EDITORIAL: School Kids, with Guns, Part Five
There was a time, not so long ago, when House Speaker Tip O’Neill could claim, with some authority that “All politics is local” — implying that even Washington politicians needed to be in tune with the wishes of their constituents back home. Some commentators have made the claim that politics is no longer as local as it used to be, but we all realize that local politics still determines much of the cultural landscape in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
When you have plans to build new school buildings, for example, and need to increase property taxes to make that happen. Or if you want to build a new County jail. You still have to convince the local voters.
One powerful argument you can use, in such a campaign, is the issue of safety. Many Americans embrace “safety” as a sacred goal, right up there with “freedom” and “equality.” So what we are considering here is the safety of our school children, in a community where guns are readily available to those same children. We’re going to try and keep things local.
If you do any casual (or even intensive) research into the issue of guns in America, you will come across numerous websites that show the number of “gun-related deaths” in our great country. You might find a map that looks like this one, borrowed from the Brilliant Maps website.
The above map includes rates of both gun violence — gun homicides and gun suicides — and gun accidents. As we can see, the rates — per 100,000 residents — are considerably higher in parts of the South and West.
If we wanted to focus our attentions on gun violence instead of on ‘accidents,’ we can view the following map, showing the rate of gun homicides per 100,000 residents, in every county in the U.S. (also from the Brilliant Maps website):
As we see above, not only is politics local, but gun homicide rates are also local. The rates (per 100,000) are 6 times higher in the dark-colored counties than in the pale-colored counties. I will repeat that number. 6 times higher. Colorado as a whole has a comparatively low rate, although the number increases as you get closer to the New Mexico border.
It appears to me that the homicide rate for Archuleta County is about in the middle: about 2 gun homicides per 100,000 residents — or about one gun-related homicide every five years, in a county of 12,800.
The next map shows gun-related suicide rates. As you will notice, it’s a very different picture from the homicide rates. Much of the American West, including Colorado’s Western Slope, are pretty much off the charts.
Looking locally at Archuleta County, the gun-related suicide rate appears to be about 9 per 100,000 residents. That’s about 5 times the rate of gun-related homicides in our community. These rates are for all ages of people, and other research I’ve come across, over the past week while writing this editorial series, suggests that both homicide rates and suicide rates are much, much higher for adults than for children. But — according to the U.S. Department of Justice — the rate of gun-related suicides among high-school age children in Colorado is about 2.5 higher than the rate for homicides.
If we are truly concerned about the lives of our school kids, we probably want to focus our attention primarily on the prevalence of gun-related suicide, rather than on gun-related homicide.
Is that the direction our local school district is taking?
One more chart we might want to consider, before we move on to consider the reasons for a growing suicide rate.
This chart specifically addresses high-school-age kids — the ages most likely to be involved in either a suicide or a school shooting. Something happened in the U.S. between 1984 and 1995 that caused the rates of juvenile gun violence to double. We also note that the suicide rates doubled during that same period.
Since about 1996, the rate of gun-related homicides, among school kids, has been steadily declining. Suicide was also declining, up until about 2007.
But over the past decade, the suicide rate has been headed the opposite direction. Upwards. It’s now approaching the 1995 rate. And the suicide rate — among high-school aged kids nationally — has surpassed the homicide rate.