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Jane Ahlin, Published September 21 2013

Ahlin: Surprise, surprise: More firearms kill more people

A few days after America’s latest mass shooting, which took place at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and killed 13 people, a study on the connections between rates of gun ownership, firearm-related deaths, crime and mental illness was published. The study, featured in “The American Journal of Medicine,” compared gun statistics for 27 countries around the world. (Countries experiencing civil war were omitted.) The good old USA – where the National Rifle Association calls the shots (pun intended) – not only has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world but also has the highest rate of firearm deaths. Regardless of NRA rhetoric, the study also showed that high rates of gun ownership do not translate into lower crime rates. All our guns – 89 guns per 100 Americans – do nothing for our safety.

Although hardly shocking to any thinking person, the NRA nonsense about needing a “good guy” with a gun to stop a “bad guy” with a gun was shown to be myth. In fact, any notion that links gun ownership with a safer society is myth. Not that it matters. Politicians are so cowed by the NRA, there’s literally no chance fact will influence legislation. Instead, politicians bow their heads and pretend (once again) to be sobered by the latest mass shooting: Wow, they know how to look sad.

Sixty seconds later, they’ve moved on.

The Huffington Post carried a piece last week that outlined the toll of mass shootings since 2009 – 20 of them in total if the criteria is at least four people killed per shooting. To save space, we’ll stick to the seven that have occurred in the past nine months:

E Sept. 16, 2013, Washington, D.C., 13 dead;

E July 26, 2013, Hialeah, Fla., 7 dead;

E June 7, 2013, Santa Monica, Calif., 6 dead;

E April 24, 2013, Manchester, Ill., 5 dead;

E April 21, 2013, Federal Way, Wash., 5 dead;

E March 13, 2013, Herkimer County, N.Y., 5 dead; and

E Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown, Conn., 27 dead.

By the way, were the bar lowered from “at least four killed” to “at least four injured,” the number of mass shootings in 2013 so far would be just about 250. Why, just this past Thursday, 13 people were injured in a Chicago shooting, three critically.

The study referenced above also showed that high rates of mental illness – particularly major depression – did not affect the overall crime rates of countries. And although there was a positive correlation between mental illness and gun deaths, it was not nearly as pronounced as the correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. In other words, the insistence of the NRA and gun lobby that mental illness is the major factor when shootings occur appears to be a red herring, an excuse for inaction.

“Ah,” the NRA lackeys might say, “that’s only one study.”

Yes, indeed. So let’s propose many more studies. A letter written after the Newtown massacre to Vice President Joe Biden that was signed by 100 university researchers from across the country called for increasing “unbiased scientific research and data …” on the public health concern of gun violence.

The problem is the gun lobby with the help of Congress shut down government funding for research on gun violence. For example, from 1973 to 2012 there were 65 cases of rabies in the USA, and the NIH funded 89 rabies studies. In the same time period, there were more than

4 million firearm injuries. And the number of NIH studies? Three. Even the wimpiest politicians must “get” the perversity of that disparity.

America needs to know the role mental illness plays in firearm injuries and death. We need impartial research on all the elements of gun violence. Of course, for that to happen we’d need gun advocates who aren’t afraid of the truth.


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.