Who Gets Shot In The United States? You May Be Surprised By The Answers

God Bless America. Higher rate of gun shootings than in Great Britain, Switzerland, Canada, Israel, Sweden or West Germany.

Meme by McCallister Bryant. ShootFromTheLeftHip.wordpress.com.

Who gets shot in the United States? Thanks to congressional conservatives in the 1990s, it has been nearly impossible for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to compile national statistics on gun-related deaths and injuries, so that’s a hard question to answer. A private source would have to research and compile the deaths in each state individually, and doing so would be incredibly difficult. Many gun incidents are never reported in local or other media, especially suicides. Yet that’s just what Jennifer Mascia, an assistant editor for the New York Times, set out to do for Joe Nocera’s NYT blog.

With 350 posts and over 40,000 deaths cataloged, the project is done. According to a post published by Nocera titled The Last Gun Report, “…a few months ago, I began to feel that we had made the point already. Day after day, week after week, there was a numbing sameness to the shootings. And to be blunt, most of those who posted comments were not getting closer to finding common ground than when we began. So I decided that it was time to bid it adieu.”

And what did those stats say? Well, predictably, many deaths were the result of gun crimes. Either direct murders, or killings in the commission of another crime, such as robbery or home invasion. Those are the people conservatives are talking about when they say that “criminals are going to get guns either way.” When they’re saying that, they’re ignoring ease of access and the difference that it makes, but it’s also somewhat true. Yet an astonishing number of deaths came from another source, as Jennifer Mascia outlined in her recent piece for Raw Story:

But while half of the shootings I featured were the result of a crime, the other half, I was most surprised to learn, resulted from arguments — often fueled by alcohol — among friends, neighbors, family members and romantic partners. More and more, people are solving their differences not with their fists but with guns. Husbands and wives are shooting each other, as are sisters and brothers. In many homes across America, loaded guns are easily accessible, and children find them, accidentally shooting themselves or each other. One hundred children died in unintentional shootings in the year after Newtown, which breaks down to two every week.

Yet how do you prevent people that aren’t criminals — yet — from acquiring weapons before they ever pull the trigger? Well, there isn’t any simple and clean answer. More likely, a multitude of things will have to be done, helping in small ways to stem the flow of violence. Mascia points out Japan, for example, where obtaining a gun is extremely difficult. Japan has 41 percent of our population, but thanks to their strict laws, they have less four ten-thousandths of a percent the number of shootings* as the United States per year.

That’s right —  Japan compared to the U.S. in people shot has a ratio 0.00035 to one. For several reasons that should be rather obvious, we would never be able to regulate weapons that well — their laws are unconstitutional, by our standards, and the United States has thousands upon thousands of miles of open border that a smaller island nation will never have to contend with. Yet there are lessons to be learned, and we should be paying attention. Keeping statistics is a good start, and actively designing or replacing public policy to combat current problems is another tip our government could learn from.

And there are other options as well. Smart guns, which can’t be fired by anyone the owner doesn’t want firing the weapon, would drastically reduce the number of violent teen suicides as well as limit the chances of your weapon being taken and used against you during the course of a robbery or home invasion. The NRA has attacked them for allegedly endangering the Second Amendment, largely through slippery slope fallacies. Those same fallacies — you may see the connection — have led weapons anarchy proponents to actually threaten gun shop owners who wanted to sell smart guns.

How about liability? In many states, there are laws that require firearms to be kept in a safe or otherwise locked away. If your gun is stolen because you did not secure it well enough, it stands to reason you should have some kind of punitive measure, especially if the gun is later used in the commission of a violent crime. Also, universal background checks shouldn’t even be a question, and most Americans agree.

Whatever the solution, pressure can’t stop. The arms lobby is powerful, and Republicans have stalled action again and again. There has to be push back.

*I arrived at that number by referencing three years data (2008 through 2010, averaged) published by the Brady Campaign here and sourced here (CDC estimate). The average number of shootings (deaths and injuries) was 102,923. That data was cross-referenced with information from Japan’s National Police Agency, under Publications of the Police Policy Research Center. “Crime in Japan in 2010” (PDF) shows there were 35 shootings during 2010.