Guns and death in South Carolina
By Phil Noble
The recent murder of nine people at Emanuel Church in Charleston has sparked many different reactions. Confederate flags are coming down, people are talking about race in different ways and the subject of guns and violence is now back on the agenda in our state and country.
I frequently write about a wide range of studies and analysis of various public policy issues. In today’s political environment, far too often politicians and their supporters pick out an isolated fact or two and use it to spin out their rationale for some line of rhetoric or pre-determined position. These folks, Democrats and Republicans, use facts not to determine what policies should be pursued but instead they use a couple of fact to justify their bias, prejudice and pre-existing position.
That said, below are some facts from recent studies – simple fact with no rhetoric or political spin – about guns, death and violence in South Carolina:
Between 2001 and 2010, 5,991 people in South Carolina were killed by guns. This is 15 percent higher than all U.S. combat deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
In South Carolina, a person is killed by a gun every 14 hours. There is an aggravated assault with a gun occurring every 90 minutes.
In 2010, we were the seventh-deadliest state in the country for gun murders. For every 100,000 people, the gun murder rate was 5; this is 39 percent higher than the national average of 3.6 per 100,000.
We rank No. 2 in the county in aggravated assaults with a gun, 2-1/2 times higher than the national average.
When it comes to killing law-enforcement officers with a gun, we rank fourth in the nation. For the years 2002 through 2011, 16 officers were killed with a gun.
From 2001-2012, South Carolina ranked fourth in the nation in the number of women killed by a gun, 64 percent above the national average.
In the category of women killed by men in domestic violence in South Carolina, we ranked second and more than half of these murders were committed with a gun.
In 2001, the rate of guns from South Carolina being “exporter” to other states and used in the commission of a crime was twice the national average. We exported 33 crime guns per 100,000 people compared to a national average of 14.
In a statement after the Charleston shooting, President Barack Obama made comments about how gun violence and deaths were so much worse in the United States than in other industrialized countries. The statistics show that he is right.
The United States ranks No. 1 in the world in the number of guns per 100 people at 88.8. By comparison, the rates for other industrialized countries are: France 32.1, Canada 30.8, Germany 30.3, Australia 15, Italy 11.9, Russia 8.9, United Kingdom 6.6, Ireland 4.3 and Japan 0.6.
The ranking and rates of firearms deaths per 100,000 people by county for industrializes countries are similar to those of gun ownership: U.S. 3.5, Canada 0.5, Italy 0.3, France 0.2, Germany 0.2, Holland 0.2, Australia 0.1, and United Kingdom 0.05.
For the most recent year reported, Japan’s murder rate with a gun was 0 – none. Japan has a population of 127 million, South Carolina has 4.8 million people.
All of this would lead one to ask – why? Why are the bad statistics for South Carolina so dire? At this point there is a danger of wondering into a more subjective analysis about gun safety legislation – or lack thereof – in our state.
But let’s stop here. Instead of getting into a political or policy discussion, which by definition leads to division and disagreement, let’s just focus for now on the problem.
The key takeaway from all this is that we have a problem in South Carolina – a big problem. We are killing each other with guns at a freighting rate. We are killing each other at rates that are among the highest in the country and our county’s rates of gun violence are among the highest rates in the world.
For now, let’s all agree on this. We have a very big problem – a very, very, very big problem – and we need to do something about this.
(Note on sources: S.C. data: Institute for Southern Studies, global data: see Wikipedia, “number of guns per capita by country” and “list of countries by firearm-related death rates”)
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley.