Guns kill

firearm deathsThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control have released their annual death report, and with that, firearms are again in the news in Alaska.

“Alaska ranks number one in gun death rates,”, the website of the state’s top station for television news, reported Tuesday.

The headline is totally accurate and totally misleading. If you live in Alaska, you are about:

  • Seven times more likely to die from cancer than from a firearm.
  • More than six times more likely to die from heart disease.
  • Almost three times more likely to die in an accident.
  • And more likely to fall victim to chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and suicide, which is where the really big problem with gun deaths arises.

In a crime-fearful state still wrestling with an economic recession, which tends to push crime rates upward, many people read “number one in gun deaths” and think the numbers reflect the possibility they could be shot.

They don’t.

What the numbers reflect is Alaska’s huge problem with suicide, especially in rural Alaska. If you are shot in Alaska, you are most likely to shoot yourself.

The CDC reported 177 firearm deaths in the state in 2017, the year of the latest report. About a third of them – 54 – were homicides. The rest were suicides.

Guns, of course, aren’t the only way people kill themselves or each other in Alaska. The CDC reported an Alaska homicide death rate of 10.6 per 100,000 in 2016, but a firearm homicide rate of 7.3 per 100,000.

There were a total of 193 suicides in Alaska in 2016, according to the CDC, which would put the number of non-firearm suicides at 70.

The  Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, notes that “Alaska Native men between the ages of 15-24 have the highest rate of suicide among any demographic in the country, with an average of 141.6 suicides per 100,000 each year between 2000 and 2009.”

Most of those deaths occur in rural Alaska and many involve firearms, a vital tool. It is not impossible to survive in remote areas of the state without a firearm, but it’s hard to understate the attraction of a tool that can help put high-quality protein on your table in places where the costs of store-bought food are astronomically high.


But what the average Alaskan worries about most isn’t suicide, but being killed by someone else. And there came goods news from the CDC, but not that good.

The 2016 firearm homicide rate was 7.3 per 100,000, down from 8.0 per 100,000 the year before. But still significantly higher than the 4.7 per 100,000 rate of 2014. 

Alaska at the moment has crime problems. There is no denying that. The overall homicide rate of 10.6 per 100,000 ranks the state fifth in the nation behind Louisiana, 14.4; Alabama, 12.9; Mississippi, 12.7 and Missouri, 11.3.

The Alaska uptick dates back to the start of what has come to be called “The Great Alaska Recession.”

Ed King at King Economics Group pegged October 2015 as the start of the economic decline. Former state economic Gregg Erickson put the start at sometime in the summer of 2014. 

Whatever the exact starting date, the crime rate went up as the economy went down. There is continuing debate about the link between economics and crime, but a World Economic Forum study in 2015 found “a disconcerting and long-run effect of economic downturns.

“Recessions not only lead to short-term negative outcomes on the labor market but can indeed produce career criminals,” the study said. “We find robust evidence of an initially strong and eventually long-lasting detrimental effect of entering the labor market during a recession for individuals at the threshold of criminal activity. These effects are economically substantial and potentially more disturbing than short-run effects.”

It’s easy, however, to ignore economics and blame Alaska’s firearm death rate on all the guns in the 49th state, but the issue is nowhere near that simple. The CDC reports 17 homicides in Wyoming in 2016, a number so low the federal agency calculated the rate per 100,000 as “not applicable.’

“Wyoming has the highest number of registered guns per capita of any state in America,” according to CBS News. “For every 1,000 residents, there are 195.7 guns, about three times the rate of second-place D.C. That’s 114,052 registered firearms in a state with a population of only 582,658 people.”

The numbers are, unfortunately, meaningless.

As number-cruncher B.J. Campbell at the website Handwaving Freakoutery wrote in March of this year, “there is no clear correlation whatsoever between gun ownership rate and gun homicide rate. Not within the USA. Not regionally. Not internationally. Not among peaceful societies. Not among violent ones. Gun ownership doesn’t make us safer. It doesn’t make us less safe. A bivariate correlation simply isn’t there. It is blatantly not-there. It is so tremendously not-there that the ‘not-there-ness’ of it alone should be a huge news story.”

Campbell has written extensively about guns and gun control and crunched numbers from around the globe. Like most authorities on the subject, he recognizes the suicide problem.

“Suicide, numerically speaking, is around twice the problem homicide is, both in overall rate and in rate by gun,” he writes. “Two thirds of gun deaths are suicides in the USA. And suicide rates are correlated with gun ownership rates in the USA, because suicide is much easier, and much more final, when done with a gun. If you’re going to kill yourself anyway, and you happen to have a gun in the house, then you choose that method out of convenience. Beyond that, there’s some correlation between overall suicide and gun ownership, owing to the fact that a failed suicide doesn’t show up as a suicide in the numbers, and suicides with guns rarely fail.”

Campbell has some complaints about the public discussion of firearms, starting with the simple fact that it’s difficult to have a reasonable, public-policy debate about guns if people can’t agree on the basic facts.

And he has fingered the media for “warping the narrative.”


Whether that is a fair accusation or not is debatable, but Campbell is right when he observes that the lack of an obvious connection between gun ownership and gun deaths is so “not-there that the ‘not-there-ness’ of it alone should be a huge news story.”

Campbell gets into a lot of math on his website, which is informative for anyone interested in the problematic issue of guns and/or gun control. But all the math boils down to this, as he summarizes:

“Gun murder rate is not correlated with firearm ownership rate in the United States on a state by state basis. Firearm homicide rate is not correlated with guns per capita globally. It’s not correlated with guns per capita among peaceful countries, nor among violent countries, nor among European countries. So what in the heck is going on in the media, where we are constantly berated with signaling indicating that ‘more guns = more murder?'”

That is a question almost impossible to answer although it is clear that once certain narratives get established in the media they are harder to kill than a vampire.

America spent more than a decade bogged down in Vietnam at the cost of the lives of thousands of young Americans because journalists got locked into a narrative that nobody wanted to challenge for a long time.

“When I first got to Saigon as a journalist in 1963, I took it for granted that American policy to counter Communist expansion into the southern part of Vietnam was the right thing to do. That was the conventional wisdom,” Vietnam war correspondent Andrew Pearson confessed in the New York Times last year.

He went on to suggest the reporting “matured” over the years that followed, though the reality is more that the Pentagon Papers, the anti-war movement forming on the home front, and a handful of reporters who went against the conventional wisdom shifted Vietnam journalism.

Pearson now envisions a media that learned from Vietnam, writing that “there’s a new generation of reporters who take nothing for granted because of what they know about Vietnam. Their work is everywhere in the best daily newspapers, on cable news and in online newsletters, blogs and websites.”

It’s possible he comes closer to reality in qualifying the above statement:

“Of course journalism is populated by an assortment of people. There’s no entrance exam, so a lot of reporting is done by people who are ignorant and inexperienced about the subjects they pretend to know. Journalism is no better or worse than any other American institution. But the best young reporters have learned from the Vietnam War to question authority and find out for themselves what’s really going on. And that’s how it’s supposed to work in a democracy.”

Only that isn’t how it’s working in this democracy.

Very few question the established narratives. The real story in the latest CDC mortality report as in CDC mortality reports for all of this is decade was little reported, and it is this:

American’s are dying by the hundreds of thousands because they spend too much time sitting on their big, fat asses. In Alaska, the combined rate of death from diseases linked to the so-called “sedentary lifestyle” is around 240 per 100,000 – not counting deaths due to cancer, the state’s now leading cause of death.

Nobody knows how many of those cancers are linked to simple inactivity, but there’s growing evidence of an association. Still, ignoring cancers, you are about 33 times as likely to be killed by the sedentary lifestyle than by homicide.

In fact, according to the latest CDC data, you are significantly more likely to be killed by flu/pneumonia (12.8 deaths per 100,000) than by firearm homicide (7.3 deaths per 100,000).

Wouldn’t that be a story here?

Alaskans are 75 percent more likely to be killed by the flu, or the pneumonia often associated with the flu, than by some lunatic with a gun. You take the latter into account by assessing where you go in the state (especially Anchorage, as with any big city) and when and who you associate with.

Or at least you do these things if  you’re smart in order to avoid crime risks.

So did you get a flu shot to avoid the greater danger?
















33 replies »

  1. The number of registered guns per capita is meaningless for more than one reason.That number comes nowhere near how many guns people actually own. I know many gun owners and am certain that the number of non registered guns owned by Alaskans is many times greater than those registered. Most of my friends own ten or more long guns and pistols. Some many more than that. Most are unregistered.

    • Just to be precise, outside of Federally-registered NFA items, there are no “registered guns” in Alaska, and none in most states. There are licensed gun carriers, and there are a few states with permits to purchase and possess, but only a dwindling few with actual registries (because registries accomplish no public safety goals and cost a lot of money).

  2. Craig,
    This headline is not going away anytime soon.
    And neither is the Cancer Epidemic which I feel is most closely tied to pollution in our everyday lives.
    First and foremost is clean air to breathe and clean safe drinking water for our children.
    Diesel exhaust, fracking, mining pollution which has dumped heavy metals into our water and years of burning coal have all contributed to this situation.
    As for gun violence…
    One word is Gangs.
    This lastest shooting in Wasilla where one young man shot the other in the back of the neck shows that teenagers are acting like “thugs”…
    This gun culture is glorified in Hollywood movies and music and online.
    My five year old son cannot even watch a kids show online without advertising for toy guns popping up?
    Adding to this debacle is the fact that many of the nearly 1 Million Guns Stolen every year in America wind up in criminal hands.
    No “War on Crime” will end this viscous cycle of violence.
    Untreated mental illness and drug addiction must be addressed (and not just criminalized)…that includes the alcohol advertising everywhere and allowing people to drink before getting in a car…
    Every server needs to be held accountable if we want things to change.
    Lastly is our country’s militaristic approach to domestic and foreign control.
    Last night Trump said 52,000 Americans were seriously wounded in the Middle East over the last 19 years.
    This culture of change must start at the top…
    Diplomacy over Violence so our next generation has a chance!

    • See Steve, this is where you are wrong and our visions of America are different – “Every server needs to be held accountable”. In my America, the individual is held accountable for his actions. In yours, somebody other than the offender is responsible. The “Nanny” State. Like saying Smith & Wesson is responsible for Leroy picking up a gun, loading it, and shooting someone. Better yet, we see all these Democrats accusing everybody else of being racist while they prance around like klansman. Is it the sheets fault?

      • Bryan,
        I guess you do not believe in the rule of law?
        We already have laws on the books in many states stating a server is criminally liable when serving drunks, yet these DUI’s are rarely tracked down to “da bar”.
        My 20 years as a Nationally Registered paramedic showed me first hand that drinking and driving do not mix.
        Remember once a person is legally intoxicated (usually after their 2nd drink) they no longer can make good judgment on “when to say when”.
        An incident in Valdez a year or two ago had a guy leave a bar and drive over a woman in the parking lot who was a mother and a wife…she died.
        He was wasted and had been drinking all night at the pub, but I am sure no proprietor or serve were made accountable for this death.
        This is a huge factor with Alchohol related violence and deaths…
        The laws on the books holding servers and bar owners accountable needs to be enforced.

      • Steve, say I am an alcoholic. I can drink .40+ BAC. Yep, that is right – .40+. I go into a bar at .20 BAC and order 1 Boiler Maker. At .20 BAC I act completly normal to the bar.
        How is it their fault they served me one drink? I know there are laws onbthe books, placed there by Democrats who try to hold gun manaufacturers accountable. I am pretty sure most bars, even without the law, would say “hey Frank, let me get you a cab”. If not, the next call is going to the cops. The problem today is people are to the point of giving local, state, and fed gov the middle finger due to overburdensome laws and regulations. YOUR ACTIONS ARE NOBODY’S FAULT BUT YOUR OWN.

      • Bryan,
        I know you have an agenda to sell (stay divided and blame the Democrats) but you are way out of line on this subject.
        “Alaska requires servers to be trained to recognize people who have too much to drink and stop serving them. Under the law, servers and bartenders can also be arrested and cited for over-serving.”
        “There are three problems in Alaska: alcohol, alcohol and alcohol,” Parker said.
        “Alcohol is fueling. It’s not the cause, but it’s fueling most of the crime we’re dealing with,” Parker said. “If you’re at home, you go to bed and get up with a bad hangover. If you’re at a bar, you’ve got to get home and you could be a sexual assault victim, get in a car to drive drunk or get in a fight.”
        And let’s not forget Alaska is also “Number 1” in sexual assaults in America…
        Are you seeing a trend yet?
        “After checking 26 Anchorage bars recently, four had employees that were out of compliance and 19 “highly intoxicated” patrons were cited.”

      • Steve, my point to my exhaustive rant wss to put sole responsibility on the individual. Some laws are just meaningless feel good laws. Take Alexander Cortex and her “Green” initiative to redo every building in the United States at tue tune of $7 TRILLION DOLLARS. Imagine the BS laws and regs that will come from that pee brain. There will come a time when I will extend my middle finger to her types as well.

  3. So, Craig, what would your headline be instead of “Alaska ranks number one in gun death rates.” Remember, it’s got to be short and to the point.

    • Troyer- Alaska #1 nationally ,has 177 gun deaths in 2017 – 123 were by suicide. Or —- 2/3 of Alaska gun Deaths by suicide . That is more the story factual numbers tell . Leaving out facts can be as misleading as adding facts .Headlines pretty important as many Americans never get past a headline. News corps know this and function under a deniability ethic . They use this fact to twist public opinion. Not good . The press enjoys very protected status in America. A free press. With freedom comes responsibility. Step up your game media moguls.We aren’t in kindergarten.

      • Hi Opinion,
        Do you think that along the lines of responsibility that Bryan and Steve are commenting about above, that we should also be responsible READERS of media? Quit biting on the click bait adds and stop reading splash ‘news’ websites completely? I know that there isn’t exactly a dearth of great media sites out there, but there are some decent ones. What if we just tried to help them up their game by not participating in the junk side of it? Demand better news driven by facts, not opinion and spin. Obviously, news is written by people who all have their own biases and agendas, however, they need to do a better job and we need to help them. By not reading their crap.
        Cheers friend!

      • Very good question Jack ! Would a capitalism ethic defeat poor news !? Have to think on that one . I’ve been going over a similar subject with a very smart person . He veiw s only specific sources worth his time . He has high standards of what he considers reliable worthy of reading. The problem I discovered after speaking with him in depth is that people have to wide a range of what they consider reliable to make your capitalistic method work . Even a wide range between very intelligent people as each one may use different methods when reading a source. A danger of removing any particular source from a reliable list is that a person could miss a valuable veiw point or info bit that was hidden amongst the messy writing that would disqualify it from supreme quality reading . Thus it’s probably better each source tighten up their individual game . On their own terms . Now their is a problem with agenda driven media as has been discussed by people . Even say Reuters an incredibly awesome reliable source can be examined carefully and found to at times appear agenda driven by a extremely discerning reader . Most people may disagree with me but that’s how I see it . Though to be fair it’s possibly one of best sources for most folks. Not for me as I prefer media that tears into the details and gets its hands dirty at times. So sadly because we humans have such diverse tastes I doubt capitalism will solve that particular issue unless we are able to identity who and what drives a specific media’s agendas and if they are attempting subterfuge quietly.

      • Hey Opinion,
        You’re right. The capitalist idea that I threw out last night does have one flaw… A scarcity problem. Although, a smart capitalist might look at that and see an opportunity! I agree with you re: Reuters. I think that it’s a pretty solid source of info – and it does have a bias – just like all news sources. However, the shallow reporting that it does use means that their is less room to twist the story towards a personal agenda (which is why I think that they use that style). You’re definitely not going to find too many 2 page opinion articles on that website…
        Cheers friend!

    • Eric,

      I don’t want to speak for Craig, but if I were to hazard a guess as to what he would title his article on this point I would go with him calling it “Guns Kill”.

      Guns kill is a factual statement as is they wound and maim, they protect, they defend, they provide food, and they even provide entertainment, along with many other things. Guns are inanimate objects that only do what they are commanded to do, fire a projectile.

      Lots of other things kill more than guns kill, as Craig listed, well as the CDC listed and then Craig listed. The difference is that guns are sexy and heart disease isn’t, either is cancer, or suicide (where most gun deaths come from), or any of the other causes of death listed before an inanimate object. Most or all of the causes of death listed before firearms are more controllable and do not infringe upon a Constitutionally protected right, but some poeple just like to complain about things they can’t control…including and sometimes (like this time) the media.

    • Hey Eric,
      I don’t have a dog in this hunt, but how about this: ‘Alaska has the 2nd fewest gun deaths by state in the US’ – now I’m not sure that that is really the case because I’m too lazy to look up the actual data right now. HOWEVER, whatever the actual numbers are for our total gun deaths, you can bet that it’s lower than most states just because of our very small population. So if you take the actual number of gun deaths and compare it to CA, IL or FL, you will see that we have a tiny percentage of gun deaths vs those states and also, most other states in the country. Ergo, you could get away with a short headline of ‘AK has the fewest gun deaths by state in the US (or whatever place we happen to land)’ and be factually correct and still be essentially lying. As Mr. Twain said ‘There are 3 types of liers. Liars, Damned Liars and statisticians.’
      Cheers friend!

    • Eric,

      Unpack it further. If the actual public health/public safety issue is high suicide and homicide rates, but guns are not drivers of either per the evidence, why are they called out in the headline at all?

      “Alaska has highest suicide rate, second highest homicide rate in the nation.”

      Then, in the story, get into the weeds on demographics and actual proximate -causes-. Perhaps noting in the story “Although many politicians and activists point to firearm ownership rates as causes, the evidence does not support that contention nationally nor internationally (link to cites).”

    • Nice Fisher! I threw down a hypothetical argument without your data without reading your thoughtful comment. My apologies – I’m wasn’t trying to steal your thunder.
      Cheers friend!

    • AK Fisher you reminded me of a stat I heard 25yrs ago I just cannot shake. Kind of openned my eyes to these types of stats. I remember hearing during the first Gulf War how blacks made-up 2 out of 10 soldiers (20%) in the army at the time, while accounting for only 13% of the population. An “over-representation” if you will. Cries of racism shot-up, “blackman fighting a white man’s war for oil”, yadda. All over a stat of 7%. Reminds me of “depends what the word ‘is’ is”. Just spin doctors doing their thing. Like you said you can make numbers dance however one likes. The problem is people of today are either to dumb or lazy to dig past the heading.

    • Texas also has millions of people, you’d expect them to have more total everything. That’s why we use rates to compare dissimilar population sizes.

      We use it in state as well, to say “Anchorage has more X than (anywhere else in the state)” is almost tautological. Of course we do, we have half the population living here. It is the rate of occurrences (per thousand is a better measure for smaller pops) that allows us to see disproportionate problem areas.

  4. Let us not forget:
    “Alcohol abuse fuels our homegrown epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault and also contributes to the state’s high rate suicide, according to state health officials and police. More details can be found here and here. Alcohol induced deaths — where alcohol abuse leads to fatal health problems — is three times the national average in Alaska.

    About 37 percent of all crimes investigated by the Alaska State Troopers in 2010 involved alcohol or illegal drugs, with substance abuse a factor in almost 62 percent of violent crimes, according to the 2010 annual report. Inside Anchorage, alcohol was a factor in 55 percent of all assaults and almost half of sexual assaults, say the most recent crime stats posted online by the city police. About half of recent fatal traffic accidents involved impaired drivers”

    • Hi Bryan,

      So what’s your solution to this problem? Ban booze? Or help people to stop self medicating? I personally feel that prohibition is doomed to fail and that our efforts to stop illegal drug (and alcohol) use is not worth the money spent on it. I feel that those funds would be better focused on dependency prevention and care rather than having guys kicking in doors to stop an illegal trade that only benefits really horrible dudes.


      • Jack, to be honest I do not have a solution for the actions of adults who cannot decide right from wrong. The only thing we can try to do is make it harder for our youth. Prevention if you will. Which of course, is a losing battle. Do we legalize drugs? Like cigs, 40yrs from now we will see trillion $$$ lawsuits claiming the powers to be said how good marijuna was for me. It is a never ending cycle. As for kicking in doors, well, a lot of that is window dressing for many reasons – a show of “force” for the taxpayer, intimidation for low ranking hustlers, “we are watching” factor, yadda. Also, you have a multi-billion $$$ underground business that goes un-taxed. Uncle Sam wants his money. But, you leagalize drugs you will face a never ending stream of lawsuits or do we fight a never ending battle to stop it. Not sure Jack.

      • Hey Bryan,

        Yeah, it’s a tough one. We are dumping a significant portion of our population down the drain with legal and illegal drugs right now because people think that they need to feel GREAT all of the time or simply don’t have the ability to deal with their reality. Our doctors are also not helping as much as they can be either – we give kids drugs based on teacher recommendations just to calm them down in class. Somebody is bummed out because their wife left them due to their alcoholism and now they need antidepressants. Slippery slope. Part of me wants to cut bait this way:

        Have the US government give anybody over the age of 21(?) ANY drug they want FOR FREE! Meth, heroine – WHATEVER. Take the money that we now do not have to spend protecting our border, chasing dealers, chasing petty thieves looking for their next fix into rehab and prevention. This also takes the money away from really horrible people who are profiting off of peoples addictions.

        Would that work? I don’t know. I know what we’ve been doing for the past 100 years hasn’t worked – in fact, it’s getting worse. So… maybe we should try a new approach. Might hurt a ton. Might save a generation of brilliant minds.

        Thanks for the response.

        Cheers, friend!

      • Jack my opinion is you hit on a part of the only viable solution. Your method will work with some tuning. What is the saying? Doing something exact same way repetivly and expecting different results is a form of insanity. I suspect in this case it’s more a form of capitalism gone bad .

      • Jack, saw this early this morning and thought of you. Forgive me as I just glanced over it. Feel free to delve more into it. Times may be changing.

        “The top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has filed suit to stop a nonprofit from opening a first-in-the-nation supervised drug injection site to address the city’s opioid problem.

        The lawsuit pits U.S. Attorney William McSwain’s stance on safe injection sites against those of Philadelphia’s mayor, district attorney and a former Pennsylvania governor. McSwain said he believes supporters should try to change the laws, not break them.

        “Normalizing the use of deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl is not the answer to solving the epidemic,” McSwain said at a Wednesday news conference, while protesters gathered outside his Independence Mall office”.

      • Hey Bryan,
        Yeah, I’m sure that there would be heartbreak and tragedy with the free for all method that I put out there, however, what’s the difference between that and what’s happening now? Shit, I just heard about an old friend who died YESTERDAY by overdose… His fiancé is devastated, but come on, at some point you’ve got to ‘man up’ and quit being a junkie or NOT. Obviously, my friend chose to not. I definitely do not claim to be the man with the plan, I just know that what we are doing now isn’t working and that the war on drugs is more of a war on personal liberty. I think that we need to radically change our thinking on this subject and move to a personal responsibility system instead.
        Cheers friend!

      • Say jack, since many think we need to check for drug use before any welfare perhaps we need to only furnish drugs to those who are drug free. Hehe!

    • “Alcohol fuels…” is an assumption I dislike. Alcohol certainly correlates with a host of negative behaviors, but it hard to prove if it “causes” the behavior in people who otherwise would not offend, or if the kind of people who would commit the behavior (or are predisposed to do so) are also likely to use alcohol. Alcohol misuse may simply be part of a lifestyle of bad personal choices, so it shows up in many/most incidents, but didn’t “cause” them.

      That said, it obviously lowers inhibition and reduces decision-making skills, but that doesn’t make it a “cause” of subsequent actions, given people choose to use it knowing those effects.

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