"Gun deaths" high, but that's the wrong way to view things

The term “gun death” is a phrase used by the media to describe any kind of fatality that results from a gunshot. It’s a preferred term for gun control activists and their buddies in the media because it conflates homicides, accidents, and suicides all into one lump number.

And, according to some, “gun deaths” hit a new all-time high in 2021.

Gun deaths continued to surge across the United States in the second year of the pandemic, reaching 48,832 in 2021, according to provisional data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. It now stands as the highest single-year tally on record, up 8 percent from the previous record in 2020, when 45,222 people died of gunshot wounds.

The data, published in July on the CDC’s WONDER database and first flagged by the gun reform group Giffords, suggest that firearms deaths, which surged past 40,000 for the first time in 2020, haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The CDC tracks mortality information via death certificates collected at the state level, and the provisional data may change slightly before it is finalized early next year. But a look at what is available now reveals some key statistics for anyone monitoring the magnitude of gun violence in America.

Firearm injury is now the 12th leading cause of death in the country, eclipsing car crashes for the fifth year in a row and jumping a spot from its 13th-place ranking in 2020. And the age-adjusted gun death rate, 14.8 per 100,000 people, was the highest since 1993, considered a high-water mark for American gun violence.

“People are dying by guns at an extraordinary rate,” said Eric Fleegler, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an emergency physician at Boston Children’s Hospital. Fleegler, who first began researching gun violence over a decade ago, pointed to the widespread social upheaval wrought by the pandemic, as well as a gun-buying surge that put more than 40 million guns in homes in 2020 and 2021.

Except that Fleegler, as a researcher, should understand that correlation doesn’t equal causation. A surge in buying guns does not necessarily have anything to do with a surge in “gun deaths.”

Especially since not all firearm injuries are created equal.

Suicide, for example, makes up the largest percentage of all firearm-related fatalities. Even if you remove the gun from the equation, people will still try to kill themselves and, contrary to what you hear in the media, will still be successful in doing so.

Homicides are a different animal, in part because it’s actually a dozen different animals. Mass shootings, for example, have little in common with an argument resulting in a shooting except that someone used a gun, making them all “gun deaths.”

Additionally, that correlation also exists among a number of other factors besides gun sales.

Remember that what we know definitively is the surge in firearm sales was at gun stores. These are people going through NICS checks. While face-to-face transfers were undoubtedly happening, the truth is most people were holding onto their guns, pushing still more into gun stores.

So these were folks who went through the background check process and were found not to be criminals. If background checks work as some claim, these cannot be the criminals causing all the problems, right?

But much of this also coincides with inflation, for example. Economic matters can drive people to become criminals or take their own life. That somehow never seems to factor into the equation during these kinds of stories. Funny how that is, isn’t it?

Now, understand, this continued spike in so-called gun deaths is troubling to me as well, but not because of the gun aspect. Any premature death is tragic. Unlike the activists, though, I don’t differentiate between knife deaths, drug deaths, or gun deaths. A murder is a murder and a suicide is a suicide and all should be treated as such.

Too bad some people can’t do that.