We all know this story well because we've lived it over and over again. Something tragic happens like what took place in Aurora, Colorado yesterday. Pretty soon people are screaming at each other trying to point the finger of blame. That screaming past each other is called a conversation and goes on for a few days until we find the next thing to get hysterical about. Nothing changes.
Unfortunately, it is only within that context that we ever talk about guns. And that's why we never do anything sensible about them. At a moment like this, not many people are interested in facts and reason.
But I'm going to take this opportunity to give it a go and present some of the facts I've found about them.
First off is a chart I found a few years ago that challenges the narrative we tend to create about the problem. Please click through to take a look at it. If I post it here, it gets too small to read.
This chart was created following the Virginia Tech shootings and relies on gun deaths in 2004. But I doubt the overall situation has changed much since then. First of all the shocker...that year 81 people died every day as a result of guns. The gray bullets indicate homicides, the pink represent suicides and the yellow either accidents or police shootings.
When we're not reacting to a tragedy like what happened in Aurora yesterday, the media usually focuses on the 12 black men between the ages of 18-39 that are killed each day with guns. But what this chart tells us is that the real death toll is the 36 white men who commit suicide with a gun every day - the vast majority of whom (25) are over 40 years old. Just imagine what a different conversation we'd be having about guns if that story were told!
Following the shootings in Arizona, Richard Florida pulled together some fascinating data about gun deaths. First of all, a breakdown of how many/100,000 people by state.
The concentration is in states we don't normally hear about - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Nevada and Alaska.
Then Florida took this information and charted statistical correlations between gun deaths per state and other factors...noting that this speaks to correlation, not causation.
The things that correlate strongly with gun deaths are (1) states that voted for McCain, (2) poverty level, (3) an economy dominated by working class jobs, and (4) rates of high schoolers carrying weapons on school grounds.
That doesn't paint the picture we most often think about when we talk about gun violence.
I present this information not because I'm pushing any particular solution, but to challenge the narratives in our heads about gun deaths in our culture. If we want to get serious about what to do - we first need to know what the problem looks like.