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21% Common Nonsense
A Lesson in Undermining A Gun Safety Message

by Sean Oberle (dischord)


Perhaps you saw the headline, from the group Common Sense About Kids and Guns –“Gun Accidents, Suicides Increase Among Kids.” Perhaps you also read about statistics this headline refers to – the “troubling” 21% increases from 1997 to 1998 in both unintentional gunshots (“accidents”) for 5 to 9 year olds and gunshot suicides for 10 to 14 year olds.

The problem is that these two 21% increases actually an increase of just 6 deaths in the first case and 27 deaths in the second. That’s right – child gun deaths are so low in these two categories, that an increase of just a few deaths can generate a 21% increase. 

Leaving aside the potential problems with Common Sense’s comparing raw numbers rather than rates of death, I think I understand the group’s motivation in using a misleading, tabloid-style headline. It wanted to generate shock to draw people into a story that contained advice on gun safety and kids – most of it fairly good advice (

Gun safety and kids being a topic on which all sides of the gun issue ought to be able to come together, it is unfortunate that the group let its desire to promote safety lead it to play statistical games. Doing so does nothing but bring up a sore point among gun owners – having to constantly check up on and correct factoids. 

Call it the 43-to-1 syndrome – our hackles get raised whenever someone tries to scare us with twisted facts and misleading statistics about the risks associated with guns. 

We become less likely to listen because we connect such propaganda with gun grabbers. Given that the group's safety message is directed at gun owners, using such misleading statistics is the worse tactic it could take.

I also give Common Sense some credit. After attempting to stir up fear but only stirring up angers with its misleading headline, it did have the honesty to acknowledge that firearm deaths for youth 0-19 were down 10% 1997-1998. In this case, 10% represents a significant change.

For the record, the raw numbers of gun deaths 1997 to 1998 for all reasons and all age groups under 20 are below. Note that nearly all are down. (source:

Age 0-4
Unintentional down 20 to 19
Suicide zero each year
Homicide up from 62 to 63
Undetermined down from 2 to 1
Legal Intervention zero each year

Age 5-9
Unintentional up from 28 to 34 (one of the 21% increases)
Suicide one each year
Homicide down from 77 to 60
Undetermined 1 each year
Legal Intervention zero each year

Age 10-14
Unintentional down from 94 to 68
Suicide up from 126 to 153 (the other 21% increase)
Homicide down from 207 to 191
Undetermined up from 11 to 18
Legal Intervention up from 1 to 3

Age 15-19
Unintentional down from 164 to 141
Suicide down from 1,135 to 1,087
Homicide down from 2,216 to 1,870
Undetermined down from 61 to 54
Legal Intervention up from 17 to 28

Sean Oberle is a featured writer with whose archive is kept here: Distribution permitted and encouraged. Please say you saw it first on