Thursday, January 10, 2013

Misleading Story on Life Expectancy and Gun Violence

I know that various media outlets are running this story or variants, but I want to pick on the NBC News story entitled "Americans far more likely to suffer violent death than peers." The statistic that forms the basis of the article is that Americans have a lower life expectancy than some 16 other "wealthy" nations. The nations aren't listed, so there is no way to see whether there has been some cherry picking, but I would note that it obviously doesn't include all 20 of the G-20 nations.

The article notes that there is a multitude of reasons for lower death rates, including:
For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other wealthy countries. In addition to the impact of gun violence, Americans consume the most calories among peer countries and get involved in more accidents that involve alcohol. The U.S. also suffers higher rates of drug-related deaths, infant mortality and AIDS.

The result is that the life expectancy for men in the United States ranked the lowest among the 17 countries reviewed, at 75.6 years, while the life expectancy for U.S. women ranked second lowest at 80.7 years. The countries reviewed included Canada, Japan, Australia and much of Western Europe.
... In attempting to explain why Americans are so unhealthy, the researchers looked at three categories: the nation's health care system, harmful behaviors and social and economic conditions. Researchers noted that the U.S. has a large uninsured population compared to other countries with comparable economies, and more limited access to primary care. And although the income of Americans is higher on average than that of other wealthy countries, the United States also has a higher level of poverty, especially among children.
However, the thrust of the article is to suggest that the disparity is largely due to gun violence, to-wit:
The researchers reviewed an array of studies over the years. They estimated that homicide and suicide together account for about a quarter of the years of life lost for U.S. men compared to those in those peer countries. Homicide, they noted, is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults aged 15-24. The large majority of those homicides involve firearms.

The researchers said there is little evidence that violent acts occur more frequently in the United States than elsewhere.
[Correct--our violent crime rate is actually lower than in Europe's]. It's the lethality of those attacks that stands out.
But here is where it goes completely into the realm of speculation:
"One behavior that probably explains the excess lethality of violence and unintentional injuries in the United States is the widespread possession of firearms and the common practice of storing them (often unlocked) at home. The statistics are dramatic," the report said.
The Truth About Firearms Blog addressed the same (or similar) article at the New York Times, and noted some problems with the statistics:
The five years between 20 and 24 account for 1/5 of the population under investigation (these “children”), but provide the majority of the body count. Throw in another fifth (15 to 19) and you’ve got damn near 80% of the fatalities among the population being studied.

What the article would like to have you believe is that small children are being murdered and killing themselves because of the presence of firearms in the country, but that’s just not true. The leading cause of death for children is accidental, not murder. And among the murders committed in this country, some people place as many as 77% of those in the category of “gang related violence.”

We’re not talking about little 5 year old Suzie, children like those involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. We’re talking about adults. And specifically hardened criminals killing other criminals in most cases of homicide.

As for the rest of the murders, there’s nothing indicating that those murders would not have happened if guns were not available. England has almost no civilian firearms ownership, but their murder rate rivals the United States and is on the rise — the US, by the way, has seen a decrease in the murder rate even as firearms ownership has increased.

As for suicides, countless studies (and Bruce Krafft himself) have found that the suicide rate is independent of the availability of firearms. Just because the means to end your life is readily available in firearm form doesn’t make the population of a country more likely to take that way out. Japan is the prime example, with almost no civilian ownership of firearms and a skyrocketing suicide rate that far surpasses the United States.

The only statistic that actually applies to the point of the article is the accidental death column, and as you can see that number is nearly zero involving firearms. Remove those deaths that involve people who are able to vote and the number decreases even father.
Here is another factor they didn't look at in the article: race and ethnicity. The researchers also probably used studies from various years, and ignored trends, such as Britain's and Australia's upward trend in violent crime and Britain's upward trend in gun violence. (See also my post here).

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