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Archive for August 11th, 2022

Mesquite pods with added interest

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While out on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin on the first day of August I came upon a mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa) with plenty of long, well-developed pods on it. Whether the species name glandulosa accounts for the two resinous drops on one of these pods, I don’t know. I do know that the drops attracted me as a photographer. Not till after I got home and looked at the pictures on my computer screen did I notice the tiny spider close to the larger of the two drops. From a different frame taken at a different angle, here’s a closer look at the tiny spider and the larger resin drop:



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On Monday I saw a photograph showing a 2018 demonstration outside Minnesota’s Capitol. Prominent in the photograph was a handwritten placard that began: “Hammer[s,] screwdrivers and knives kill more people than rifles.” You know me: I immediately wondered if the claim is true. To try to find facts to confirm or refute it, I did an Internet search and turned up an article from the Joslyn Law Firm. Here’s how it starts:

With the renewed push by the federal government for an assault weapons ban, we couldn’t help but wonder, just how often are assault rifles really to blame for crimes? More specifically, how often are they used as murder weapons when compared to all of the other types of weapons available?

Using FBI homicide statistics from the 2019 Crime in the United States report, the insights team at the Joslyn Law Firm charted out how often different types of weapons were used in homicides in the U.S. Of the 16,425 homicides that occurred in 2019, the FBI was able to collect supplemental data for 13,922 of them, which is what our data is based on. The weapon types are broken down into the different types of firearms: handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a category for homicides in which the type of firearm was unknown. It also compares the number of homicides that were committed by non-firearm weapons such as knives or cutting instruments as well as bodily weapons, which include people’s hands, fists, and feet. Non-firearm weapons were used for one-quarter of all homicides in the United States.

You can look through the resulting chart (click on it to enlarge it). Of the 13,922 homicides in 2019, rifles accounted for a mere 364 (2.6%). If you want to interpret “rifle” loosely as “long gun” and therefore include shotguns, you can add another 200 (1.4%). In contrast, there were 1476 (10.6%) homicides using knives or other cutting instruments, so already the claim on the demonstrator’s placard seems correct. Because the placard also included hammers and screwdrivers, the outweighing of rifles is even greater.

One possible objection is that 3326 (23.9%) of the homicides involved firearms of an undetermined type. Might enough of those have been rifles to increase the rifle total of 364 to more than the 1476 incidents involving knives and other cutting instruments? While that’s theoretically possible, it’s extremely unlikely, given that among the firearms that have been identified in homicides, rifles account for only 5.25%. We have no reason to suppose the distribution of undetermined gun types is overwhelmingly different from the distribution of determined gun types.

The current push among certain activists is to ban so-called assault rifles, which are a subset of rifles in general, and therefore account for even less than the 2.6% of all the rifles known to have been used in homicides.

To fill out the broader picture, notice that there were 600 (4.3%) murders involving “hands, fists, feet, etc.” (I wonder about that “etc.”: is there homicide by knee or elbow?) That number is also greater in its own right than the known number of homicides committed with rifles. Blunt objects, poison, explosives, fire, narcotics, and other agents accounted for 1591 (11.4%) of murders—again a lot more than the number using rifles. People committed by far the greatest number of homicides with handguns: 6365, or 45.7%. For that reason activists who want to ban “assault” rifles work to make it hard for people to legally get handguns, too. (Of course criminals, by the very fact of being criminals, abide by no prohibitions on guns.) In any case, short of repealing or tortuously reinterpreting the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the complete prohibition of guns in the United States can’t happen.

In summary, based on the FBI’s 2019 statistics, the claim that hammers, screwdrivers, and knives kill more people in the United States than rifles turns out to be true, and by a convincingly large margin. If that doesn’t seem right, it’s probably because whenever a mass shooting involving a rifle like an AK-47 or an AR-15 occurs, it immediately makes the news and stays there for days. Meanwhile, we hardly ever hear about most of the much greater number of people who are killed individually by other means every single day of the year. Psychologists refer to that as the availability bias or availability heuristic: what you’re frequently exposed to looms much larger in your view of the world than what you’re seldom exposed to.

It’s important to have all the relevant facts and statistics when evaluating something.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2022 at 4:41 AM

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