In a recent news story, Rep. Glen Casada said that the majority of gun deaths in the U.S. are ‘self-defense.”  This statement is factually incorrect.  

“As someone who studies gun violence and is familiar with the available research on the subject, I can say with confidence that Rep. Casada is wrong,” said Beth Joslin Roth, policy director for The Safe Tennessee Project.  “My organization looks at peer-reviewed, academic research and studies statistics from the Department of Health, the Department of Justice, the Department of Safety, and Centers for Disease Control, the FBI, and the TBI.  We are interested in evidenced-based solutions to gun violence and we look to these organizations and vetted, academic literature to inform our education and policy objectives”

The majority of gun deaths are firearm suicides.  In Tennessee alone, according to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, 600 Tennesseans per year will use a gun to take their own lives. 50 every single month.  Many are adults but some are children and teens.  Firearm suicides are different than other forms of suicide because studies show suicides by gun are the most impulsive and the most lethal.  

Homicides and attempted homicides are the next largest subset of gun violence.  People shoot each other for a variety of reasons.  There is undoubtedly youth violence and gang violence plaguing our country, but that is hardly the only reason that people are shot.  Many shootings are the result of altercations that turn deadly when someone uses a gun to settle the dispute.  Yesterday in Memphis, a man shot his brother and then shot himself.  There have been multiple road rage shootings on I-40 in Memphis.  Domestic violence is the motive of many fatal shootings in Tennessee.  Our state is 6th in the nation for women murdered by men, most commonly with a firearm, according to the Violence Policy Center.  In their most recent report using 2013 data, 55 women in Tennessee were murdered by men- 98% by someone they knew, usually a current or former romantic partner. On Sunday, a Sevierville man shot at his girlfriend and then fired on responding SWAT officers before he was arrested.  

Accidental shootings continue to be problematic in our country and especially here in Tennessee.  Our state is ranked 9th in the nation for accidental shooting deaths, according to 2013 data from the CDC’s WISQARS database.  Earlier this year, a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health study flagged Tennessee as one of seven states with a disproportionate number of accidental shootings.  And, it’s not getting any better. This year, there have been significantly more accidental shootings than last year.  Earlier this week, a man at the Nashville Shores campground accidentally shot himself in the head. That incident marked the 46th accidental shooting so far this year.  In all of 2015, we tracked a total of 51 accidental shootings.

We gather data and analyze data from a variety of sources, including the nonprofit website Gun Violence Archive (GVA).  GVA aggregates verified news stories from around the country and categorizes them, providing a real time snapshot of gun violence numbers.  According to GVA, thus far this year, there have been 762 instances of defensive gun use nationwide.  However, there have also been 1,085 accidental shootings, 1,368 teens killed, 6,354 total firearm deaths, and 13,059 total firearm injuries.  In Tennessee, according to GVA, there have been fewer than 30 instances of defensive gun use this year.  

Representative Casada may be referring to numbers provided by John Lott, a former academic whose book “More Guns, Less Crime” became the basis for the modern gun-rights movement.  Lott’s book was based on surveys and research he conducted that concluded that more people carrying more guns more places made the public safer and reduced crime.  However, Lott’s work was criticized by fellow academics who found fatal flaws in his research model, including coding errors and systemic biasWhen pressed by his academic peers to explain issues with his methodology and the inability to reproduce his findings, Lott claimed that the hard drive he was using at the time had been ruined and that he could not remember the name of any of the research assistants who had assisted him with his research. Even other researchers who had previously praised his work, began to question the ethics of his research methodology and his inability to reproduce results.  As a response to this criticism, Lott created an internet persona named “Mary Rosh” who regularly appeared in online forums and article comment sections to defend Lott’s work.  Eventually, fellow academics discovered that Rosh and Lott shared an IP address and he admitted that Rosh was his creation.  Lott, who is no longer employed by any academic institution, founded his own organization, The Crime Prevention Research Center in 2013, funded by donors including Ted Nugent who sits on his board of directors.  He regularly self-publishes reports that do not undergo the scrutiny of academic peer review.

One of the more questionable claims Lott has made, and perhaps what Representative Casada is referring to, is that each year in the U.S., there are as many a 2.5 million instances of defensive gun use.  Not only do those numbers not come close to the numbers logged by The Gun Violence Archive (verified accounts of defensive gun use in the media account for a small fraction of the numbers Lott claims), they also defy reasonable thought.  Based on Lott’s numbers, each day, there are 6,849 instances where a gun owner needed to use deadly force to defend themselves – 285 times each hour. 

“The reality is that the majority of people will go through their entire lives without ever needing to use a gun to defend themselves,” Roth said.  “If Lott’s numbers are to be believed, by the time we reach middle age, every American would have had to use a gun to defend themselves multiple times.  The numbers just don’t add up.  The Safe Tennessee Project believes that policy decisions should be based on actual facts, not academically debunked theories by discredited researchers who rely on made-up internet personas to defend their work.”

Regarding Representative Stewart’s background check bill, Representative Casada said, “What Chairman Stewart was attempting to do was make it difficult for law abiding citizens to purchase a gun.  And the bigger thing is it wouldn’t address criminals.”

According to data from the TBI, in the last 5 years, background checks have prevented over 50,000 prohibited purchasers from buying firearms and have helped law enforcement identify over 2,300 wanted persons.  While some of those denied a gun by a licensed dealer may drive through crime-ridden neighborhoods trying to find someone selling guns out of a trunk, many will choose the easier and less dangerous route of online gun exchanges, like or gun shows where unlicensed sellers will gladly sell them a gun without a background check or even proof of identification.

“Background checks by definition ‘address criminals’ by preventing them from purchasing a gun,” said Roth.  “Over 50,000 criminals in Tennessee were prevented from buying guns between 2010 and 2015.  We also were able to catch over 2,300 criminals who were wanted by law enforcement.  Expanding background checks, which 83%-84% of Tennesseans want, including 78% of those who identified as a “gun rights supporter”, will not prevent a single law-abiding citizen from going to a gun store, a pawn shop, or even a gun show where all dealers are licensed, and buying the gun of their choice. 

“Bad guys, including terrorists, will always find ways to get a gun, but the question we have to ask is this: why do we make it incredibly easy for them to do so?  We can make it as difficult as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun without having any negative impact whatsoever on the second amendment rights of law abiding citizens.”

During the guns-in-parks debate in 2015, Rep. Casada referred to accidental shootings of children as “acts of God” and stated that guns in parks are no more dangerous than bicycles.