In August 2019, a Facebook post about the United States’ purported 30,000 gun deaths per year circulated, typically copied and pasted into individual posts which themselves were each shared a handful of times.
One particular version coupled with a “mass shooters 2019” meme (a meme that is riddled with flaws, and which we debunked in early August 2019) was shared by one user in mid-August 2019. A version was also published to the blog of the agenda-driven Heartland Institute on August 26 2019, purportedly “written by Nancy Thorner.”
Thorner clearly did not write the
copypasta commentary for which she took credit, as a near-verbatim version was shared by Ted Nugent via Facebook in June 2017. In October 2017, the same text was shared to Reddit’s r/DebunkThis:
That post’s title (“Debunk This: Gun Control Doesn’t Matter Because It’s Not A Leading Killer of Americans”) alluded to the general gist of the forwarded message — that through a series of calculations and statistics, the clear takeaway should be that guns do not warrant classification as the danger the media made them out to be. A search of Twitter revealed the text of the post was regularly shared as seemingly original content by individuals dating back to at least June 2017.
“The Gish Gallop is the fallacious debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort. The Gish Gallop is a conveyor belt-fed version of the on the spot fallacy, as it’s unreasonable for anyone to have a well-composed answer immediately available to every argument present in the Gallop. The Gish Gallop is named after creationist Duane Gish, who often abused it … Gish Galloping is frequently employed (with particularly devastating results) in timed debates. The same is true for any time- or character-limited debate medium, including Twitter and newspaper editorials.
“Examples of Gish Gallops are commonly found online, in crank “list” articles that claim to show “X hundred reasons for (or against) Y”. At the highest levels of verbosity, with dozens upon dozens or even hundreds of minor arguments interlocking, each individual “reason” is — upon closer inspection — likely to consist of a few sentences at best.”
With that in mind, the “30,000 gun deaths in America” forward is certainly a mixture of statistics, assertions, and opinions, the latter of which often cannot be fact-checked. Its various claims were voluminous as befits a gish gallop, and many were cobbled together from long-circulating claims of many types. The Ted Nugent iteration began:
There are 30,000 gun related deaths per year by firearms, and this number is not disputed. U.S. population 324,059,091 as of Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Do the math: 0.000000925% of the population dies from gun related actions each year. Statistically speaking, this is insignificant! What is never told, however, is a breakdown of those 30,000 deaths, to put them in perspective as compared to other causes of death:
Even “this is not disputed” is an iffy start, because no evidence of whether the number cited is or is not disputed was included. In 2016, FiveThirtyEight averaged gun deaths across several years, estimating 33,000 approximate deaths by firearm each year in the United States — making the number reasonably accurate, but not exact. Other figures referenced in the forward appeared to come from the FiveThirtyEight piece on gun deaths linked above, presumably accurate as of 2016.
In the next sentence, the forward urges readers to “do the math,” citing a population of 324,059,091 as of June 2016. (The United States population had climbed by four million in 2019, so we’ll use 2016 statistics wherever possible.) The post asserts that the 33,000 gun deaths — misstated as 30,000 — amounted to 0.000000925 percent of all Americans in any given year.
Using the accurate figure of 33,000 gun deaths and the population provided of 324,059,091, the actual “math” works out to 0.01 percent — not “0.000000925 percent.” That section subsequently holds that the purportedly small number of gun deaths is “insignificant,” which is purely subjective opinion.
A final note on that section is that readers might be duped into believing that the mortality rate from guns is less than one percent. However, mortality rate is not calculated by contrasting a cause of death with the entire population. It is actually “a measure of the number of deaths (in general, or due to a specific cause) in a particular population, scaled to the size of that population, per unit of time,” and “expressed in units of deaths per 1,000 individuals per year.”
We are typically accustomed to understanding mortality percentages in the context of mortality rate. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Wonder data, the actual mortality rate for any firearm-related deaths from 1999 through 2017 is 10.6 per 100,000 Americans. Consequently, the percentage as presented could constitute the logical fallacy of a “biased sample.”
• 65% of those deaths are by suicide which would never be prevented by gun laws
• 15% are by law enforcement in the line of duty and justified
• 17% are through criminal activity, gang and drug related or mentally ill persons —gun violence
• 3% are accidental discharge deaths
So technically, “gun violence” is not 30,000 annually, but drops to 5,100.
Next up the post claims that 65 percent of gun deaths are suicide, and “would never be prevented by gun laws.” No attempt is made to substantiate the claim. A 2017 study (“Handgun waiting periods reduce gun deaths“) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences observed that waiting periods alone can reduce gun-related suicides by up to 11 percent — and waiting periods are just one gun control measure.
An undated Johns Hopkins/Bloomberg American Health Initiative paper notes several ways in which gun control measures are known to affect rates of suicide:
“Restricting access to lethal means, at least temporarily, during a time of crisis can prevent suicide. Even if one wishing to attempt suicide were to substitute a different method, he or she is far more likely to survive that attempt because firearms are the most lethal means available. And the vast majority of individuals who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die from suicide in the future.”
According to research on the availability of firearms and suicide, gun control measures do in fact lower rates of suicide, making that claim flatly false.
The post also claims that another 15 percent of gun deaths are officer-involved shootings and thus “justified,” once again an opinion clearly not espoused by all — and certainly not a fact. It goes on to state that a further 17 percent are under the umbrella of “gun violence,” and three percent are accidental discharge-related deaths, or firearm accidents.
From there, the original author, whomever that actually was, eliminates the purported 15 percent of officer-involved deaths, and three percent of accidental deaths (along with suicide) are automatically excluded from the number or rate of gun deaths, going on to redefine “gun deaths” as “deaths solely from gun violence.”
Tracking the math in the upcoming section is simple, as the rate of “gun violence” is provided as 17 percent of all gun deaths, and the original erroneous figure of all gun deaths was provided as 30,000. Seventeen percent of 30,000 is 5,100 (approximately), and 17 percent of 33,000 is 5,610. But as gish gallops are prone to doing, the missive at that point unilaterally decides that the only gun deaths that truly count are what the writer defines as “gun violence,” and all other gun-related deaths do not “count” towards meaningful statistics.
It appears many of the numbers are at least crudely based on the FiveThirtyEight post, and according to that item, approximately 12,000 of the 33,000 deaths cited annually are “homicides,” which would fall under the same umbrella as gun violence by all but the most creative accounting. We could not determine how the author identified that number as 17 percent, but homicides alone using those two numbers represented 36 percent of gun deaths in FiveThirtyEight’s data.
From that point, the post goes into supposed city hotbeds for gun violence, claiming that a quarter of all gun crime occurs in just four cities:
Still too many? Well, first, how are those deaths spanned across the nation?
• 480 homicides (9.4%) were in Chicago
• 344 homicides (6.7%) were in Baltimore
• 333 homicides (6.5%) were in Detroit
• 119 homicides (2.3%) were in Washington D.C. (a 54% increase over prior years)
So basically, 25% of all gun crime happens in just 4 cities. All 4 of those cities have strict gun laws, so it is not the lack of law that is the root cause.
This basically leaves 3,825 for the entire rest of the nation, or about 75 deaths per state. That is an average because some States have much higher rates than others. For example, California had 1,169 and Alabama had 1.
Again, while the numbers look authoritative, no citations or frames of reference are included in the post or its iterations on blogs and Facebook, so hunting down possible sources for the claims is a needle-in-a-haystack proposition. But the base claim — that four cities (Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and Washington D.C.) have massive rates of gun crime and essentially skew the country’s curve — is both old and long debunked. We examined the claim in 2015 and rated it mostly false, as did PolitiFact in 2018.
Even if those claims were accurate (they were not), they would constitute cherry picking, another fallacy. Typically, the origin meme holds that excluding those four cities from overall gun homicide rates drastically alters that rate, a claim repeatedly proven false:
“The cities cited in the [four cities] meme accounted for 1,568 of 17,250, or 9.1 percent, of all homicides reported to the FBI in 2016, Tom Kovandzic, a criminologist at the University of Texas, Dallas, calculated for us. And without those cities, the homicide rate (per capita) would only decline by 7.73 percent, or from 5.34 to 4.93.”
Its subsequent claim that the exclusion of those four cities “leaves 3,825 for the entire rest of the nation, or about 75 deaths per state” is based on prior false conclusions, and thus irrelevant to the overall credibility of the post as a whole. The post then states — correctly — that California has the strictest gun laws, before launching into a lengthy, barely intelligible rant about other causes of death, former United States President Barack Obama, and cheeseburgers.
Incidentally, states with stricter gun laws maintain higher rates of gun-related homicide when they share borders with states that have looser restrictions. Another aside is that in 2017, the most recent year for which gun statistics were available, 39,773 Americans died from gun-related injuries in the United States. Basing any of these calculations on that number versus the original inaccurate 30,000 figure would greatly alter the percentages involved in breakdowns.
No portion of the following segment of the circulating post constitutes a piece of checkable data, nor does it seem to make sense as an editorial opinion:
Now, who has the strictest gun laws by far? California, of course, but understand, so it is not guns causing this. It is a crime rate spawned by the number of criminal persons residing in those cities and states. So if all cities and states are not created equally, then there must be something other than the tool causing the gun deaths.
Are 5,100 deaths per year horrific? How about in comparison to other deaths? All death is sad and especially so when it is in the commission of a crime but that is the nature of crime. Robbery, death, rape, assault all is done by criminals and thinking that criminals will obey laws is ludicrous. That’s why they are criminals.
But what about other deaths each year?
• 40,000+ die from a drug overdose–THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR THAT!
• 36,000 people die per year from the flu, far exceeding the criminal gun deaths
• 34,000 people die per year in traffic fatalities(exceeding gun deaths even if you include suicide)
Now it gets good:
• 200,000+ people die each year (and growing) from preventable medical errors. You are safer in Chicago than when you are in a hospital!
• 710,000 people die per year from heart disease. It’s time to stop the double cheeseburgers! So what is the point? If Obama and the anti-gun movement focused their attention on heart disease, even a 10% decrease in cardiac deaths would save twice the number of lives annually of all gun-related deaths (including suicide, law enforcement, etc.). A 10% reduction in medical errors would be 66% of the total gun deaths or 4 times the number of criminal homicides……Simple, easily preventable 10% reductions!
So you have to ask yourself, in the grand scheme of things, why the focus on guns? It’s pretty simple.:
Taking away guns gives control to governments.
The founders of this nation knew that regardless of the form of government, those in power may become corrupt and seek to rule as the British did by trying to disarm the populace of the colonies. It is not difficult to understand that a disarmed populace is a controlled populace.
Thus, the second amendment was proudly and boldly included in the U.S. Constitution. It must be preserved at all costs.
So the next time someone tries to tell you that gun control is about saving lives, look at these facts and remember these words from Noah Webster: “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword, because the whole body of the people are armed and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force at the command of Congress can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power.”
Remember, when it comes to “gun control,” the important word is “control,” not “gun.”
The claims presented in this long-circulating “30,000 gun related deaths per year by firearms, and this number is not disputed” forward are a mixture of cherry picked or misrepresented statistics, extensive opinion, distortions, and a sprinkling of numbers that occasionally bear a passing resemblance to evidence-based factual reality. A 2016 article by FiveThirtyEight approximated 33,000 (not 30,000) gun deaths per year, 12,000 (not 5,100) of which were homicides — roughly 36 percent. The author of the post repeatedly passes on their opinions of what excludes portions of the data while presenting no citations or basis to do so, and frequently misrepresents or falsifies numbers to make a point. It concludes with a largely incoherent rant about “a crime rate spawned by the number of criminal persons residing in those cities and states” and an entreaty that “all death is sad,” assertions which provide little support to the “math” espoused in the commentary’s opening paragraph.
On multiple counts, the entire claim is false.