It looks like, despite what Sabrina Tavernise and Maxine Bernstein preach, that suicide is really a mental health issue and does not have anything to do with firearms.
Oregonian journalist, Maxine Bernstein, is a crafty fabricator, and I cannot help but believe her editor, Peter Bhatia, knows it. Yet Bhatia still placed Bernstein’s anti-gun, white-male-hating article, Identifying, Preventing the Growth of a Killer, on the front page of the December 12, 2013 edition of The Oregonian like an enormous weeping boil. By using great care to game her facts and statistics, Bernstein soundly blames America’s culture of manly, competitive self-sufficiency for our high murder and suicide rates as well as all of our gun violence. Except pretty much everything she wrote is wrong. I am here to set the record straight.
Guns Cause Suicides? Really?
First off, do not believe Maxine B when she implies that America’s plethora of privately owned firearms lead to a huge increase in suicides and violent deaths. She is lying like a bad toupee. For instance, she says that Americans shoot each other at least seven times more than the good citizens from India shoot each other. That is because Indians, for the most part, are not allowed to own guns. What Classy Maxie forgot to mention is that the combined rate of suicide and violent death in India is more than 40% higher than America’s, and combined rate of France is only a scant 10% lower than the U.S. rate. About 639 Indians commit suicide every day, mostly by hanging. The same goes for the French – despite owning more than 30 guns per 100 citizens, the French still prefer to hang themselves. The bottom line is the global average of 175 countries for suicide is about 9.5 per 100,000 in population, and America’s suicide rate is about 10.4 per 100,000 in population. There is absolutely no global correlation between increased rates of gun ownership and increase rates of suicide. However, there is a direct correlation between decreasing rates of lawful gun ownership and increasing rates of violent deaths.
The White Man Does Bad Again
Next good ol’ Maxibad makes the claim that violence be Whitey’s fault. “Between 1982 and 2001, for example, white men were responsible for all but two of the mass shootings inside middle schools and high schools.” Nice try, chicken, but let’s go again. The FBI definition for a mass shooting (or mass event) is four or more injuries in one event. Between 1980 and 2013 there were 37 mass school shootings and 1 mass bombing that occurred at elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges, involving approximately 41 perpetrators. Only 25 were white males. Let’s break that down for Mizz Bernstein.
- 9% of America’s criminals are women. 7% of the mass event perps were women.
- 12.6% of America’s population is African-American. About 19% of the mass event perps were black.
- 4.8% of America’s population is Asian. 10% of the mass event perps were Asian.
- 0.9% of America’s population is native. One mass event perp was Native American.
- 16.4% of America’s population is Hispanic. One mass event perp was Hispanic.
- 0.8% of America’s population is Muslim. One mass event perp was Persian.
- 72.4% of America’s population is white. 61% of the perps be Whitey.
The single most common thread tying most of the killers together is their collective history of mental illness, not their “whiteness.” About 40 years ago or so, progressives like Maxine Bernstein (and her expert, PSU psych-guy, Eric Mankowski, dare I say) decided to take the mentally ill out of the institutions and put them on the street. Crazy people wandering loose do crazy things and today, thanks to left-wing progressives, it is almost impossible to put them in an institution until it is way too late. As for providing quality psych services for the at-risk population, that ain’t gonna happen, either. About half of all psychiatrists refuse to accept patients on medicare or medicaid. That, not lawfully owned firearms, equals dead educators and dead students.
Testosterone – Fact or Fiction
Last, for some reason Maxine B wants to imply that men being aggressive is something new and dangerous, and society needs to reprogram (prenatally, no less – Gattaca anyone?) its young men to be… well… to be women. Men just need to cry more and strive less, I guess. Men would never be competitive or self-sufficient unless society taught them so. Yes, that is right, folks, testosterone is not a ubiquitous endogenous male hormone, rather it is a taught behavior. Darwin had it all wrong, don’t ya know. Before guns existed men only wore pastels, always played nice and took turns being king. Before guns existed, the world was not a vicious place where men hacked each other to bits with swords, burned villages and raped women. Really Maxine? What history have you been reading? Holy shit! The fact is, in the real world the rate of violence has been declining for centuries. Too bad the left-wingers are creating such a vast fiction. I suppose just about now the U.S. Secret Service is labeling me a threat because I strive for success and self-sufficiency rather than relying on the nanny state for everything while crying myself to sleep every night.
Fish In A Barrel – With a Bullseye
All this makes me wonder what is wrong inside Maxine Bernstein’s head? What is wrong with her editor, Peter Bhatia? The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States no more sanctions obfuscation, disinformation and lies than the Second Amendment sanctions murder. Yet, while murderers go to prison, journalists like Maxine B hide within the folds of the First Amendment cloak so they can lie with utter impunity and call it journalistic integrity. Unfortunately, no single psychological profile or set of warning signs can reliably predict which journalists will undermine the Constitution of the United States or be the next mass fabricator. Simply put, it is a buyer-beware industry. Journalists write, but it is the citizen’s responsibility to fact-check, not Peter Bhatia’s. Oh, and a message to Maxine – Honesty earns respect.
With her employer’s journalistic reputation on the line, New York Times journalist Sabrina Tavernise researched and wrote an article blaming America’s gun culture for the majority of suicides in the United States. Using classic combination of anecdotes, testimonials, hand-picked statistics, Tavernise presented her case to her American readers, hoping, perhaps even praying, no one would check her work. Sorry, Sabrina, you’re busted.
Tavernise tells a truly heart-wrenching story of a father who found his son dead on the floor, cradling his great-uncle’s pistol. She then presents some suicide facts. In 2010 nearly 20,000 despondent Americans died from self-inflicted gunshots and over 10,000 Americans were murdered with a firearm. In America, these numbers dwarf all other means of suicide and murder. It is a natural gut reaction to blame the method (guns) for the problem (suicide and murder), and Tavernise has unconditionally thrown her lot in with that camp.
Before we follow Tavernise’s lead, let’s back up a step or two and look at the world stage. The global average suicide rate for all countries is about 9.5 deaths per 100,000 in population, the average rate among countries with a per capita GDP above $23,000 is about 8.9, and the U.S. is about 10.3. Globally, self-strangulation by hanging is far-and-away the most popular means of successful suicide. America is the only country where guns dominate suicide statistics. According to the World Health Organization (World Report on Violence and Health, pg 196) the method chosen for suicide is simply a gauge of determination. Hanging, jumping, and firearms are the quickest, most effective methods. If someone is really bent on suicide they will pick one of these three. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Monaco all have suicide rates well above the U.S., yet private ownership of firearms is virtually banned in those countries. This theory that Tavernise is promoting, that firearms literally sing a Siren’s song to despondent Americans telling them to kill themselves, is nothing more than a crafty bit of mythology. If we manage to take away guns from the suicidal, they will just go and purchase a good piece of rope.
ATTACKING GUN NUTS
Tavernise cleverly links rates of gun ownership in the U.S. to rates of suicide. Coincidentally, Alaska, Wyoming, and Montana have both the nation’s highest firearm ownerships rates and the nation’s highest suicide rates. This trend generally holds true for all fifty states and Washington D.C. Superficially, it looks like a done deal. People plus guns equals suicides. Tavernise seals the deal with some expert testimony from epidemiologist, Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who expertly concludes that guns are like time-bombs in the home.
Before we take them at their word, we need to look deeper at other factors in the data. First, Tavernise omits the fact, that while suicide rates rise as gun ownership rises, murder rates actually fall. Washington D.C. owns both the nation’s lowest gun ownership rate and highest murder rate.
Next, according to the World Health Organization (World Report on Violence and Health, pg 196), global suicide rates tend to rise as population density decreases. They attribute this to the social isolation, lower education levels, and limited medical care that are endemic to rural areas. If we apply this theory to population densities in the U.S. it holds water. Alaska has only one person per square mile. Washington D.C. has over 10,000 per square mile. As population density increases, suicide rates decrease.
Suddenly we have an alternate data set that confounds Taverinse’s conclusion. So which is right? Here is my argument that it is isolation, not firearms, that leads to despair and suicide. First, it makes good, clinical sense. Second, one of the biggest reasons Americans who live in rural areas have guns is for recreational purposes. There is a direct correlation between a state’s rate of private gun ownership and the number of hunting licenses issued. It is not that people who like guns are more prone to suicide. Rather, people who like guns usually like to hunt. Alaska, Montana and Wyoming are the wonderlands of the outdoorsmen. There ain’t nothin’ to hunt in D.C.
THE NIGHTMARE INSIDE THE DREAM
According to Tavernise, if we could only block access to guns, get rid of them, we could dramatically reduce suicide and murder. It is a tempting piece of fruit, this simple theory. Gut the Second Amendment in exchange for up to 30,000 lives saved each year. If only the gun nuts could put aside their wrongheaded ways and come to the table to discuss the problem. Unfortunately, as another Tavernise expert, suicide prevention specialist B.J. Ayers, puts it, gun owners are just too defensive and refuse to listen to reason… and it is costing tens of thousands of Americans lives every year!
But is it? Let’s examine Tavernise’s utopia where law-abiding citizens voluntarily give up all of their firearms on the promise it will save lives. I realize it is an impossible scenario, but let’s examine it anyway. Further, in our impossible scenario, I will allow that 100% of suicides and 100% of murders that involve a lawfully owned firearm will be prevented and nearly 30,000 American lives will be saved.
There is a statistical category of gun use called ‘Defensive Gun Use’ or DGU. DGU occurs when a law-abiding citizen uses his or her lawfully owned firearm to defend him or herself against a criminal. In most cases of DGU the weapon is not fired, for its mere presence dissuades the criminal and causes them to flee. Sometimes, however, the criminal ends up at the morgue with a toe-tag. Although there are no accurate statistics on DGU, even Harvard University’s David Hemenway, a man who considers violence a disease and firearms the contagion, admits that Americans use firearms to lawfully defend themselves a minimum of 100,000 times a year. Florida State University criminologist, Gary Kleck, who Tavernise also uses as an expert source, published a study on DGU that concluded that guns are used defensively up to 2.5 million times a year in the United States. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that in 5% of DGU cases, the citizen prevents their own murder. That means by giving up all of our guns, somewhere between 5,000 and 125,000 Americans will get murdered every year by criminals who will never, ever give up their guns peacefully. At best we would be killing Peter to save Paul. At worst Peter and Paul are both dead and the bad guy is coming for us next. Who won’t come to the table and listen to reason now?
PICKING ON ALASKA
What do Alaska, Russia, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Finland all have in common? If you said high suicide rates, you’d be right. Do you know what else? The 66th Parallel runs right through the middle of each one of them. Not enough sun in the winter and too much sun in the summer. This is just another factor Tavernise conveniently did not take into account when attacking Alaska’s gun owners. It is as though, in Tavernise’s world, social isolation and seasonal affective disorder have absolutely nothing to do with depression. I can’t believe she is still employed.
ASSESSING NATIONAL AND GLOBAL STATISTICS
Within the United States, people in rural areas hunt, fish and own guns. They also have less education, less access to medical care and suffer from social isolation. They commit suicide at a higher rate than those in urban areas. People living in urban areas own far fewer guns, are less likely to be sportsmen, but suffer from social crowding. They engage in violent crimes at a higher rate than those living in rural areas. Globally, nations where citizens have the right to bear arms are at a slightly lower risk for suicide and a much lower risk for a violent death than those nations where firearms are not readily available to law-abiding citizens. When journalists, such as Sabrina Tavernise, deny these facts in favor of their personal agenda, they not only destroy their reputation, they do extreme harm to our country.
I am not an expert when it comes to suicide and murder, but being human and in healthcare, I have an empathetic sense for the human condition. People often dislike being alone, yet can become equally frustrated being around their fellow man. Placing the blame on inanimate objects, such as guns, knives, rope, tall buildings, household poisons, etc., for the nature of the human condition is not rational thinking. Violence and suicide existed before firearms. Violence and suicide existed before swords. Violence and suicide are simply a sad part of human nature, and something every man, woman, and child in all of history has struggled with. Everyone gets angry from time to time. Everyone experiences despair. A few of us are quite mad. We kill each other and we kill ourselves. We always have and we always will, guns or no guns.
(The link to the data tables is in the right column under MORE INFORMATION)
Governments around the world rightfully arm their police and military forces. Paramilitary organizations and criminal organizations, such as rebels, terrorist groups, and drug cartels, are also armed to the extreme detriment of society. Pinned between those two warring factions lies the ordinary citizen who wants to live in peace. What about them?
The founding fathers of America lived in a time where the king, through his might, controlled their world. Citizens of the kingdom could not worship as they chose without risk of persecution. They were subject to searches and seizures of their property, including their food, without just cause. The king’s soldiers could take over a citizen’s home and eat his food without providing any sort of compensation. Citizens could be arrested, held, even convicted without charge or fair trial. With only the king in mind, the government levied with no benefit to the citizen who paid. The king did not allow the citizens the right to gather and voice their grievances, nor could they publish any challenge to the king’s authority. Granted to man by God, the king took all these liberties away.
The framers of the Constitution of the United States remedied all these injustices with the first ten amendments to the document. Within those ten amendments, America’s founding fathers gave America’s citizens a very grave right, the right to bear arms and then to organize as a militia, a reserve of armed citizens, to ensure our freedoms are secure. The Second Amendment was not included in the Constitution to satisfy the needs of hunters and sportsman. Its sole purpose is to guarantee that the citizens of a free state own the ability to resist tyranny.
Recent tragic events in the United States have again placed our Second Amendment rights at the center of the spotlight. People are honestly questioning whether our right to bear arms has become an anachronism, an unnecessary liberty. Is America’s gun culture at the root of our violent society? Will regulating and confiscating firearms make our country a safer place for our children? Arguments on both side of the debate are heartfelt, emotional, and filled with anecdotal evidence… but what are the facts?
For the purpose of this essay, I gathered twenty-one categories of demographic data for one hundred and seventy-four countries across the globe, and then examined the per capita rate of violent deaths and suicides and per capita private firearm ownership across various like groups. I gleaned this information from reputable databases such as those produced by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Central Intelligence Agency. I treat each country as a though they are a unique clinical trial, a liberty experiment, and attempt to find trends through the use of averages. The results were both startling and sobering.
THE GLOBAL AVERAGES
For the 174 countries I examined, the average rate of violent deaths and suicides is 21.46 deaths per 100,000 in population, the average gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is $14,663, and the number of privately held firearms is 10.14 per 100 in population.
Using the State of the World Liberty Index, I then divided the nations into a ‘good half’ and a ‘bad half’. For instance, the top ten in the better half of our world, in order, are: Estonia, Ireland, Canada, Switzerland, Iceland, the Bahamas, the U.K., the U.S., Cyprus, and New Zealand. The bottom ten, in order, are: North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Myanmar, Laos, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, and Equatorial Guinea.
For the 87 countries that make up the better half of our world, the average rate of violent deaths and suicides per capita drops to 18.14, while their average per capita GDP rises to $21,638 and gun ownership rises to 12.94 per 100 in population. For the 87 countries that make up the lesser half of our world, the average rate of death by violence and suicide rises to 24.88, while their GDP drops to $7,793, and gun ownership drops to 7.30.
For the top ten countries on the Liberty Index, the average rate of death by violence drops to 12.98, the GDP rises to $35,500, and the rate of privately held firearms rises to 28.39. For the bottom ten countries on the Liberty Index, the average rate of death by violence actually drops a bit to 21.14, the GDP drops to $5,110, and the rate of privately owned firearms drops to 4.88.
THE MAGIC OF MONEY
When looking at the raw data, I saw a magic point at which GDP significantly affected the risks of death by violence and suicide. The average risk of death by violence and suicide in the 43 countries that have per capita GDPs above $23,000 is less than half that of the average risk of the 131 countries with GDPs below $23,000. Yet these wealthy nations citizens own firearms at 2.5 times the rate of the poor nations. This leads me to believe that, in general terms, the risk of death by violence and suicide is coupled to available resources, not guns.
THE PRICE OF SAFETY
23 of the 40 safest nations on earth are Muslim. The safest place, as far as risk of death by violence and suicide is concerned, is the United Arab Emirates, yet their citizens own a lot of firearms. The average violent death and suicide rates for the 40 safest countries is an amazingly low 5.62 deaths per 100,000 citizens. Their average rate of citizen owned firearms is double that of the 40 most violent counties. If we extract just the Muslim countries from this list, the death rate drops to 5.00 even though their average GDP is only $18,178! How is this accomplished? Authoritarian rule. Muslim countries generally deny their citizens those rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. In Muslim societies women and children have no rights and they persecute minority religions. Statistically they are ‘safer’, but at a real cost to liberty and freedom.
THE FOUR GREAT POWERS
Our world has four great powers: The United States, China, Russia, and the sum of Islamic countries. Nobody else really has any say about anything. The citizens of China, Russia, and Islam all live under authoritarian rule. Only the United States is considered a nation where its citizens enjoy freedom and liberty. Despite low gun ownership, Russia leads the charge when it comes to death by violence and suicide at a whopping 39.70 deaths per 100,000 in population. Russia’s violent death rate is 2.4 times that of the United States, yet U.S. citizens own 10 times the firearms! The citizens of Islam own twice as many firearms as the Chinese, yet have a lower rate of violent deaths and suicides.
LIBERTY VERSUS TYRANNY
There are 43 countries on Earth where citizens have the freedom to live largely as they choose. Their average per capita GDP is $30,221, their average rate of death by violence and suicide is 17.72 per 100,000, and their average rate of privately held firearms is 16.18 per 100. Of those 43 nations, 38 are predominantly Christian, while none are Muslim. The United States of America has been their champion for the last century. The United States’ GDP is $48,300 and its death rate is 16.74. This implies the U.S., through the use of the liberties guaranteed in its constitution, is doing a bit better than the average free country.
There are 54 authoritarian governments on Earth. Their average GDP is $10,224, their average rate of death by violence and suicide is 22.58, and their rate of gun ownership is 7.57. Of those 54 nations, 26 are Muslim. The aggregate of Islam (all 43 countries) has a GDP of $11,481 and a death rate of 12.76. This implies that Islam, through application of its religious law, is better at controlling the rate of violent deaths and suicides than other forms of authoritarian regimes. Islam also outperforms free states that value liberty and freedom.
FREE NATIONS, GUNS AND VIOLENCE
Of all the statistics, this one most surprised me. There are 43 countries that, by nature of their government and people, are considered ‘free.’ Their average rate of death by violence and suicide is 17.72, their average per capita GDP is $30,221, and their average rate of citizen owned firearms is 16.18 per 100. Those nations whose population owns more than 16 firearms per 100 citizens have a death by violence and suicide rate of 13.97. Those nations who own fewer than 16 firearms per 100 citizens have a death by violence and suicide rate of 19.73. The disarmed citizens die by violence at a rate 41% higher, on average, than the armed citizens. This finding not only decouples the citizens right to bear arms and high violence rates, it implies that citizen owned firearms play a role in reducing death by violence and suicide rates.
ANECDOTES ARE DANGEROUS AND FOOLISH
The United States is often compared to the United Kingdom in the argument to restrict private gun ownership. The citizens of the U.K. do not own guns, and their death by violence and suicide rate is about half of the U.S. When people use this comparison, in their desire to win the argument, they ignore that the U.S. death by violence and suicide rate is lower than Finland, Belgium, Estonia, South Korea, and Japan. The citizens of the U.S. own more guns than those countries, too.
Recently I had a naturopath barge into my pharmacy while I was administering influenza vaccines to patients. She chastised me, as though she were an ‘expert’, because the preservative in the vaccine, thimerosal, contains 25mcg of mercury. She was angry that I administered a flu shot to a woman who was breastfeeding. Her evidence? Her son had some sort of developmental problem. She threw all clinical and pharmacologic data out the window. It did not matter to her that the negligible amount of mercury from the vaccine would be rapidly excreted in the mother’s stool, the post-vaccine breast-milk exposure of mercury to the child would be virtually nil, and all the good clinical data from around the globe demonstrated no statistical link for her claim. She knew it in her heart! I had doomed that breastfed child to some horrible future and she was mad as hell. It does not matter to her that the flu has already killed six people in Washington State, including a twelve-year old boy. Based on this interaction, I must suspect all naturopaths are loons. Actually, here I base my opinion on twenty-five years of dealing with naturopaths, but you get the point. Anecdotes and testimonials are useless if the truth is what you want.
The number of firearms owned by private, law-abiding citizens around the globe does not adversely affect the rate of death by violence and suicide. In fact, data implies that the right to bear arms may actually enhance overall social safety. However, resources, religion, and liberty all play a huge role in a society’s level of violence. Both China and Islam use oppression and conformity to achieve a peaceful society for nearly three billion people. In those societies individuals are not free to look left or to look right. The United States of America leads the free world with the Christian ideals of freedom and liberty for just over one billion people. The free world has a slightly higher risk of death by violence and suicide. I accept that risk, for I cherish my God-given liberties and my right to defend them if need be. The remaining three billion people on Earth are condemned to a life of violence and poverty with no means to defend themselves because they do not have any guns.