VPC Gun Death Dumb-Down

A recent news report revealed something astounding, namely that the Violence Policy Center is still in business (given the serial discrediting VPC and it’s head henchman Josh Sugarmann receive, that the VPC and Sugarmann are still active only proves that zombism may not be as fanciful as previously thought).

The recurring VPC con

The VPC recently stole some media recognition. They rehashed their previously debunked reporting of the alleged link between gun ownership rates and “gun deaths”. For new comers, whenever a member of the gun control industry uses the terms “gun death” it typically includes:

  • Suicides (63% of all “gun deaths”)
  • Legal interventions (plugging your rapist)
  • Accidents (tiny and dropping at 1.5%)
  • And then, finally, criminal homicides (what you normally think of as a “gun death”)

Their “analysis” looked at gun ownership and “gun death” rates from the top and bottom five states ranked by total “gun deaths” (e.g., all categories above). VPC’s numbers looked inaccurate as I spelunked through the Center for Disease Control database, but we never expected exactitude from the VPC.

Their insiuation is that when a large portion of the population in a state owns guns, people drop faster than pants at a Bill Clinton pool party. Where their “research” mainly goes astray is the subject of suicides. As reported here, cross-section studies show that firearm availability is not a determinate variable for suicide. Including suicides within the VPC’s report is intended to skew the numbers, in much the same way as the VPC intended to mislead the public about “assault weapons” (from their own web page: “Assault weapons … are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons – anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun – can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”).

The non-suprising reality

Firearm homicides, suicide and ownership ratesSo what does it mean if we evaluate suicides, and perhaps remove them from the conversation (since we have already proven that this is a mental health, and not a gun control issue)? The rate of firearm ownership means a little less than nothing … unless there are very few guns around.

Suicides: When we plot gun ownership rates (the big, blue shaded area in the back of the chart) against a trend line for suicide rates (green line), we see a similar slope. We know that a suicidal person with access to a gun will likely choose the gun to kill themselves. People without guns find different means, but are just as dead. Lithuanians have less than 1% the gun ownership rate of Americans but have a suicide rate more than three time larger (suicidal Lithuanians method of choice is hanging).

Homicide: Interestingly, the same trend analysis applied to firearm homicide rates indicates that fewer firearms somehow leads to more firearm homicides. Covarience is not cause-and-effect, and Washington D.C.’s staggering homicide rate certainly lifts the right-most end of the chart. But the effect is seen throughout the 51 instances measured. Even ignoring the trend line, we have to ponder why California has a slightly higher firearm homicide rate than Texas and Arkansas despite having signifcantly lower household firearm ownership rates (21%,  36% and 55% respectively).

The critical take-aways

  • Any reporter quoting a VPC press release should find a new line of work, perhaps involuntarily. That VPC publications have been continually debunked for ages, while they drink heavily from the Joyce Foundation money trough, is enough for any journalist to dismiss VPC agitprop.
  • Anyone discussing firearm policy must quit including suicides in the stats. Guns do not cause people to be suicidal, and lack of guns does not keep people from killing themselves. This is a mental health issue and is relegated to a different forum.
  • Someone should escort Josh Sugarmann to the old folks home. It appears that senile dementia has taken hold within his cranium.


firearm homicides and suicide rates per gun ownership without Washington D.C.I was challenged via email about the chart above, and how Washington D.C. might overly skew the firearm homicide trend line (an issue I noted in the original post). This person’s contention was that if the D.C. outlier were deleted, firearm homicide rates would not curve up as household firearm ownership rates drop.

Well, t’is not the case. Removing D.C. does, as anticipated, reduce the degree of curvature of the line, but the firearm homicide trend line still rises as private gun ownership declines.

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