Las Vegas Review-Journal: Including Gun Suicides In Total “Gun Deaths” Is Data Manipulation

The Las Vegas Review-Journal downplayed gun violence in the United States to attack legislative attempts to address the issue while also claiming guns safety advocates “manipulate” data by including gun suicides in gun death totals.

An October 31 editorial argued against stronger gun laws, specifically mentioning expanded background checks, by noting that while public mass shootings have captured national headlines, the overall number of gun homicides has remained relatively flat over the past 15 years:

Mass shootings leave Americans anguished and angry. Every time one happens, more and more voters want to know how many more mass shootings will happen before our leaders “do something” about it. The unrelenting media coverage of and emotional debate surrounding mass shootings create the impression that the country is awash in worsening gun violence.

The trouble is, as horrific as mass shootings are, the numbers tell a different story.

According to a Pew Research Center study of data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of U.S. gun homicides and nonfatal gun victimizations have both held steady for roughly 15 years, and are both down over the past 20.

That mass shootings capture headlines is no surprise. According to an analysis highlighted by The Washington Post, the nation is averaging more than one mass shooting each day this year, and by several metrics, the incidence of mass shootings is increasing.

More so, that the firearm homicide rate has been steady for the past 15 years is not a compelling argument against gun safety proposals because the rate remains staggeringly high compared to other high-income nations. And it's unclear that fewer people are actually being shot: according to the Wall Street Journal the number of serious gunshot wounds that required hospitalization increased by nearly half between 2001 and 2011. Doctors speculate that this may not impact the gun homicide rate because medical advances have increased the survivability of gunshot wounds, the Journal reported.

The Review-Journal also took issue with the inclusion of gun suicides when counting the total number of “gun deaths” that occur in the United States each year, claiming that gun safety advocates “manipulate” the data on “gun deaths” to include suicides so as to “push their agenda”:

While gun crimes have dropped over the past two decades, the number of suicides by gun is up (and growing) over the same time period. Not wanting to waste an opportunity to push their agenda, gun control advocates like to manipulate this data by citing growing “gun deaths” as a reason for stricter gun controls.

Gun suicides are widely included by experts on public health and gun violence when counting “gun deaths,” which typically include suicides, homicides, accidents, and cases of undetermined intention. There is good reason that gun safety proposals and attempts to reduce suicide are interconnected. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Twelve or more U.S. case control studies have compared individuals who died by suicide with those who did not and found those dying by suicide were more likely to live in homes with guns.” Studies show that between 89 and 95 percent of individuals who survive a suicide attempt do not become future victims of suicide, but when firearms are involved many victims never have this chance because gun suicide attempts are fatal 85 percent of the time.

The Review-Journal's editorial downplaying gun violence and dismissing gun suicides is the latest piece of commentary from the Nevada paper that attacked proposals for stronger gun laws. On September 14 the Review-Journal published an attack on expanded background checks that was so inaccurate that the authors of a study cited by the Review-Journal wrote a letter explaining how the editorial board had misread the study so as to invert its conclusion