Media Magnifying Glass – More Like a Fun-House Mirror

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Disasters, accidents, violent events, novelties, and scandals sell news.  Human nature compels us to gawk when we drive past an auto accident.  Danger, violence, and death attract us.  We “try on” the situation as if it is happening to us.  If our imagination is vivid enough, we experience what we see.  Our adrenal glands secrete cortisol, which gets us ready to freeze, fight, or flee.  The media know this well, and play to that part of our nature.  The more they succeed, the more fearful and suspicious we become.  Common sense tells us to lock our doors and cars, and take other wise precautions.  But, exaggerated fear-based stories lack context and perspective.

Gun Violence

Fifty-million Americans own more than 300 million guns.  We see the gun violence on TV and read about the terrible incidents of people dying. We hear about the mounting toll of Chicago’s homicide victims.  That does not mean you can expect more gun violence in your neighborhood.  It does not mean that every owner of a gun is a menace to you or your family.  The statistics sound horrific until you realize how vast America is and how many people live here.  The US population is over 323 million today.

Race      Pop.   %
Total 323,515,021 100%
White & Hispanic 232,943,055 73.6%
Black 44,908,095 12.6%
Other 50,663,871 13.8%

Below is a table of firearm death facts.

Firearm Deaths
  Total Black White & Hispanic
Homicide 17,250 7,881 6,576
Suicide 21,000 1,152 16,980
Police      500    233      267
Accidents      800    400      400
Total 33,900 9,666 24,223
% 100% 28.5%   71.5%

I broke the figures down by race because news about guns often revolves around race.  Note that blacks were 28.5% of the victims, which is more than double the 12.6% of the population who are black.  The FBI statistics show that 90% of black homicides were shot by blacks; likewise, 90% of white homicides  were shot by whites.  Gangs were responsible for most of the  homicides, while attacking other gangs, or committing  crimes.

Gunshot injuries 2015 were 85,000, according to CDC.  Total dead and injured 118,900.  Divide 118,900 by 300 million = .04%.  That means that 99.96% of guns did no harm.  That same total divided by 50 million gun owners = .24% were involved.  That means 99.76% of gun owners did no harm.

Police Shootings

Police shot 963 in 2016; 233 were black; of those all but 16 were armed.  The news media make it seem like hundreds of white police officers are shooting unarmed black men. A new study, “Do White Police Officers Unfairly Target Black Suspects?” used details of 2,699 police shootings 2013-2015 from 1,500 police departments around the country to discover:

  1. Black officers killed unarmed black suspects at a significantly higher rate than white or Hispanic officers.
  2. Both black and white police officers kill unarmed black suspects with higher probability than unarmed white or Hispanic suspects
  3. White police officers are not more likely than black officers, to kill black suspects.
  4. Hispanic police officers are significantly less likely to kill black suspects than either black or white officers.
  5. No evidence of significant racial discrimination on the part of white police officers with respect to black suspects.

John R. Lott, Jr and Carlisle E. Moody
College of William & Mary and the Crime Prevention Research Center
July 21, 2017

Here is a link to the study: https://goo.gl/xqI4bu (Unless you are a statistician, their paper can be daunting)

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