A little gun math

As you know, I often mention reports from the Ohh Shoot blog, which chronicles the virtually daily instances of someone doing something accidental with a gun and the associated serious wounding or killing of one or more other individuals. These events are not part of the large number of suicides using guns that happen every year, and they are not part of the large number of shootings related to felonies carried out with the aid of a gun and they are not part of the number of times a person shoots a truly armed and dangerous intruder truly intruding the home (as opposed to a grandchild hanging out on the porch mistaken for an intruder by a trigger happy grandpa). In other words, the steady drumbeat of accidental serious wounding and killing that counts as pure gun-related accident is a small component of the overall problem of gun violence.

Nonetheless it is important.

If a plane crashed and 365 people died in the crash and it turned out that the plane crashed because there were two commercial airline pilots playing chicken, people would notice, people would get mad, people would go to prison, new laws would be passed and new rules would be made, and no one would be saying it isn’t important. No one.

Well, those ca 365 deaths that happen every year in the US because two idiots are playing chicken or because some cop left his private handgun loaded and unlocked on the night stand or because some buzzed dudes decided to practice shooting in the living room of their apartment are the same thing.

So it is important, which is a point I wanted to make here, but not the main focus of this post. Instead, I want to try something a bit fast and loose and dangerous but that might be interesting.

You know that on National Gun Appreciation Day a gazillion responsible gun owners got together to fork over their hard earned money to gun dealers and otherwise play around with their hardware. During this process, a certain number of people have taken bullets or fragments of bullets as various firearms were accidentally discharged. As of this writing, 8 people have been shot. John McKay is documenting this here.

But they all lived, and in fact, I think none of the incidents were serious enough to have made it into Ohh Shoot blog were it not for the connection to the Gun Appreciation Day events. (Even then, I’m not sure if they’ll be covered there or not).

What does this mean? Well, there may be a number, a factor, that we can multiply by the number of near deadly or deadly incidents of the type that seem to happen at a rate of about one per day, to estimate the total number of dumb-ass accidental woundings that happen every day above and beyond the more spectacular ones, when people merely get nicked and don’t bother getting medical attention, or the incident is otherwise not reported.

So far, that number could be around 8, based on John’s data. But really, are we sure that every single event happening at the Gun Appreciation Day is being reported? Maybe we should round up to 10. In any event, we should wait a few days for the dust and smoke to settle, and see what John’s final count is, and consider which cases were serious enough to have been widely reported and to make it into a blog like Ohh Shoot.

At present, it would not be entirely absurd to suggest that between 3,000 and 4,000 events occur in the US each year in which someone does something dumb with a gun, the gun goes off, and someone gets nicked. How many times does something like this happen, the gun goes off, but no one is nicked? I’ll guess ten times that. About 35,000 times a year, somebody does something dumb with a gun and it fires unexpectedly. About 3500 times someone is nicked with the bullet or shrapnel but not seriously injured. About 350 times there is a serious wounding or death. Mostly, we hear about that last category.

Don’t like my numbers, assumptions, or calculations? Fine! Provide your own in the comments.

Comments

  1. #1 Ça alors!
    January 20, 2013

    Gun Appreciation Day??
    Is this a joke?

  2. #2 adelady
    city of wine and roses
    January 20, 2013

    I’ll be a bit snarky right now and suggest that the reason the numbers are not easily to hand is that the CDC’s been hamstrung – financially and otherwise – in collecting and collating this data. Heav’n forfend they might actually analyse and report on such things.

    I think Obama’s decision to reinstate this data collection is one of the better ideas around.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    January 20, 2013

    Exactly.

  4. #4 jane
    January 20, 2013

    Argument from ignorance: if I don’t know how many times per year guns are accidentally fired, I must accept the numbers you pulled out of your hat. But let us assume for the sake of argument that your made-up numbers are correct, and that for every accidental gun death there are 100 accidental, uncontrolled firings of guns that don’t injure anyone. If 100 million or so gun owners were responsible for some 40,000 accidental firings of guns per year, that would be about one accidental firing, usually without injury, for every 2500 gun owners. What percentage of automobile drivers per year shall we assume do something stupid or careless, or have a mechanical malfunction, that could have caused an accident with injuries if they hadn’t been lucky? More than 0.04%? Around here, I would guess more than 0.04% per DAY. Yet we don’t suggest banning private cars because average Americans are too dumb to be allowed to control such powerful machines. You have actually provided an argument that the vast majority of Americans who own guns are competent to use and care for them safely. (And guns, unlike cars, don’t cause asthma or heart disease or contribute materially to climate change-related deaths.)

  5. #5 Zme
    January 20, 2013

    @jane:
    I don’t want to hear about absolute fatality and injury numbers but you should talk about these in some sort of equivalent usage rates…not ownership rates.

    Vehicle rates are usually measured per 100 million vehicle miles travelled (100 MVMT). This is approximately 2 Million Vehicle HOURS Travelled (2 MVHT – average speed of 50mph).

    In what units can one measure firearm usage to get rates of fatalities and injuries? By number of rounds fired/hour? Assuming you can get off 50 rounds/hour (easy…higher rates are worse for your case), then in 2 Million Round Hours Fired (2 MRHF)…that’s one hundred million rounds fired/2 MRHF?

    NOW we can get comparable death and injury rates:
    10 Billion rounds of ammunition are sold in the US each year. We’ll assume all are used (i.e. Steady state applies). That’s 100 2MRHF. There were 31000 gun fatalities and 73000 gun injuries in 2010. So firearm fatality rate is 310 deaths/2MRHF and 730 inuries/2MRHF.

    This does not compare favourably to motor vehicles…in 2010 there were 1.1 deaths/2MVHT and 90 injuries/2MVHT.

    Another point is that various federal agencies have worked on vehicle safety (both vehicles and driving habits) to bring the fatality rate down from 7.5/100MVMT (1949) and injuries down from 170/100MVMT (1988).

    Because federal agencies are not allowed to track detailed firearm statistics (thank you NRA and its lobbyists) it’s impossible to introduce possible life saving legislation and monitor its effects.

  6. #6 jane
    January 21, 2013

    ZME – Your numbers are meaningless. Let’s imagine that four guys go out deer hunting for twelve hours and finally see one deer and shoot it with one round. I would call that 48 hours of safe gun use. You would only count one bullet. (I don’t know how you would translate this into “round hours”, a bizarre and apparently indefinable, hence meaningless concept.) Let’s imagine a rancher who wore a handgun three hours a day last year in case he had to defend his animals (or himself) from a dog pack or other predators. But it was a nice safe year and he never fired a shot. I’d say there’s a thousand safe hours of gun use; you’d say he wasn’t shooting constantly all that time, so zero “round hours”? For that matter, all those hours when the gun’s back home in the gun safe count as safe gun ownership too in my book.

    Also, you do not get to count suicides and murders as if they are equivalent to *accidental* shootings or firings of guns, which is what was under discussion here. Let’s continue to work with Dr. Laden’s invented number of 40,000 rounds accidentally fired per year, about 90% of which injure nobody and are usually unreported. If 10 billion rounds are sold, 40,000 fired by accident would be 1 out of every 250,000 rounds. Again, that suggests that the mechanisms of modern guns are mostly quite safe and that most gun owners are capable of keeping their fat thumbs off the triggers and checking the chamber before they start cleaning the things.

  7. #7 Amoeba
    January 21, 2013

    When someone mentions the NRA and gun safety, I am reminded of this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhIJOVD8hwY

    Pretty-well says it all.

  8. #8 Tom
    Australia
    January 24, 2013

    ZME is either an idiot or thought he could dazzle jane into submission with jargon.

    good on you jane. shame on you zme.

    if you have to resort to logical fallacies and sophistic tricks to try to win your argument, you really have to rethink what you are doing.

  9. #9 richard benton
    January 3, 2014

    how is citing statistics on the dangers of daft (drivingalchoholfirearmstobaco)a defense of guns.guns are,always have been,always will be a more efficient way of killing anything alive that comes in their crosshairs.ALL GUNS military,civilian.Can anybody cite the destruction that has occurred in this world since their invention.All this rot about liberals versus rural conservative is nonsense rhetoric

    9driving,alch

  10. #10 richard benton
    January 3, 2014

    statistics don’t lie,but liars do.I took a statistics class.the first thing you learn is how malleable they are in the hands of people with an agenda,and every human has an agenda(yours truly included)abortion/pregnancy-how many women have died in childbirth whose lives would have been saved/how many pregnancies have gone horribly wrong in various ways?how many birth defective children have ben aborted saving them and their parents from a lifetime of misery.its not so black and white is it?what does the gun issue have to do with the dangers of driving,drinking,or smoking.each activity needs to taken on its own demerits.there is no cross correlation.any attempt to do so simply givesthe other dangers a get out of jail free card.thats stupid

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  11. #11 richard benton
    January 4, 2014

    all societies function under myths that help us make sense of the world. The gun culture operates under its own mythology. All this back and forth finagling of statistics is nothing but utter dishonesty in the face of the facts. Driving cars, and everything we have done to the life support system has been an enormous tragedy.in what alternate universe does pointing this out justify the presence of guns in the world. In the coming age of resource scarcity, guns are going to be irrelevant. Peak oil is not going to lead to a mad max world. that’s a myth. You wont be holed up in a compound defending yourself with guns, because the industrial base that manufactures guns will be gone. There will be more pressing demands on our resources, and guns will draw the short straw. Freedom is a much abused word. Are you free from the law of gravity. From the need to breath, to eat, to sleep? All this talk about government. Why doesn’t anybody mention how corporations dominate our everyday life. They tell us how to dress, what eat, what our lawn should look like(no white clover-must poison it)ad infinitum.what then is freedom actually. Just do whatever you want. Well unless you’re extremely wealthy that’s impossible

  12. #12 richard benton
    January 4, 2014

    I would like to see a study of what actually happens in the entire world with all the guns that have been purchased,broken down by category:hunting,murder,suicide,accidental,warfare,we cannot continue this conversation in any sensible legitimate way until these statistics are compiled by an honest nonpartisan group of professional statisticians.until that happens all these comments are totally irrelevant.I would also include statistics on driving(very dangerous)drinking(very dangerous)smoking(very dangerous)all this bullshit culture crossfire about pasty lefty vs manly heroic gun owners is rhetorical nonsense,and has nothing to do with whats actually happening out there in the real world,where human myths go to die

  13. #13 richard benton
    January 4, 2014

    oh by the way, my next door neighbor-Scott, is an nra member. He is 5-2,wears glasses, and he’s bald. Oddly he looks exactly like one you wags stereotype of a pasty white lefty, only he’s one of you.as Dylan said propaganda-ALL is phony