By John Lott
Published February 07, 2014
Gun control advocates not only push new fees and taxes on guns to reduce ownership, but they also employ another tactic: scaring people into not owning guns.
Last week, on January 31, ABC News saturated its news programs with the alleged danger of gun ownership.
It started early in the day with a segment on “Good Morning America,” then came a report on the evening news, and finally an entire hour devoted to the subject on “20/20.”
The reports all focused on the dangers guns pose for children.
Although a producer for ABC News spent hours asking me questions about this subject before the reports aired on various news programs, our discussions seemed to have had no impact.
What I told them just didn’t fit the type of story they wanted to tell.
The producers appeared to want to argue that gun ownership had fallen, dropping as low as 33%, implying that gun ownership really is not all that popular any more.
Yet, as I explained to the producer I spoke with, the General Social Survey poll they wanted to cite was unusual. Other polls had found much higher rates of gun ownership.
Indeed, I pointed out, much to her surprise, ABC News’ own polls show that gun ownership has changed little, currently holding at 43%. But in their reports, ABC didn’t even mention their own polls, instead cherry-picking the one with the lowest number.
ABC’s goal was to make people believe that little, innocent children frequently play with guns, accidentally hurting themselves and others.
On “World News” anchor Diane Sawyer warned: “Every hour a child is rushed to the emergency room because of gun shots.”
Reinforcing this, correspondent David Muir was more specific: “Looking at children and guns, the most recent statistics from 2009. And take a look tonight, they are eye opening. The new numbers are arresting. . . . . 7,391 children rushed to the hospital every year because of those gun injuries, so often accidents in the home. 453 of those children die at the hospital. . . .”
And, he continued, reporting that “many of those cases are an accidental shooting in their own home.”
ABC presented the tragic story of a 3-year-old boy who died from a self-inflicted gunshot. The father, a police officer, Mark Easter, had his gun accessible because he faced threats from criminals.
Not too surprisingly, the grieving officer now recommends people to lock up their guns in a safe.
With the statistics and this tragic case, it all seems to make sense: if you insist on owning a gun, lock it up. And to protect your children, ABC News recommends that you go as far as asking your neighbors about gun ownership.
Indeed, ABC News went into great detail about how to convince your neighbors to lock up their guns. But Sawyer and Muir are simply wrong to claim that the vast majority of firearm injuries involve accidents with young children.
Indeed, even the article from the medical journal Pediatrics that ABC News relied on for information, doesn’t show that.
The vast majority of the injuries do not involve little children, but older teenagers, including 18- and 19-year-olds (who normally would be labeled “adults”).
Consider the following statistics from the Pediatrics article:
– The injury rate for black males 15 to 19 years old was 13 times higher than for white males.
– 84 percent of the injuries were for 15 to 19 year olds and 62 percent as a result of criminal assaults. These injuries don’t occur from young children accidentally mishandling a gun in their own home, but rather as victims of brutal crimes, often gang related.
If the study had broken down the numbers further, one would see that most of these injuries were for 17, 18, and 19-year-olds.
For example, in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control reports that 76% of firearm injuries were for those under age 20 were for 17, 18, and 19 year olds.
This is hardly the impression ABC News created by showing pictures and stories of young children while mentioning the 7,391 injuries.
So what does all this mean? If we want to reduce these injuries, we need to focus our resources on gang violence. And normal law-abiding citizens locking up their guns will not reduce gang violence.
So what about gun accidents for little children? They are extremely rare. For all children under age 10, the Centers for Disease Control reports that for 2010 (the latest year available) there were 36 accidental gun deaths, and that is out of 41 million children living in the United States.
In addition, two thirds of these accidental gun deaths involving young children are not shots fired by other little kids but rather by adult males with criminal backgrounds. Unless you send your child to play over at a criminal’s home, your child is exceedingly unlikely to get shot.
Indeed, if you worry about your child’s safety, you better check into other dangers lurking around the playmate’s house: a swimming pool, chemicals and medications, bathtubs, water buckets, cars and bicycles.
Consider the numbers: Accidental suffocations alone claimed 1,070 deaths, drownings 609 deaths; fires 262 lives; poisonings 54 lives.
If your child is offered a ride in a car, it would make more sense to check the parents’ driving record than whether they own guns. After all, 923 children under 10 died in car accidents.
Alas, this scaremongering about guns costs lives by making us less safe and turning people into sitting ducks for criminals.
According to my research, mandating that people lock up their guns didn’t reduce the few accidental gun deaths for children or teenagers.
What such laws did do is embolden criminals to attack more people in their homes and their crimes were more successful: 300 more total murders and 4,000 more rapes occurred each year in 18 states with these laws. Burglaries also rose dramatically.
Finally, what about families who have not been able to reach their gun quickly enough because it was locked in a safe? Children do die when criminals enter their homes, too. Diane Sawyer or David Muir ought to have presented such a grieving family.