Letter: More 'statistics' and lies about gun deaths

William Smith responds to Jack Zaleski's Saturday column about gun control.

Letter to the editor FSA

There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics, or so the saying goes, frequently attributed to Mark Twain. That was the impression I got reading Forum Columnist Jack Zaleski’s recent letter about “too many guns.” Zaleski makes numerous false statements and mixes up his terms to bait-and-switch the reader into drawing a false conclusion.

Zaleski writes, "It’s just too easy to buy guns, whether legal or illegal. There are too many guns available from too many sources. The notion that more guns make us more safe is a non-sequitur that leads to the bloodshed in the headlines."

Zaleski falsely claims, “It is statistically more dangerous for a child to be in school than to be in a car driven by a teenager.” He got to this by extrapolating the oft-repeated statistic, “Gun violence has surpassed traffic accidents as the leading cause of death among young people ages 1 to 19,” as if schools are the only place where young people exist. If you dig into the data, most of these deaths are of the same variety that adults kill each other: a gang turf war, a drug deal gone bad, or robbery. These aren’t school shooting victims. Furthermore, these deaths are overwhelmingly older teens. It’s disingenuous to call a 17-year-old gangbanger a child.

Zaleski tries to pull a bait and switch and says there have been 184 incidents of “mass murder” by gun fire in 2023 so far, then says the number of dead teens and children is 578, as if these numbers are somehow related.

The problem here is two-fold:

First, Zaleski is confusing mass murder with mass shooting. A “mass shooting” is one of those weasel words with a nebulous definition that frequently changes depending on the user. Zaleski’s number probably comes from the Gun Violence Archive which defines it as four or more victims being shot, not necessarily being killed. In almost half of all mass shootings defined this way, not a single person is killed. In about a third, one person is killed. That is not mass murder.


If we use the FBI’s definition of mass murder, four or more killed, that number drops down to 19, a far cry from his original claim of 184. Furthermore, of those 19, most of them are domestic violence when a parent kills their own family then themselves. If we limit the definition to be four or more killed in a public space, that number drops down to 5 incidents. Of those, 1 happened at a school (Nashville).

Second, the stat of 578 dead teens and children include all fatalities by gun violence, almost all of which are when one person kills one other person. These deaths are from neither mass shootings nor mass murder, yet Zaleski tries to bait-and-switch to imply they are. Young people are almost never the target of a mass shooter unless the perpetrator is their own parent.

I don’t tear apart Zaleski’s fake statistics to belittle dead kids, or make it sound like the issue isn’t important. The United States has the highest murder rate of any developed country, most of those murders being with guns. It is a significant problem. But if we want to address the problem, we must first define it.
Zaleski ironically concludes his letter by decrying “weasel words,” but throughout his letter decries military style assault weapons, a nonsensical category that not even the director of the ATF (they enforce gun laws) could define when asked by congress.

Just once I wish I could hear an honest bona fide argument from someone who at least knows what these words mean. I can handle people having a different opinion. I have little tolerance for liars.

William Smith lives in Fargo.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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