Kids, Guns and Guile
A congressman I met in my teens told me, “If someone mentions kids when debating politics, they are hiding behind children.”
It took time before the utter
cynicism reality of his thinking manifested itself in my life. But at least nine times in ten when a politico says, “It’s for the children,” it is really for the operative’s ideology.
So, when I saw the following blurb from the propaganda wing of a policy group, I had to document the realities.
Intermixing terms and deviants
“Gun deaths among school-age children have increased in the last decade. A study published Thursday in the American Journal of Medicine found that 38,942 kids aged 5 to 18 were fatally shot in the U.S. between 1999 and 2017. The authors noted a steep rise among black children beginning in 2013. The study’s lead researcher put the toll in perspective: ‘In 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty and about 1,000 active-duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-age children were killed by firearms.’”
This misleading paragraph is also a handy quick lesson in propaganda (or, more accurately, “agitprop”) analysis. I’ll interlace the two as we go along.
First, notice the free intermixing of the words “school-age” and children.” These are different things. As any parent can attest, the relative innocence of pre-pubescent children (the accurate definition) and hormonally crazed teens are far apart. What a teen will attempt to do ranges from the mild (staying out after curfew) to the criminal (murdering rival dealers).
This intermixing of youngster definitions has been a long-standing tactic of some policy groups. It is well established in criminology that street gang participation starts young, as the chart here shows. 1
The National Gang Center says that depending on the year, juveniles composed between 35% and 50% of street gang membership. 2
Clearly, referring to both “children” and “school-age” people is willful mixing of dissimilar populations.
The other grand propaganda give-away was use of a seemingly huge number (38,942) for the number of children+teens gun fatalities. But notice that this is over an 18-year span, which means the total lowers to 2,163 people – children and teen gang members – being killed with firearms each year. Frankly, with America’s runaway street gang problem, I’m surprised it is that low. But the word killed includes all forms of firearm deaths, from accidents to suicides to homicides, and even a few causes the authorities could not classify.
So, let’s dive into the numbers and expose some perspective.
The long term trends
Carnage in America peaked in 1993. Interestingly, this was also when accidental firearm deaths started their decline as well.
For actual children, firearm death rates have always been low (so much so that when you export data from the CDC website, they flash a warning saying that some data is unreliable due to such small numbers). Child firearm deaths plunged after 1993, though there has been an uptick in child firearm suicides in the last few years, to a rate equal to the
previous peak in 1985 (one firearm suicide for every 333,333 children). But when we add a line for non-firearm suicides, it becomes clear that recent small rises in child firearm suicide rates is a side effect of rising overall suicide rates.
For children, things have never been safer. Accidental firearm deaths are 1/7th their 1979 peak, and firearm homicides are 40% of what they were in 1993. Indeed, the only way you can pollute this wonderfully improved state of affairs is by including people who are not children. You know, those “school-age” members of MS-13.
Baseline data for teens
“Violent crime is a young man’s game,” a criminologist once told me. This is so true that many criminologists think keeping most convicted violent predators in jail past age 35 is a waste of money (I respectfully disagree, but that is for another forum).
The con perpetrated by the fear-mongering politicos quoted above becomes clear when we explore firearm homicides by age bracket (and we cut off at age 19 due to the default export groupings in the CDC’s WONDER database). It is quite obvious that most non-adult firearm victims are in the teen years. Since the prime street gang entry years are between 13 and 18 (see the chart above), and since the odds of being a firearm homicide victim skyrocket when one joins a street gang, the reasons for the higher death rate for those between age 15 and 19 is not opaque.
As we know, gang activity is also highly urban in nature (not universally, but primarily). As with gang age clustering, so too does the urbanicity of the victim lean heavily toward big cities, well known for their outsized gang membership rates.
Let’s revisit the opening propaganda salvo that ignited our investigation. “Gun deaths among school-age children have increased in the last decade.” The CDC tells us that among children, firearm accidents – though down 67% from their peak – are unchanged in the last decade. Despite the recent spike, firearm homicides are down 20%. Propagandists could not say “Gun deaths among school-age children have increased in the last decade” without including juvenile street gang members.
What the policy groups want is for you and your neighbor to panic. Don’t. Things, relatively speaking, are pretty good at present for kids.
Update #1: Real tally
A reader asked the obvious question “what were the actual child death stats for the time span?” By this he was asking about the years 1999 through 2017, the range used by the propaganda group in question.
The answer is that we are pretty sure, though we are missing one year of data. The CDC WONDER database currently only ejects stats through 2016. But that is close enough for perspective.
Using the proper definition of “child” and the CDC age bracks of 0-14, we can make this comparison:
|Average Deaths Per Year||2,163||195|