US gun violence: not a simple solution

By | December 31, 2012

Death by Firearms








US gun violence is a problem.  Approximately 12,000 Americans are murdered each year with a firearm. This per capita homicide rate is 4x that of England and 6x that of Germany.

In the 14 days after the sad day in Newton, CT, there have been 242 reported fire arm homicides in the US. All Americans can probably agree that too many people are dying.

It’s a complex problem. Gun violence in the US has many root causes. We Americans get a bit excited when we talk about guns, gun control, and violence. Unfortunately, the discussion is often scattered. Too-quick to place blame, and too-quick to offer solutions.  Often times, the conversation looks something like this word soup.

Gun Violence Word CloudUnstructured conversation is just brain storming. When the conversation is this unstructured, it is difficult to make heads or tails. Some ideas seem good, but upon reflection you aren’t sure. The same type of confusion happens in companies all the time. Lots of good ideas are circulated, but they are often unstructured, and inadequately thought through. As a result, a lot of good ideas are actually ignored.

Break the problem down. Consultants like to “bucket” problems into root causes or at least categories. While there are probably dozens of institutional factors, at a high-level it looks like there are 3 major ones that deserve consideration:

  • People: How responsible are the people who buy or obtain guns?
  • Weapon: How dangerous are the weapons available to the public?
  • Use: What is legal use, and how to prevent people from using them illegally?

Gun Violence - People Weapon UsePeople: Every responsible person should have the privilege of owning a rifle to hunt / skeet, or a handgun to protect themselves.

Challenge #1: Not everyone is as responsible, trained, mature, or thoughtful as you.  As George Carlin not-so-delicately put it, “Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are even stupider!”

Weapon: There is a lot of talk about the type of guns, bullets, and magazines that are available to the public. In my mind, it comes down to what is civilian-use and military-use.  The public has to decide that.

UseThe public needs to decide what is legal and what is not.

Challenge #2: There is a law that says people should have a background check prior to buying a gun.  That makes common sense, but about 40% of guns are not purchased through licensed gun dealers.  Apparently, there is a gun show loop-hole that allows for sale of guns between private parties without a background check in most states.

Challenge #3: The US approach to gun control affects other countries. In a recent study, approximately a large number of the guns confiscated by the Mexican authorities that are used for criminal activity can be traced by the United States.

Excellent note from commenter: 1) the 87% number was for weapons submitted by the Mexican government that can be traced 2) a large number of guns were legally sold to the Mexican military, that then fell into the arsenal of criminals.

With approximately 60,000 deaths due to the drug war Mexico over the last 6 years, it is a sad moment for all Americans and Mexicans.

America is different.  We are not the UK. The British decided to essentially ban private ownership of handguns in 1997.  That will not happen in the US. There are 300 million fire arms currently in the United States and the demand for guns continues to grow.

Similar situation in China. None dead. To me, the biggest reality check was that a similar attack of school children happened in China on the exact same day – December 14. A mentally ill man stormed into a school and attacked children. He did not have a gun. He had a knife. Many children were hurt, some critically, but none died.

There are studies that show a correlation between the number of guns and murders. It is correlation, not causality – but intuitively it makes some sense because we are all human. Emotions get the better of us.  Words turn into punches. Punches turn into knives and guns. As George Carlin aptly described us 20 years ago, we can all be a little bit stupid.

800 US Mayors. There is a coalition of US mayors that are asking for the US President and Congress to come up with a plan. One of the most vocal proponents is Michael Bloomberg – who always struck me as a no-nonsense leader of NYC. Lots of Hollywood stars lend their voice to this promotional video.  If you want to see how divided the country is on this topic, take a look at the number of up / down votes the video has.

Gun Violence - Demand a Plan

Post-script: Harvard Business Review article on creating a $100 billion gun safety industry

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5 thoughts on “US gun violence: not a simple solution

  1. eriko

    This comment is made the hope that better data and understanding on both sides can lead us to better polices.

    A couple comments:
    -The 87% trace data from mexico is problematic for 2 reasons. First only a portion of firearms confiscated in MX are submitted for trace. (see ) and secondly and unknown number of these are one that we (our goverment) legally sold to MX’s government (see )
    -One of the few good things to come out of the ’94 AWB was that a new gun culture arose that realized that gun safety really mattered which meant much better training and proliferation of things like the 4 rules (unfortunately there are several wordings) (see: ) and use of things like guns safety to secure firearms not in use. Although gun safes do not seem to effect accident rates for children (see: ) This has led to a large drop in accidental deaths in the last 20 years. (this last is my supposition)
    -Another way to think about the “gun show loophole” is that it is firearms equivalent of the “First Sale” doctrine that says that if you buy a book you can sell it without having to tell or pay the publisher. That you do not have to pay a cut to the manufacturer of your car when you sell it. If you are trying to fix this I would love to have access to the NICS system without having to register as and FFL (a time consuming and expensive process). There are a number of ways to do this that would limit abuse of it.
    -The Supreme Court has rules that the Second Amendment is in part about self defense. That the general public and police (both civilian by the way) are choosing the same tools for self defense has been the norm for as long as there have been police.
    -The British have long had an uncomfortable relation with the general public having firearms. Historically their hunting laws have attempted to limit access to firearms to the landed aristocracy. (see:
    -There is significant evidence that firearms homicides are related to other criminal activity. Both in the criminal records of the perpetrators and victims. (see: ). One solution to this is to remove the profit from the drug trade by legalizing it and use the money to fucus on on treatment somewhat along the lines of Portugal. They have have experience and significant drop in drug use since changing their focus to treatment. (see: and )
    -MAIG mayors seem to have a higher rate of crime than people with CCW permits. (see: ) There are similar comparisons with nationwide CCW numbers but I can not find them right now. I mention this to point out that responsible firearms owners are remarkably law abiding. The person that made the TN comparison also does a twice yearly report using the FBI, CDC and firearms sales data that you might find interesting (see: )

  2. consultantsmind Post author

    Eriko, thank you for the thoughtful and well-researched comment. Agree with a lot of what you mentioned. Also, appreciate your passion to get the facts straight and offer counterpoints. Compromise, dialogue and mutual respect is what makes America, and this democracy great.

    I corrected the comment about the 87% in the formal post. Also, made note to this comment.

  3. Μολων Λαβε

    Your China data is incorrect. There have been so many attacks on school children over the last couple of years in that the Chinese authorities have posted guards at every school to reduce the death rate. Please keep in mind that this individual hacked on those children with guards present. He managed to hack on 22 of them before being subdued.

    FBI data from 2011 shows that non-firearm homicides are almost 13 times that of homicides committed with rifles.

    Law Enforcement committed justifiable homicide with a firearm at a rate higher that criminal homicide with a rifle. Civilians commit justifiable homicide at a rate of about half that of law enforcement. Which is interesting simply because law enforcement represents such an insignificant percent of our population, although you would expect that since they are placed into situations that represent significantly higher risk to have to defend oneself.

    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Hello, thank you for the information about attacks on Chinese schools. It is a sad world when you hear about these things.

      In terms of the FBI data for 2011, it looks like 67% of the weapons used in homicides were fire arms. Please let me know if this FBI data source was different than the one you were referring to.

      As I did say in the body of the post, this is just correlation not causality. In the same way black umbrellas are correlated to rain, but do not cause rain.

      Thanks again for the open dialogue and constructive way to think through a tough question.

  4. Μολων Λαβε

    Please explore all of the data on the FBI data from 2011. Look at the demographics and crime data associated with homicide data. Also look at the dramatic downward trend of all violent crime. Interestingly enough this happens to coincide with an increasingly greater freedom to protect oneself with firearms. Is it causal? I can’t prove that, only time can. The technology isn’t the problem here.

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