Bias Coverage of Gun Homicide Distorts Statistical Reality at the Expense of Young Americans

Today’s New York Post headline, “Guns now leading cause of death for American children, CDC says,” comes against the backdrop of two nearly back-to-back shootings by young white males, both eighteen years old, the first shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, the second at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Between them, the shootings left thirty-one people dead, mostly children. These are the latest in high profile mass shootings occurring over the last several decades. But mass shootings seem to be ramping up.

The NYP story summarizes an analysis published by the New England Journal of Medicine on May 19, “Current Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States,” which, based on data recently released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that firearms are now the leading cause of death for American children. More than five deaths per 100,000 Americans between the ages of one and nineteen were due to guns in 2020, the most recent year for which the CDC has data, a figure that represents a nearly 30 percent increase in firearms deaths among children over 2019. That’s more than twice as high as the relative increase in the general population.

The CDC data shows 45,222 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2020 (2021 will likely show an even great number). The NEJM reports that this is a new peak. “Although previous analyses have shown increases in firearm-related mortality in recent years (2015 to 2019), as compared with the relatively stable rates from earlier years (1999 to 2014), these new data show a sharp 13.5% increase in the crude rate of firearm-related death from 2019 to 2020.” Significant, the increase is not driven by suicide, which remains however the largest proportion of gun-related fatalities. “This change was driven largely by firearm homicides, which saw a 33.4% increase in the crude rate from 2019 to 2020, whereas the crude rate of firearm suicides increased by 1.1%.”

“The increase was seen across most demographic characteristics and types of firearm-related death,” note the authors of the analysis (professors at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor). The authors provide a link to Fig. S1 in the Supplementary Appendix if readers wished to follow up. I followed up because I had a suspicion about where this increase was occurring; politically hot subjects are often conspicuous in their absence. Scientific norms push scientists to be honest (not that they always are), but those norms don’t usually compel them to make finding all the relevant information easy. You usually have to do that work yourself (the COVID-19 pandemic made that abundantly clear).

I provide a screenshot of significant parts of Fig. S1 below (what is left out is the overall increase, which is reported above, and sex differences, which finds that the vast majority of most homicide victims are male, as expected). One crucial piece included in the screenshot left out of both the NYP story and the NEJM analysis is race and ethnic differences, which is substantial. Take a look:

Significant parts of Fig. S1

You will note that, after Asian/Pacific Islander, which shows a decrease in gun homicide over the period, Non-Hispanic White shows the lowest overall rate of gun fatalities and the lowest increase during the period for all racial and ethnic categories. In contrast, Black or African American shows the largest number of gun fatalities and the largest increase, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic White. Also included in the screenshot is the higher rate of homicide relative to suicide among those one-to-nineteen years of age, which is reversed in those over the age of nineteen. I do not have access to the relative race/ethnic distinctions among victims of homicide over against suicide. It is entirely possible that the increase of homicide victims is even greater for one or more groups.

I am highlighting the demographic profile of the evidence because the almost exclusive media attention given to shootings perpetrated by white males (Salvador Ramos is Hispanic but racially white) can lead to a false perception of the cause of the rise in gun homicides is a young white male problem. In fact, as I have reported here on Freedom and Reason many times (most recently on April 18, The Continuing Media Campaign of Disinformation about Race and Violence, which contains links to other past blogs), most homicide victims in America are black men and their deaths come at the hands of other black men. Moreover, most mass shootings occur in black and brown neighborhoods and their victims are mostly black and brown people. However, the dominant MSM narrative, amplified by Democratic Party members, is that mass shootings are the result of white male pathology.

Putting aside for now the question of why the MSM and Democrats portrays white males as the source of violence in American society (it’s part of why Douglas Murray calls his latest book The War on The West), we must ask why black and brown victims of gun violence are ignored by the MSM (except when their deaths are at the hands of white perpetrators, a statistically uncommon occurrence)? This is an important question; if we wish to understand gun violence we need to understand its dynamics, and a narrow focus on the unusual case of the young white male mass shooter, which typically involves significant psychiatric illness, leaves the dynamics of most gun violence lying in darkness, where it continues to wreak the most havoc.

The fact is that most gun violence is perpetrated by young black men without fathers in their lives socialized in a subculture that diminishes the capacity for empathy and conditions individuals to see others as means to ends. Most gun deaths in America are associated with robbery, gang warfare, and other crimes of disorganized neighborhoods where generations of black and brown families have been idled by progressive policy (see Michael Shellenberger’s 2021 San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities).

Progressives have for decades installed a mechanism in popular consciousness to deflect from their failure to make American cities thriving centers of personal success. By treating subculture as an authentic expression of racial type, those who draw attention to criminogenic pathologies in the majority-black neighborhoods in our cities are branded racist. This political move comes at the expense of the thousands of young black men victims by young black male perpetrators.

We also have to ask why the United States government is prepared to mobilize the Department of Homeland Security to address the relatively rare phenomenon of white nationalist terrorism but are silent on the remarkably high rate of gun violence occurrence in America’s inner cities. The question is largely rhetorical. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: progressives are portraying white working families as the real problem of America in the longstanding project to dismantle the American republic.

We know what AOC means by “radicalized.”

The NEJM analysis reports that “drug overdose and poisoning increased by 83.6% from 2019 to 2020 among children and adolescents, becoming the third leading cause of death in that age group.” This is significant for the reason the NEJM analysis notes: “The rates for other leading causes of death have remained relatively stable since the previous analysis, which suggests that changes in mortality trends among children and adolescents during the early Covid-19 pandemic were specific to firearm-related injuries and drug poisoning; Covid-19 itself resulted in 0.2 deaths per 100,000 children and adolescents in 2020.”

Leading Causes of Death among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 1999 through 2020.
Note: Children and adolescents are defined as persons 1 to 19 years of age.

However, pandemics are largely manmade phenomena. Those in power lock down societies, not pathogens, whether naturally occurring or lab enhanced. To be sure, alienation from isolation and social distancing explain some of the increase. This piece is acute. The persistent conditions of America’s cities that produce globally extraordinarily high rates of gun violence and death are the result of a much more profound situation of isolation and social distancing. These are the consequence of decades of progressive policy.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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