Gun Control: A Rush to Condemn Firearms?

A CBS article claims that a new gun control proposal in Congress will “require safe gun use”. Rufus Williams, Chicago Public Schools President, stated: “We’ve lost 31 children, 31 CPS students have died or have been murdered this school year and it's not OK.”1 This theme kicks off HB 2666, sponsored by Congressman Bobby Rush, who represents Illinois’ Congressional District 1, which includes Chicago.2

What CBS doesn’t mention is that Illinois already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. Brady Campaign considers Illinois to be among the best states in the country for gun control laws, giving the state an A- grade in their 2005 report card. A Firearm Owners Identification card (FOID) is required for all gun sales, and the state prohibits all concealed carry.3

Rush bases his justification for this new federal law in part on a recent tragedy where a criminal boarded a Chicago Transit Authority bus and began shooting students at a local high school. The shooter obtained the gun illegally from another person who knew the shooter’s murderous intentions. As noted above, concealed carry and private, unregistered transfers of firearms are already illegal in Illinois. Willfully being an accessory to murder is already a felony.4

For the Children?

Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “childhood” as: “The state or stage of life as a child…the time from birth to puberty.”5 Oxford defines “puberty” as: “The period during which adolescents reach sexual maturity and become capable of reproduction, distinguished by the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics.”6 In terms of age, there seems to be general agreement that this ability to procreate occurs by the age of 15.7 Thus, true children are ages 0-14.

Citing the latest Centers for Disease Control data available (2004) we find that 1,316 children died from all violence-related injuries. Of these, 285 died from firearms-related injuries. Since when did 21.7% become a “great majority”?

This is not a new ratio. Between 1994 and 2004, the percentage of all fatal injuries caused with firearms averaged 29.6%. More importantly, while all violence-related fatal injuries for children dropped 21.7% during this time period, fatal firearms injuries for children dropped over twice that rate: 56.6%. The rates per 100,000 population dropped 25.5% for all fatal injuries and 58.8% for firearms-related injuries. Looking at the raw numbers of fatalities, firearms injuries dropped from 39.1% to 21.7% of all fatalities.

In fairness, Congressman Rush may have been confused about the population group he is talking about: at one point, he discusses high school students; elsewhere, he mentions “children”. The Supreme Court defines an adult to be age 18 or older. In a recent decision, the Court abolished capital punishment for juvenile offenders, considered to be under 18.8 Examining fatal injuries for minors (ages 0-17), which includes high school students, the results are similar with one exception. Between 1994 and 2004, firearms-related violence caused 52.4% of all fatal injuries. This is a majority, but is not a “vast majority”. More importantly, while the total violence-related fatal injuries dropped 34.1%, firearms-related fatalities dropped 55.6%. The rates dropped 38.3% for all fatal injuries and 58.4% for firearms-related injuries. Examining only raw numbers, firearms injuries dropped from 65.6% to 44.2% of all fatalities.9

Trouble in Paradise?

When comparing Illinois’ fatal injury trends to the national trends, initial appearances might indicate that Rush may be onto something. For the time period of 1994-2004, Illinois led the national index in declines in fatal injuries. The 0-14 age group saw a 42.6% decrease in the fatal injury rate and an 89.9% decrease in the firearms fatality rate, while the 0-17 age group saw a 53.4% decrease in the fatal injury rate and a 72.9% decrease in the firearms fatality rate. However, since Illinois beat the national trend in overall fatal injury rate declines, this indicates other factors besides gun laws affected this trend. Also, the average rates create doubt as to whether Illinois is really safer: the average fatal injury rate was 2.85 per 100,000 population for the 0-14 age group and 6.13 for the 0-17 group, both higher than the national averages of 2.44 and 4.61, respectively. Likewise, Illinois’ average fatal firearms injury rate is also higher than the national rate: 0.85 for the 0-14 age group and 3.72 for the 0-17 group, compared to the national rates of 0.74 and 2.48, respectively. Again, this shows other dynamics in play for Illinois. Finally, the average ratio of all fatal injuries from the use of firearms is similar or higher in Illinois: 28.4% for the 0-14 age group and 58.4% for the 0-17 group, compared to the national rates of 29.6% and 52.4%, respectively.

At issue is the 2004 reporting year, which recorded much lower-than-average rates for the 0-14 age group. Examining the time period of 1994-2003, Illinois’ data appears even less compelling as a role model for what gun banners like to call “sensible gun laws”. While still leading the national trends in fatal injuries, Illinois’ average fatal injury rates remain higher than the national averages, and the average ratio of all fatal injuries from the use of firearms becomes less favorable for Illinois: 30.5% for the 0-14 age group and 60.0% for the 0-17 group, compared to the national rates of 30.4% and 53.2%, respectively.10

Considering these data and trends, where exactly, then, is the need to pass more laws? Rush’s stated goals are:

· to protect the public against the unreasonable risk of injury and death associated with the unrecorded sale or transfer of qualifying firearms to criminals and youth;

· to ensure that owners of qualifying firearms are knowledgeable in the safe use, handling, and storage of those firearms;

· to restrict the availability of qualifying firearms to criminals, youth, and other persons prohibited by Federal law from receiving firearms…11

The only rationale for this bill lies in his desire “to facilitate the tracing of qualifying firearms used in crime by Federal and State law enforcement agencies” and in his desire to “implement a nationwide program of licensing all individuals who possess firearms and require all guns to be registered in a national gun registry”.12

Conclusion

Passing laws to enhance the safety of our children is always an emotionally satisfying activity, but using children as ideological human shields to justify legislation that only punishes law-abiding citizens is reprehensible. Rush wants to foist Chicago’s failed gun control program on the rest of the country: an egregious act that renders people even more defenseless against violent predators who will never obey gun control laws.

Endnotes

[1] Katie McCall, Blair’s Bill Will Require Safe Gun Use, CBS, June 10, 2007. http://cbs2chicago.com/local/local_story_161182751.html

2 1st District Illinois, Congressman Bobby Rush. http://www.house.gov/rush/district.shtml

3 Illinois State Laws, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. http://www.bradycampaign.org/legislation/state/viewstate.php?st=il

4 Aiding and Abetting/Accessory, Findlaw. http://criminal.findlaw.com/crimes/a-z/aiding_abetting_accessory.html

5 The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Thumb Index Edition, 1993 Edition, page 386.

6 Ibid, page 2404.

7 Google search: definitions on puberty. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oi=defmore&q=define:puberty

8 5-4 Supreme Court Abolishes Juvenile Executions, ,

Charles Lane, Washington
Post, March 2, 2005. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62584-2005Mar1.html

9 All fatality data referenced here was collected from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2004, Centers for Disease Control. http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_sy.html

10 Ibid.

11 Congressman Rush introduces gun legislation named after Blair Holt, the Julian High School hero, Office of Congressman Bobby Rush, June 11, 2007.

http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/il01_rush/blairsbill.html

12 Ibid.