Are firearms a danger to society or are they a benefit? Matters of degree are important since modern firearms both cost lives and save lives. Even with that simple statement, we have to take a large step away from the fantasy world of Hollywood to even have a small hope of answering the question. We can’t count on the corporate media with its click-bait journalism to give us clear answers either. I want to compare how our neighbors handle the guns in their safes with how they manage the drugs in their medicine cabinets. To oversimplify the complex question, is gunpowder both safe and effective when used as directed?
We say that something is effective if it actually performs as advertised. The over-the-counter drug we bought yesterday should treat fever and muscular aches the same way it did when we bought it four years ago. We call it safe if there is little risk to the user and the response is predictable. Some people are injured even though they thought they were using drugs properly. We also know that some people deliberately abuse over-the-counter and prescription medications. We have to talk about that.
We have lived with firearms for the last four centuries so we know what best practice looks like. Firearms today are amazingly reliable. We’ve seen ordinary citizens defend millions of lives a year because they were armed. That implies that most of us are using firearms “as directed”, but not all of us do that. We know that some people have accidents with firearms. We also know that some criminals deliberately use firearms to commit violence. We have to talk about that too.
Asking those questions is hard. We’ve all seen Hollywood’s versions of violence on the silver screen and on television, but most of us won’t be the victims of criminal violence. It is good that real violence is relatively rare, but that leaves us replacing reality with the Hollywood fantasy that we’ve seen thousands of times. Perfection is not an option for lifesaving drugs or for lifesaving firearms. We have to be responsible with both.
Even common over-the-counter drugs can be dangerous. Over 60-thousand people went to the hospital after an overdose of Tylenol. About 500 of them died from that overdose. That sounds like a lot, but we consume over 25 billion doses of Tylenol a year according to the US Library of Medicine. We safely took 50 million doses for each fatality.
Those simple statistics are incomplete. We don’t know how many of the hospitalizations were accidents and how many were deliberate overdoses. We don’t know about the other medical conditions that were present when the dose of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug turned fatal. What is even harder to determine is the amount of pain and illness that were relieved by those common drugs. Ask heart patients if something as simple as common aspirin saves lives.
When considered as a class, prescription drugs are far more dangerous compared to most over-the-counter medications. Where over-the-counter pain medications caused 500 deaths, the deliberate abuse of drugs such as prescription pain relievers killed over 100 thousand of us in 2021. Again, to put the problem into context, there were about 6.5 billion prescriptions filled in 2021. The number of individual doses would be several times that amount.
We safely took 65-thousand prescriptions for each drug overdose death. That means we’re doing a lot of things right even though drug addiction is a serious problem. We don’t know how many of those addiction deaths could have been prevented by addiction counseling and mental health treatment.
Almost all of us know someone who suffered from addiction.
Few of us know someone who has been shot by a criminal.
Criminals commit about 1.2 million violent crimes each year according to the FBI. The good news and the bad news is that about a million of those violent crimes, those aggravated assaults, rapes, those robberies, and murders, were committed by the criminals without using a firearm. Criminals used a firearm to commit murder slightly more than 10-thousand times in 2019. Again, the good news and the bad news is that most of those murders were in our failed cities. Most counties won’t have a murder of any kind. Criminal violence is concentrated rather than widespread.
In contrast, our neighbors used a firearm to stop criminal violence about 2.8 million times each year. During that armed defense, we prevented about 37-thousand murders. That means our armed neighbors saved tens of thousands more lives than the murderers in drug gangs took with a firearm.
We know how to handle firearms safely, but some gun owners don’t follow best practices. About two children a day are injured in firearms accidents. Some of those are legitimate accidents, but many of them are from criminals who store the gang’s gun under the front steps or under the chair cushions. Some studies publish misleading results that classify 19-year-old gang members as children. The unequivocal good news is that firearms accidents are only 1-in-6000 of the fatal accidents each year.
Unfortunately, politics raises its head again. The Biden administration recently defunded some school programs that taught firearms safety education.
To put these firearms numbers in perspective, there are between 80 and 120 million gun owners in the US. 40 percent of us live in a home where firearms are stored. Urban women are the fastest-growing segment of firearms owners. About one in 92 adults will use a firearm in legal self-defense this year. The number of criminals who are killed during self-defense is about the same number of people who die from Tylenol overdoses.
That data might surprise you, but it is hard to be informed. The corporate media twists the news to deliver eyeballs to their advertisers. The facts are that we do a good job managing the risks and rewards of both common drugs and personal firearms. The vast majority of us use them responsibly. We are better off for having them and taking away guns or drugs would cost lives.
Criminals misuse both guns and drugs, but the benefits far outweigh the penalties. Restricting or further regulating either would cause more pain than it would alleviate.
It is ironic that drug prohibition fuels the trade in illegal drugs that in turn causes so many gang murders with a firearm. When in doubt, take a dose of common sense and freedom, then call me in the morning.