A balanced view of firearms in the United States

This four-part video series is one of the best and most balanced overviews I’ve seen about firearms in the United States from the standpoint of healthcare. It was created by Indiana pediatrician and medical school professor Dr Aaron Carroll, whose Healthcare Triage series on YouTube I reference fairly often here.

I considered splitting the videos up over four successive days but in the end decided it’s more useful to combine them into a single post for reference, even then the combined running time is over half an hour. You don’t have to watch them all at once, of course.

A quick note about my own views: I’m a veteran, and during my years on active duty I often carried a sidearm. I’m not afraid of guns (but I am of some people with guns) and I don’t want to see them outlawed, which isn’t going to happen anyway. But if you really need a firearm for protection, especially a handgun, get trained and stay in practice. Otherwise you’re more likely to be a danger to yourself and others than a hero. Real life isn’t a movie.

Here’s a quick summary of some of Dr Carroll’s main points:

While mass shootings are horrific, in percentage terms they’re a relatively tiny problem, account for less than 2 percent of all gun deaths in the United States. Similarly, very few people are killed by so-called assault weapons. Steps to prevent mass shootings and sensible regulations on gun sales can make sense, but they don’t address the main real-world problem.

Homicide rates are far higher in the U.S. than in other relatively wealthy countries, and this is especially true of homicide by gun. Accidental gun deaths are also several times higher here. Of people who died of homicide by firearm across 23 high-income countries in 2010, 82 percent were in the United States. With respect to firearm homicides in 2010 of women and of persons under the age of 25, more than 90 percent occurred in the U.S.

A lot of people keep guns in the home to defend themselves from the danger of burglary or home invasion. Armed citizens do shoot intruders, and though I don’t think Dr Carroll mentions it, the risk of being shot by a resident probably scares potential intruders away. But in practice, guns in the home are far more often used in suicides — which greatly outnumber homicides — or in acts of domestic violence. There are also many, many accidental shootings, often involving children. Some researchers have reached the opposite conclusion, that more guns lead to less crime, but there are reasons to doubt these results, and for that matter some of the studies linking gun ownership rates to more homicides are also flawed. Unfortunately, for political reasons it’s become hard to get funding to research the subject.

The great majority of gun deaths are due to suicide. For example, in 2012 there were 33,363 deaths by gunshot in the United States. Of those, 12,093 were homicides, that is, the intentional killing of one person by another (whether justified or not), but 20,666 were suicides. People who commit suicide most often do so on an impulse, and those who try to kill themselves with a firearm succeed more than 85 percent of the time, versus only a few percent of those who try to use poison or a drug overdose. But restricting guns won’t eliminate suicide, and in fact suicide rates are higher in Japan and South Korea than in the United States despite the fact that stricter gun regulations mean that they use other means.

There is evidence that background checks for firearms purchasers lead to fewer gun deaths and that requiring permits to buy handguns is also beneficial. Guns don’t have to be outlawed — which, again, isn’t going to happen in the United States anyway — to reduce the murders, suicides, and accidental deaths by handguns.

(Incidentally, Dr Carroll errs in suggesting that fully-automatic firearms are banned in the United States. Outside the states with laws against them, it’s not too difficult to get a federal permit to purchase a machine gun. But there is a large practical impediment: The only ones legally for sale are limited in number, at least a few decades old, and very expensive.)

Part 1: A Brief History of Guns in America
(originally released on YouTube August 7)

Link: https://youtu.be/4ZzmgqpwG-s

Part 2: Homicide and Firearms
(originally released on YouTube August 14)

Link: https://youtu.be/mh5mMm7IECU

Part 3: Firearms and Suicide
(originally released on YouTube August 21)

Link: https://youtu.be/75alYlGCecc

Part 4: What Kind of Gun Laws Work?
(originally released on YouTube August 28)

Link: https://youtu.be/pXnycRj1KWs

Finally, here’s a bonus video from April 2015 on the same general topic, specifically addressing misguided political efforts in a few states to stop doctors from asking about one particular injury risk in the home, namely firearms. When I fill out a questionnaire in my doctor’s office I don’t get paranoid because I’m asked about various risks or whether I’m sexually active. (A few years ago I wrote, “No, I just lie there,” and for all I know that’s now in my medical record.) I don’t get paranoid and assume they want to come and -ahem- take my gun away, because that’s ridiculous. Congress has even passed laws preventing funding research on firearms safety, which is also silly. For more on the subject, see this list of links.

Link: https://youtu.be/nXJmdMoNuY4

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