Recently, a former co-worker challenged me on Facebook with the claim that the number killed in all wars waged by the U.S. was less than the number killed by firearms in the U.S. in the last 30 years. Sadly, at the time I was fighting a 104 degree fever and finally told him so and that I would address the statistic and his question of how this would affect my stance on gun control later. Well, it is later, and it is time to do so.
I’ve had some problem pulling up the exchange on Facebook, thanks to Facebook. That said, I think I can address his points without reviewing the specific exchange.
To start, one immediate problem I had at the time, and still have, with treating the statistics as valid is with one of his two prime sources: Wikipedia. As someone who has taught, including at the college level, I don’t take anything on that site as gospel unless I have multiple valid citations to back it up. Wikipedia can be a great tool for starting research, but it is not valid on its own. I also have issues with how the CDC presents some its data, as the CDC changed the way it presented such several years ago when it went after additional funding by declaring firearms a public health matter. They are not a neutral source, and one does sometimes have to do some digging and additional work to ensure accurate numbers. The term “follow the money” comes to mind…
That said, I will — for the sake of discourse — accept the figures given as valid. The number of firearm deaths in the U.S. over the last 30 years is more than have been killed in Iraq, the global war on terror, and all other U.S. wars, etc.
Let’s parse this a bit and get to the meat of the argument.
First, the figure is designed to elicit an emotional response in those seeing it, and one can’t deny the validity of that emotional response because it is backed by fact. Logical fallacy one.
Actually, yes, you can argue with the emotional response, and should note that the figure itself is meaningless. First, by creating an arbitrary period of time it is always possible to make X exceed Y, with this case X being those killed by firearms within the period of time and/or a geographic location to exceed those killed doing/during Y, combat. Secondly, it is an apple and orange comparison (logical fallacy two for those keeping count) as the two are not the same nor are they valid comparisons. It is easy to take death by X and compare it to a valid (though not truly comparable) number — we do it all the time, such as with automobile deaths (see http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx). In 2010 alone there were more than 30,000 deaths from automobile accidents of all types. Yet, the deaths occur under very different circumstances that can’t truly be compared. As a statistic, both are meaningless when presented in a stand-alone fashion. At the risk of being pedantic, taking any statistic in isolation is a logical fallacy as it has no meaning. The relevance of any data point lies in its relationship to other congruent and comparable data points.
The implication of the challenge given (though I think it was denied) was to imply that we as a society are more violent than war. Bullshit. If you look at gun crime over the same period of time, guess what trend you see? Go on, do some research, it will do you good and you might be more willing to accept the result if you do. For that matter, take a look at other causes, such as hand tools, knives, etc. Also, look up the deadliest school slaughter in the United States, as in Bath school — firearms were not used and the toll was far higher because they used explosives. Also, look up the difference in the number of deaths where there was an armed citizen present and those cases where die experten were the only ones to respond. Hint, the difference is huge.
Also, if you do accept the CDC and related data as accurate, look at homicide deaths versus automobile deaths, which are almost double in number. Then, compare firearm related homicides to automobile deaths, almost three times the number. By the logic implicit in the figure cited by the former co-worker, you must, MUST, do something immediately about automobiles, those savage killers. That is, if you insist on following logical fallacies and believing that inanimate objects just go and do things on their own… Also, look at the number of firearm uses for self defense in a year, and compare that to homicides and homicides involving firearms.
I suspect few will take the time to do the research, so here are four articles with citations you should read — and if any cite Wikipedia, do take the time to look at further citations.
I really shouldn’t get into what was implied by the statistic and the question, but I also felt that the implications did need some dissection. And exposure to light and scrutiny. I will avoid for now the huge number of gun laws already on the book, and how criminals and other evil types rarely (cough, cough, choke, wheeze) rarely obey them. I will suggest contemplating that enforcing the laws already on the books might make more sense than simply adding more, unless of course the new laws are not about regulation and safety at all…
However, to answer the challenge: No, the statistic does nothing to alter my opinion on guns, gun control, or anything else. It is meaningless in terms of rational discourse, much less comparative statistics. It in no way changes or alters any other facts in evidence. The data point may be valid per se, but it has no meaning other than attempting to influence emotion via logical fallacy.