It’s no secret at this point that Jovan Belcher, the late Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, used a handgun to murder his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and then committed suicide in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium. Nor is it a secret that renowned sports announcer Bob Costas struck a clearly political tone in his on-air comments on Belcher’s murder/suicide, seemingly advocating for more strict gun control laws. The comments Bob Costas made were borrowed in part from Fox Sports writer Jason Whitlock, who wrote a scathing review of the NFL’s response to the tragedy.
Costas, and NBC in general, have recently come out clarifying and defending his comments. But the source of those comments, Jason Whitlock, is still very problematic. In his write-up, he made some very moralistic judgments about American gun violence (which Costas, in part, quoted in his on-air speech):
I would argue that your rationalizations speak to how numb we are in this society to gun violence and murder. We’ve come to accept our insanity. We’d prefer to avoid seriously reflecting upon the absurdity of the prevailing notion that the second amendment somehow enhances our liberty rather than threatens it.
How many young people have to die senselessly? How many lives have to be ruined before we realize the right to bear arms doesn’t protect us from a government equipped with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons?
Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.
…What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.
That is the message I wish Chiefs players, professional athletes and all of us would focus on Sunday and moving forward. Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.
But we won’t. We’ll watch Sunday’s game and comfort ourselves with the false belief we’re incapable of the wickedness that exploded inside Jovan Belcher Saturday morning.
There are a number of issues with the above comments. However, they all seem to be linked to Whitlock’s main concern about the guns themselves. Whitlock’s claim that handguns “exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it” are especially telling of this point: he seems to believe is that the high prevalence of guns in the United States actually facilitates an increased number of violent crimes and deaths.
It’s worthwhile, I think, for us to check out some numbers on that subject to test his claim. Multiple sources, such as United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Small Arms Survey keep very solid statistics in these areas. Further, GunPolicy.org has organized these sources and others into a handy, easy-to-use comparative format. Despite some significant holes (as the Guardian points out in its review of the same numbers), like a lack of reporting of some key statistics out of Russia and China, they generally provide an accurate account of the information we need to review here.
First, we need to establish a few baseline statistics. The top ten countries with the highest numbers of civilian-owned firearms in the world, in order from 1 through 10, are: the United States, China, India, Germany, Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Thailand, and Yemen. For our purposes here, I’m going to use these ten countries (wherever statistics are available) as a consistent reference point.
The U.S. is far and away the highest with 270 million privately-possessed firearms, and China and India come in at a distant second and third at around 40 million apiece. Of those same top ten countries, the US also has the highest rate of possession at 88.8 firearms per 100 people. The next nearest is Yemen at 54.8, then Germany at 30.3.
Given these numbers, Mr. Whitlock’s assumption (and, by proxy, that of Bob Costas) would suggest that because we have the highest number and highest rate of firearm ownership in the world, we must therefore have the highest rate of gun violence in the world. However, the numbers suggest that actually isn’t true. The US indeed ranks highly in homicides (6th) and specifically in gun homicides (4th) among those same ten nations. However, it’s not the highest in gun homicides: that honor goes to Brazil (1st) and Thailand (2nd). Thailand and Brazil flip places to 1st and 2nd in the area of gun homicide rate per 100,000 people (33 and 18.1, respectively), with the US in 4th at 2.98.
If Whitlock’s assumption held true, then the United States should be at the top of each one of these rankings. However, it seems clear that there are plenty of countries that are responsible for higher rates of gun homicide than the United States. And this doesn’t even take into account crimes in other developed nations like China and Russia that go largely unreported in these areas.
However, I wanted to take this a step further. Again, following Whitlock’s premise, the drastically higher prevalence of guns in the United States should result in a higher number of gun homicides overall.
So using the figures in the graphs linked above, and using the same top ten nations with the highest numbers of civilian-possessed guns, I calculated the overall rate of gun homicides per 100,000 civilian-possessed guns* among those nations:
- Thailand: 200
- Brazil: 197
- Mexico: 73
- India: 7.6
- United States: 3.4
- Germany: 0.63
Again, we don’t have statistics available for four of the nations (Pakistan, China, Russia, and Yemen), but the results are still astounding. Despite the United States having the largest number of civilian-possessed firearms in the world, it has a ridiculously low rate of homicides per firearm. Further, the above figures assume that each homicide was caused by one firearm – which any rational person can conclude is probably not true. If the actual number of firearms used to commit gun homicides – and not the gun homicides themselves – were available instead, these percentages would probably be lower.
Some might claim that my argument isn’t fair, and that I’m using a distorted figure of total firearms instead of specifically handguns. This, I would counter, doesn’t weaken the argument. Even if you assume that one, half the firearms in the US are handguns (a bold claim that doesn’t appear to conform to other known statistics), and two, that only handguns are involved in homicides (another bold, verifiably untrue claim), that figure jumps to a mere 6.8 homicides per 100,000 handguns – and the US still stays solidly at 5th in the above list.
What does this mean? It means that the vast, overwhelming majority of firearms in the United States are not actually used in homicides. And while there may be some other weak points in America’s record on guns (among the same top ten, America is clearly first in the rate of gun suicides), the overwhelming majority of gun owners in America are law abiding citizens who do not commit homicides with their guns.
Despite statistics like these, why is the argument among liberals and among many in the media like Bob Costas and Jason Whitlock that gun control will actually reduce violence? Just as Whitlock claimed that many try to rationalize and ignore his beliefs about gun control, it’s likely that many on the left and in the media try to rationalize and ignore arguments about the cultural collapse that has gone on in many inner cities where much of that gun violence has taken place. Collapsing family structures and rising gang activity has resulted in situations where significant segments of the population have been steeped in a more aggressive, more violent cultural and social norms, and it’s no wonder that in situations like these homicide by handgun becomes much more common. Without seriously addressing collapsing inner-city social dynamics – both through improved economic development and increased law enforcement efforts – the old adage will remain true: “When guns are criminal, only criminals will have guns.”
Hopefully Bob Costas and Jason Whitlock will get the message.
*A note on methodology: the formula (and statistics) I used to derive the rate of gun homicides per 100,000 guns is as follows: (Total Gun Homicides/Total Privately-Owned Firearms) X 100,000 = Gun Homicide Rate Per 100K Guns