicide is a mental health issue, right?

Unfortunately, it’s more than that. It’s also part of the gun debate, so we don’t have much choice in talking about it.

Over at The Trace, though, they’re much more open to making it into a thing.

Here at Ask The Trace, we’ve tended to avoid questions that are overtly political. But for this edition, we’re going to engage with one such query, because it touches on a fault line in our country’s conversation around guns.

They try to avoid political questions?

Oh, this is how you know it’s going to be hilarious. I mean, it’s The Trace. They’re like the anti-Bearing Arms. Their entire existence is political. They’re a site dedicated to advocacy masquerading as journalism, for crying out loud, and they’re saying they try to avoid questions about politics?

Yeah, I’m unconvinced.

Here’s the question, submitted by a reader named Tim: Why is the U.S. the only country to count suicide by gun as gun violence? Could it be only to inflate the gun violence numbers?

Yes, that’s precisely why.

Now, The Trace does note that other countries do include suicides into their gun violence statistics, so that first part of the question isn’t really relevant.

But yes, that’s why those numbers are included.

The Trace, however, disagrees.

Alpers said that any separation between homicides and suicides “is an artificial one. This data split is often exploited by those who consider gun suicide to be less ‘violent’ or preventable. Or unavoidable.”

With suicide, some people argue, there is no danger from another person, and most gun owners in America are armed for the purpose of self-defense. Mark Bryant, the founder of Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks shootings in near-real-time, includes suicides in his gun violence death toll but acknowledges that difference. “The common thread is guns,” he said, “While you can say that that is not necessarily a conflict between two people — and that is correct — it’s still part of the gun zeitgeist.” He and his team also track unintentional shootings, which are not the result of a conflict between two people but still considered to be gun violence.

Bryant also points out that self-harm isn’t always a solitary act. “With suicides, we like to say nobody else was hurt, but a lot of suicides are murder-suicides,” he said. There were 570 murder-suicides in the United States in 2020, resulting in 703 murders and 570 suicides.

Some are murder-suicides, but most aren’t. Not by a long shot. In 2020, there were 45,855 according to the CDC. Additionally, there were 21,500 homicides according to the FBI.

In other words, to try and claim murder-suicides are somehow a significant enough factor to make a profound difference on the discussion is ridiculous. The numbers just don’t support it.

But what about the idea that the common thread in both gun-related murders and suicides using firearms is the fact that a gun is used?

Well, some people use poison to kill others and some use it to kill themselves. Should we conflate those numbers when talking about poisons?

The implement used isn’t the point. We’ll concede that guns are used in suicides. That’s not even up for discussion.

However, the problem is that those total numbers–numbers that are often two-thirds suicides–are used to justify things like limits to magazine capacity, restrictions on certain types of weapons, universal background checks, and so on. In other words, things that aren’t even really designed to prevent suicides.

So why include them?

Plus, the potential solutions outside of any gun control discussion are drastically different. Suicide is a mental health issue and while homicide isn’t generally. You can fight murders through any number of strategies that seek to short-circuit a pathway that might lead toward a life of crime. The kind of mental illness that drives someone to take their own life, however, needs different interventions.

And that’s just touching on some of the profound differences.

Then let’s not forget that guns aren’t the only way to take a life, either. One can commit suicide with numerous other methods than a gun, which means any gun control measures being suggested for the prevention of suicides ignores all of those other methods. Yes, guns are the most effective method one can use to take their life, but there are others that are almost as effective.

What’s more, everyone knows this.

So why do they keep conflating these numbers? The answer really is to inflate the numbers of “gun deaths” as high as humanly possible. What you see above and what The Trace’s entire post contains isn’t reasoning, it’s rationalizing. They’re trying to convince you that there’s a good reason as well as trying to convince themselves.