Thursday, 31 January 2013

Tidbits, Morsels and Jingles

A few days ago, Mike Huckabee stated on his show that more deaths were caused each year in the United States from hammers than from rifles. Let’s imagine for a minute that this is true (it’s not). It’s precisely the kind of obscure and misleading tidbit that diminishes the very important debate that we’re having in this country. More people were killed in 2011 from falling out of bed (400) than from explosives (2). Does this justify the widespread dissemination of dynamite? Huckabee’s trivia has already made the rounds on the blogosphere, and I’ve had the misfortune of being further enlightened about this by a certain unpleasant aunt.

Those on the right of the gun control debate soak up these little morsels, because they intimate what many believe to be the key logical trap of gun control advocates: If we get rid of guns, people will pick up knives; if we get rid of knives, people will pick up bats. Where does it end? Do we sequester ourselves in elaborate panic rooms?  These are feckless attempts to paint the position of gun control in a farcical light—one devoid of common sense.

And then, of course, we have the pabulum: “Violence isn’t in guns, it’s in people’s hearts.” “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” While both have some merit, neither denies that guns play a critical role in facilitating hatred, violence and exaggerating the consequences of emotional reactions and rash behavior.

The right wing rely on tidbits, morsels and jingles that are catchy and convenient, but neglect to tell the whole story. Huckabee, for instance, got his morsel of trivia from a article by Awr Hawkins, which was then picked up by Fox news. It stated that “In 2011, there was 323 murders committed with a rifle but 496 murders committed with hammers and clubs.”

While the numbers are accurate, per se, they are selectively chosen, cherry-picking certain data and relegating others in order to support a desired thesis, which draws a deceiving picture. In science, we’re meant to disprove our hypotheses, or desired findings. Just the opposite is true of propagandistic commentators.

The truth is that in 2011, 32,163 people were killed by firearms in the United States. Of a total of 15,953 homicides in the same year, 11,101 were from firearms. Of 38,285 suicides, 19,766 were from firearms. Moreover, there were an additional 55,554 non-fatal gun injuries in 2011.

However, highlighting the preposterous amount of gun violence in the United States is not the priority (nor the job) of Hawkins, Huckabee, Brietbart or Fox News. Although they operate under the pretext of divulging information, they are actually concealing it. Consider Hawkins’ starting fact: “Think about it. In 2005, the number of murders committed with a rifle was 445, while the number of murders committed with hammers and clubs was 605.

Sure I’ll think about it. In fact, I’ll go see what your source says.

These numbers come from an FBI report, which reveals that in 2005, there were in fact 445 people killed with rifles and 608 people killed with blunt objects, including hammers and clubs. What is also in the report—which neither Hawkins nor Huckabee mention—is that 522 people were killed with shotguns, 7,565 people killed with handguns, 1,488 people killed with an unidentified class of firearm, and 138 people killed with an uncategorized type of firearm, totaling 10,158 people murdered in 2005 with a gun.

So our 2005 homicide count? Blunt objects: 608. Firearms: 10,158. And that number has only increased in the past 7 years. When we look at all the facts, the gun control advocates don’t look so silly after all. Neither Hawkins nor Huckabee outright lied. What they’re guilty of is truncating the facts and omitting key elements of the truth…which is as good as lying.  

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