Friday, April 26, 2013

Biting the Bullet

I'm going to add an abbreviated version of this information to my standing post on Gun Crime and People, but I ran into an interesting response from someone in the last two weeks that I wanted to share and consider.

As you know, statistically, cars are 4X as likely as guns to kill people -- even though cars are highly-regulated, and and not designed to kill, but guns are (as we are told) only designed for the purpose of killing. That statistic ought to speak directly to the effectiveness of regulation in curbing deaths when all the regulations on cars are intended to make them safer, but that's just me thinking like a person with nothing to lose in this debate.

The response I got to that recently was this [paraphrased]:
That statistic is BS because it doesn't speak to usage.  Cars are used every day, and even if they are 99.999% safe and harmless, a death rate of 0.001% multiplied by hundreds of millions times every day of the year is going to cause a pretty high death result no matter what.  Because guns are used less-often than cars, of course they are going to seem safer.
To which I say: good point -- interesting analysis.  But: not as true as it looks on the surface.  There's a good way to measure the real effective death rate of Guns -- and that's by the number of bullets consumed every year.  I say "good" and not "easy" because the statistic regarding how many bullets are produced every year is a little slippery -- there's not a definitive number or industry statement to link to.  However, The NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have reported that 10-12 billion rounds of ammo are produced domestically in the US every year, and there are billions more imported every year as well -- and those are the bullets sold at retail, not the bullets sold to the Military.  Let's use the low-ball number of 10 billion for the sake of this analysis.

So the first question is this: what's a reasonable assumption about how bullets are consumed?  Are all these bullets getting stock-piled, or are they getting used?  The right answer, of course, is "both," but I'd add a warning label to that answer: even a person who is stockpiling bullets in a pathological way is shooting in order to keep in marksmanship up, and to maintain his weapons.  But think about this:

10 billion bullets / 300 million guns =
34 bullets per gun

That's not a lot of bullets per gun -- it looks like someone shooting for practice maybe once per year.  At that rate, there isn't a lot of stockpiling going on.  But what that does mean is that almost all the bullets bought in a given year are being shot -- statistically speaking, if not actually.

So how many bullets a day are getting shot, statistically?

10 billion bullets / 365 days =
27.4 million bullets per day

Think about that: 27.3 million bullets per day.  Since there are roughly 26 fire arm homicides per day, that means that the rate of homicides per bullet is this:

26 homicides / 27.4 million bullets =
1 murder per 1 million bullets

Just to be utterly fair to our objector, here's the math for vehicular deaths per day:

85 deaths per day / 254 million vehicles =
1 death per 3 million vehicles

In that analysis, guess what?  Cars are safer than guns -- which should be a fantastic relief to everyone who has to get home from work today.  However: we are taking about the difference between an effective safety rate of 99.99991% (guns) and 99.99997% (vehicles) -- a difference of 0.00006%.

Let me put all of this into perspective for you: the odds of getting struck by lightning are 1/700,000 (according to National Geographics).  That means it's 4 times more likely to happen to you than being in a car accident.  But: it is 1.5 times more likely than you being killed by a bullet.

That's what we're talking about here when we're talking about guns, gun crime, and people: we're talking about laying down laws on the hundreds of millions of utterly-innocent gun owners for the sake of making the relatively-rare and already-illegal acts of the criminals somehow more illegal -- and more rare than lightning strikes.

Of course, when this gets out, President Obama many promise to legislate better weather.


David Ruzicka said...

Wow. Best post I've read on gun control. Good job.

Post a Comment