Richard Florida of The Atlantic has come up with an interesting piece on gun violence in America titled “The Geography of Gun Deaths,” that poses interesting questions and answers on the real factors related to gun deaths in the United States. This is an important issue in the wake of last week’s horrendous violence in Arizona and the ongoing debate on what’s to blame for that violence: political rhetoric, decreased funding for mental illness or the gun control lobby and the N.R.A.?
The answer may be as clear as the sidearm strapped to your hip.
The map above charts “firearm deaths for the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Note that these figures include accidental shootings, suicides, even acts of self-defense, as well as crimes.”
Armed (sorry for the pun) with this information, Florida examined factors associated with gun deaths at each state level. He charted “statistical correlations between firearm deaths and a variety of psychological, economic, social, and political characteristics of states.”
Florida is quick to point out that correlation does not imply causation, “but simply points to associations between variables.” Sounds very scientific and fair-minded.
It is commonly assumed that mental illness or stress levels trigger gun violence. But that’s not borne out at the state level. We found no statistical association between gun deaths and mental illness or stress levels. We also found no association between gun violence and the proportion of neurotic personalities.
Images of drug-crazed gunmen are a commonplace: Guns and drug abuse are presumed to go together. But, again, that was not the case in our state-level analysis. We found no association between illegal drug use and death from gun violence at the state level.
Some might think gun violence would be higher in states with higher levels of unemployment and higher levels of inequality. But, again, we found no evidence of any such association with either of these variables.
So what are the factors that are associated with firearm deaths at the state level?
Poverty is one. The correlation between death by gun and poverty at the state level is .59.
An economy dominated by working class jobs is another. Having a high percentage of working class jobs is closely associated with firearm deaths (.55).
And, not surprisingly, firearm-related deaths are positively correlated with the rates of high school students that carry weapons on school property (.54).
What about politics? It’s hard to quantify political rhetoric, but we can distinguish blue from red states. Taking the voting patterns from the 2008 presidential election, we found a striking pattern: Firearm-related deaths were positively associated with states that voted for McCain (.66) and negatively associated with states that voted for Obama (-.66). Though this association is likely to infuriate many people, the statistics are unmistakable. Partisan affiliations alone cannot explain them; most likely they stem from two broader, underlying factors – the economic and employment makeup of the states and their policies toward guns and gun ownership.
Digby from Hullabaloo states:
I think the issue of gun control has pretty much been decimated by the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutional right to bear arms. So, I’m not even interested in litigating it. But it do think there should be some discussion of the recent emergence of a gun fetish in politics and a normalizing of the idea that using guns to solve your problems is a constitutional liberty.
Let’s face it, even if the founders anticipated a future revolution when they wrote the second Amendment (which I doubt — I assume the anticipated a future invasion.) But whatever it was, they didn’t anticipate the kind of weaponry the government would someday be able to muster against the people if such a thing happened. It’s a silly notion at this point that a revolutionary force armed with Glocks could defeat the government if it decided to turn its sites on the people.
So, the only real argument for personal ownership is just a principle that people should be able to own what they want, including guns. I’ll even go along with that. But its irresponsible and undemocratic to bring them into politics for the purpose of threats and intimidation.
As a blogger, and someone who has had a long career in journalism and reporting, mostly for gay outlets, I have been the target of a lot of misdirected anger and venom. Each time the political rhetoric heats up in America, my friends and family get concerned that I might piss-off the wrong right-wing nut and be a target. I doubt that my opinions and musings are important enough to warrant such attention, but it is something that most political bloggers think about from time-to-time.
Digby has had similar thoughts and concerns:
The first phone call I got after the full story of Byron Williams came out was from a friend who told me that I was crazy to be involved in politics and that I should be very careful not to make the right wingers angry on my blog. I don’t feel that way, but I imagine there are a lot of people who think life is too short already to get into disagreements with people who are packing heat. Look what’s happened to the abortion providers.
One insane example of gun violence and obsession in America is that following the Tucson shootings last week, the Glock, which was allegedly used by the accused gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, has become a very popular weapon-of-choice by Arizona residents.
Gun shops in Mesa and Phoenix have reported above average sales for the gun, which is popular with police, sportsman and gang members.
What a sad state of affairs. Obviously, we’ve learned nothing form recent (and not-so-recent) events.