If you turn on news these days and watch it regularly for any amount of time, you would likely come away with two conclusions about life in America. Those conclusions would probably be: 1. Deaths by gun are rampant and out of control and 2. Deaths by terrorists are at an all time high. You will likely come away fearful or apprehensive about your safety and the future of our country.
Every time that I hear of a mass shooting it saddens me greatly. What a horrific, cowardly act for someone to indiscriminately shoot other human beings and take their lives. It is senseless and I will never quite understand the sickness, hatred and/or desperation that drives a human being to so ruthlessly take the life of another.
The news coverage following these events is hard to watch. The bias of the different media organizations comes through as do the political agendas of so many who have that platform at their disposal. Politicians unashamadley use the victims to push a political agenda. Unfortunately, these platforms and agendas are often abused by complete fabrications, half truths and fear mongering with the ultimate goal of selling copies of a given publication, thereby driving up TV ratings or passing legislation.
My attitude about these shootings is almost always the same. I think of what a great tragedy they are and then ponder over how can we as a society help those who would act in such a manner. There must be constructive ways to help avoid such ruthless and disturbing actions. I think my reaction is similar to a lot of Americans. Yet, when you listen to the talking heads of radio and TV, it is almost always the same. It always gets boiled down to a miserably inaccurate and overly emotional debate about the place of guns in American society. Too many of us blindly swallow what the news media tells us without really making the effort to challenge and prove out what we are hearing.
The Truth About Deaths by Guns
When you take a step back and look at the statistics of deaths by cause in America, it paints a drastically different picture than that portrayed by journalists and the news media outlets. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) publishes annual statistics detailing the cause of death in Amerca each year. For purposes of this blog entry, I will use the statistics of 2012, which can be found on the CDC’s website (www.cdc.gov). In 2012, nearly 50% of all deaths in the United States were caused by heart disease (23.5%) and cancer (22.5%) for a total of 1.2 million deaths between the two causes. After that the percentages drop dramatically and includes the next two highest causes: respiratory diseases (5.7%) and then accidents or unintentional injuries (5.0%). Death by firearms, of which mass shootings are included, totaled 33,636 of which about 64% (http://www.newsweek.com/2015/10/02/americas-biggest-gun-problem-suicide-374547.html) were ruled suicides. That leaves us with around 12,000 deaths that were homicides by firearm. This number would place death by firearm well below 15th place on the list of causes of death among Americans. Suicide by firearm incidentally would rank squarely at the 15th place of causes of death. Ironically, when the media talks about the suicide issue in America, guns are hardly ever pegged as the main problem, but rather they cite things such as “clinical depression, financial woes and drug problems”.
However, when you look at the top 15 news stories of 2012 (http://www.people-press.org/2012/12/20/timeline-top-news-stories-of-2012/), you will find extensive coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the terrorist attack in Benghazi and the Trayvon Martin shooting. Those four stories represented 26% of the top news stories for 2012. It seems to me to be far out of proportion given the actual statistics of deaths by terrorism and gunfire, each cause respectively well below 5% of total deaths. So, given these cold, hard facts, why is it that we spend so much time and energy talking and debating about gun control when statistically speaking, it does not appear to be a problem worth the energy? Really, if we were honest with ourselves, the leading news stories each night and the debates in the public square and Congress ought to be how we can reduce deaths by heart attack and cancer, which are gigantic problems, statistically speaking. You have far greater odds of dying from falling down the stairs than of being killed by gunfire (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/02/daily-chart-7?fsrc=scn/tw/te/dc/dangerofdeath).
Now, lest you accuse me of being an insensitive jerk, my argument is not to say that we shouldn’t do anything to try and reduce homicides by gunfire, instead my argument is that we are allowing ourselves to be driven into a debate that could potentially result in limited personal freedoms by the sensationalistic news media that is fear-mongering its agenda right into your life. I’m simply saying that we should stand back from the ledge of irrational fear and examine the problem for what it really is: not much of a problem at all. Statistically speaking, there are much bigger problems in America that deserve our attention and energy.
The political left loves to indulge in the emotional, heart-string-tugging, tear-jerk anecdotal stories to make its argument about taking guns away or severely restricting their use by citizens. The political right uses fantastically ridiculous arguments such as that armed citizens reduce crime, that more guns means less crime and that if you register your gun it is only so the government has a list of gun owners so that they know who you are when the time comes to confiscate your gun. In my opinion, given the aforementioned cited statistics, it is just as ridiculous to make an argument that you need to carry a gun for your protection as it is to say that confiscating guns will result in greater public safety.
The reality is that there are more guns than ever in America and yet gun violence has dropped dramatically after 1990 and has remained relatively stable for the last 15 years or so (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2015/08/graphics-americas-guns). So, I think it reasonable to conclude that no amount of laws or lack of laws seems to be contributing to much of a change in the rate of gun deaths. Deaths by gun violence is not even a blip on the radar of death causes. Yet in spite of this, we continue to beat the proverbial dead horse, using ridiculous emotional and hyperbolic arguments to defend our positions. It is energy that could be better used to solve a whole host of other, more pressing and real national problems.
Truth About Death by Terrorists
The same logic applies when considering the current state of threat from terrorist organizations. For the sake of consistency, I will use statistics for 2012 to make a similar point regarding deaths by terrorists. In 2012, according to CNN, the total American deaths by terrorist were 18. Yes, that number is correct. Since September 11, 2001 (an outlier year), the number of terrorist caused deaths has declined and remained fairly consistent year after year (http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/02/us/oregon-shooting-terrorism-gun-violence/). Yet, that statistic probably surprises you given the inflated amount of news time and political speech spent on the horrors of ISIS and other terrorist organizations. The Atlantic Magazine reported that “a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/americans-are-as-likely-to-be-killed-by-their-own-furniture-as-by-terrorism/258156/). It makes you wonder why we spend so much time, energy and American resources into fighting terrorism, which we do it rather ineffectively, in my opinon.
There is no doubt in my mind that ISIS and other terrorist organizations constitute a genuine treat to America, its people and interests. We certainly can’t ignore the threat. However, I wonder how much better off we would be if we avoided inciting hatred in a relative handful of religious extremist nut-jobs by not meddling in parts of the world we should avoid in the first place. Does the notorious threat levels that our government issue help us or hurt us? How much more helpful to the American physche would it be if the news media placed the terrorist threat in the appropriate context?
It is very easy to point the finger at the news media, though in my opinion they do shoulder a large portion of the blame. Yet we as consumers of the media readily fall prey to our intrinsic need to rubber-neck at the traffic accident. We want the salacious, gory and sensational stories. The fact that Mr. Robinson died of a heart attack yesterday morning doesn’t do it for us. We are the ones that look to our government with irrational fears and beg them, at the expense of our own personal freedoms, to protect us from a statistically improbable event. We don’t watch the news unless something crazy is occurring. The media knows this better than anyone and so do politicians, ever looking for an excuse to increase their own power base. Ultimately, it is our fault, for we feed the beast through our inability to do a little homework and think for ourselves.
It is easy to get caught up in the tidal wave of fear and hopelessness that the media, especially the 24 hour cable news stations, who consistently and irresponsibly beat an incessant drumbeat of fear and sensationalism to drive up ratings. My challenge and the point of this blog entry, is that no matter your political position, to just take a breath and chill. Think things through and see the bias of others and look to the facts. The probabilities of you dying by gunshot or terrorist bomb are so ridiculously low that it is pointless to worry or fret over it, much less willingly surrender your freedom because of it.