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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service
Op-Ed

Guns kill children again

May 25, 2022

A teenage boy on Tuesday shot to death 19 elementary schoolchildren and two teachers in Texas. A Courthouse News columnist had just wrapped up this column when the news came in.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

More than 24 times as many Americans kill themselves with guns each year than are shot to death by police. This is not an excuse for police — it’s a sad fact.

More than 45,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2020. More than half of those gun deaths (54%) were suicides. In other words, more than twice as many Americans kill themselves with guns each year than die by homicide, according to FBI crime statistics. (All links in this article are to reliable, often multiple, sources.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 45,979 Americans killed themselves in 2020. That’s more than five suicides each hour around the clock for a year. And the rate keeps increasing. Suicide is the 12th-ranked cause of U.S. deaths. In 2020, 24,292 U.S. suicides were by guns, 12,495 by suffocation (mostly hanging), and 5,528 by poison.

Police officers kill about 1,000 people a year in the United States, and have done so for years. So are police the problem? Well, they are a problem. But of the roughly 45,000 people shot to death every year in the United States, police officers — our presumed protectors — account for about 2% of those killings.

When you break it down by race, though, it doesn’t look good. Of the roughly 1,000 people U.S. police kill each year, they kill Black folks at a rate of 38 per million; Latinos at a rate of 28 per million (of Latino population); and whites at a rate of 15 per million. So your chances of being killed by a cop are 2 1/2 times greater if you are Black than if you are white.

Of these 1,000 police killings, only about seven officers are charged with homicide each year.

Breaking it down further, women are more than four times more likely to be killed (4,000 a year) by an “intimate partner” than by police. Spousal or “intimate partner” homicides account for about 1 in 5 of U.S. killings, but account for more than half of female victims.

Oklahoma and Kentucky lead the nation in domestic violence per capita.

Most spousal and intimate partner violence comes when a woman attempts to leave a man, or after she has left him.

These depressing statistics indicate to me that guns are a far greater threat to public health than police.

Of the more than 400 million guns in the United States, 393 million are privately owned. Guns pose a far greater risk of violent death than all other factors combined.

Here’s a brief rundown of other sorts of violent deaths in the United States. Due to the multiplicity of sources, these numbers may be single-year, or averaged over varying numbers of years.

Rattlesnakes bite 7,000 to 8,000 people a year; five die.

Black widow spiders bite about 2,500 people year; seven die. Bites from other types of spiders bring the death toll to about 11 a year. Only four people died of scorpion bites in 11 years.

Dogs kill 34 people a year; farm animals kill 201.

Bees, wasps and hornets killed 62 people a year from 2000-2017; 80% of them were men and boys. Of those, bee stings accounted for about 53 people a year, wasps and hornets only nine.

About 200 people a year die of electrocution at home. Roughly 10% of those are caused by large appliances. About the same number die of injuries from power tools. However, “Faulty electrical equipment causes about 140,000 home and workplace fires each year. These fires claim, on average, an additional 400 lives and cause another 4,000 injuries,” according to a personal injury law firm.

In 2020, 4,764 people died of workplace injuries, down from 5,333 in 2019 — the lowest annual number since 2013. The decrease probably can be attributed to workplace shutdowns during the pandemic. Still, a worker died every two hours from a work-related injury in 2020. Transportation deaths were the most frequent, 1,778, or 37.3% of workplace deaths.

“The share of Hispanic or Latino workers fatally injured on the job continued to grow, increasing to 22.5% (1,072 fatalities) from 20.4% (1,088 fatalities) in 2019,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Add it all up and, despite the legitimate, sometimes shameful complaints about police shootings, shoddy workplace safety enforcement, and the brutality men inflict upon women, the greatest threat of violent death in the United States comes from those 393 million guns — overwhelmingly in the hands of men.

*

As I was writing this column on Tuesday, a teenage boy shot to death 19 elementary schoolchildren and two teachers in Texas. Governor Greg Abbott said he was horrified by the mass murder. Sure you were, Greg. Sure you were. What are you going to do about it?
Texas Senator Ted Cruz called it “a dark day.” Cruz has taken at least $176,274 in campaign donations from the NRA. He is scheduled to speak at an NRA meeting Friday. What’re you going to tell them, Ted?
And why, in god’s name, New York Times, did you make this the second paragraph of a hot update on the massacre: “The city of about 15,200 people is in a region with a large Mexican American population, according to census data.”? Have you no shame? At long last, have you no shame at all?”
In a statement, the National Parents Union called for policy change and “more than thoughts and prayers,” citing more than 100 school shootings in Texas since 1970. “As a nation, our track record of putting children before politics, before special interests is shameful and leaves us with little hope,” the organization said. “Please prove us wrong.”

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