That’s how many men, women and children died due to the discharge of firearms (other than by law enforcement) in the United States in 2010, the most recent “‘final” data on the subject available from the Centers for Disease Control. The total breaks down as follows:

  • 606 accidental deaths
  • 19,392 suicides
  • 11,078 homicides
  • Plus 252 other firearm deaths of “undetermined intent”

The 2014 numbers, when they are finalized some years from now, will include the six who died last week at the hands of Elliot Rodger, who then turned the gun on himself. Mr. Rodger was known to be mentally ill, and gave all kinds of warnings about his likely behavior. But he also could be very convincing; police interviewed him last month and could not find grounds for involuntary admission to psychiatric care.

Okay . . . mental illness. Been here, done this before. Maybe more care, maybe better care would have made a difference.

Maybe not.

But also on the list of the dead will be an 18-month-old boy shot by his 3-year-old brother in Payson, Ariz. The boys, with their mom, were visiting a neighbor in the apartment complex where they live. The boys had wandered into the bedroom and found the loaded pistol. It’s not even clear that the 3-year-old was aiming at his brother (playfully or otherwise). What’s clear is that the gun discharged, and the little boy is dead.

No mental health issues here. No “dangerous person.” Just a horribly tragic accident facilitated by our freedom to own and keep guns for personal defense.

One might respond that kids in this same sort of tragedy from poisonings, too, and one would be right. Which is why there are laws about how medications and various noxious substances are sold, and packaging requirements designed to reduce the likelihood that a child can gain access to the stuff. Of course, not everyone who has such medications or other dangerous substances stores them properly once they leave the store, but we’ve made the provision of such safe storage materials mandatory.

We haven’t done that for guns.

When I expressed my own sorrow and frustration by joining the Everytown Not One More campaign, and posted my participation to my personal Facebook page, one of my high school friends was quick to message me

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to remind me that he had been the victim of two home break-ins. He declared that he would not let anyone take his Second Amendment rights away.

It is not clear that any of a number of proposals related to registration, safety, background checks or limits on certain kinds of weapons and paraphernalia violate the rights we enjoy by virtue of the Second Amendment, even in a post-Heller world. But it seems that, in the present climate, anything that involves regulation of gun ownership is viewed as a violation of the amendment by some very noisy folks.

They’re wrong. Even the U.S. Supreme Court, in the stunningly revisionist Heller opinion, acknowledged as much.

No right is absolute, not even the right to life (I can forfeit that by endangering others). But it seems that, at least for many of our elected leaders, the misinterpreted right to bear arms is even more sacred than the human lives it costs.

7 Responses to 31,328

  • Richard L. Block

    Three by stabbing, Three by firearm. Please research how many have died during the same period by stabbings, beatings, choking, jumping off of bridges, jumping off of buildings. In the final analysis, having a firearm handy have saved and protected many lives during this period. Personally, I would beg to differ with you on your opinions about firearms. Oh by the way, I forgot to add the drunken driver angle. All these have the same final result- the death of a human being.

    • Dr. Scott Paine

      Thanks, Richard. Yes, you are correct in the recent California case about the equal number of stabbing and shooting deaths. But I invite you also to research the causes of deaths more generally. There’s another blog coming next week on this. But short version: according to the Centers for Disease Control, year in, year out, more homicides by firearm than by any other means, more suicides by firearms than any other means . . . And in both cases, it’s not even close. 2/3 of all homicides each year are committed using a firearm. Half of all suicides. Stay tuned for more.

      But I’ll affirm, as I have before, that I understand and respect the self-defense perspective in this debate. What I have trouble with is the ideological refusal to engage a serious discussion about striking a different balance between access to firearms and the slaughter that such weapons impose on our society every year, given the number of lives lost.

      • Richard L. Block

        Dear Dr. Paine,
        In all your arguments about how firearms kill, you seem to have forgotten the human factor. Violent acts in and of themselves do not take place because this weapon or that weapon is available. The acts reflect the desperation and anguish of a Godless people. People driven to violence will always find alternative ways of eliminating themselves or others in this society. In the meantime, ask yourself this question… Who will protect the innocent and by what means will a father protect his family or friends from these abominations in our society. To say that the police can is being naïve. I for one accept the 2nd amendment as an answer for peace of mind and protection.

        • Kate's Daughter

          G-dless people? Many of those who are using firearms to murder someone else, or themselves are doing so in the name of g-d.

          The right of one should be in place until it violates the rights of another. The right to bear arms has been argued by those far more educated in constitutional law than I, however increasing the thoroughness of background screening prior to firearm purchase is not something that any law abiding person should object to.

          That other “things” and “means” cause death, kill, or maim is not the point. Keep the topic on target, no pun intended. The discussion is about the rampant misuse of firearms either by design or due to mistake.

          Tightening up controls that drive access to those firearms infringes on no one’s right, rather it promotes the right to live in a society where restrictions to access is the norm.

          • Dr. Scott Paine

            Thanks for adding your voice to this important conversation. Your points are well-taken.


          • Richard L. Block

            Dear Kate’s Daughter;
            Perhaps we have a generational disconnect. Our younger generations appear to be like a frog in a kettle of water. They have not noticed that the water temperature is rising to the boiling point. The older generation is in the same kettle but retain a “how it was mentality”. We are more aware of the continued intrusion of the Federal, State and City governments in our lives. The 2nd amendment was written to give the people control over an out of control tyrannical government. The 2nd amendment also helps the citizen to engage in his right to self defense. The more information the government has on you, the more opportunities it has to intrude and control your life. As a former Intelligence Officer attached to the NSA, I may be more aware of just how information leads to control. The best solution is to make those responsible for criminal acts with a fire arm fully accountable for their actions under the law.
            Richard L. Block

        • Dr. Scott Paine

          Certainly a determined killer (and someone determined to commit suicide) will not be deterred by simply reducing ease of access to one weapon. But psychology and history have found that weapons matter. That’s why firearms have replaced swords and spears on the battlefield, and it is one of the reasons firearms are implicated so often in deaths domestically.

          We know, for example, that people contemplating suicide can, in some cases, be deterred by removing easy methods from their environment. Not all such people can be deterred, of course, but clearly some can.

          Thanks for your comments.