Guest opinion: These are the facts regarding gun deaths in Utah |

Guest opinion: These are the facts regarding gun deaths in Utah

Michael Smith
Summit County Republican Party chair

Note: This guest editorial reflects my opinion as a Summit County resident, rather than my role as the GOP party chair.

Often, when people react emotionally to subjects difficult for them to rationally process, the greatest casualty is the truth. Lynne and Ed Rutans’ response in the April 28 edition to Jerry Heck’s earlier editorial in support of the Second Amendment is no exception.

When people use percentages without referencing the base numbers, one should be interested in what those base numbers represent and why a specific date range was selected. The Rutans’ assertion that “rate of gun deaths increased by almost 40% from 2008 to 2018” and the choice of 2008 as the baseline would seem to indicate an immediately burgeoning firearm crisis, but is that true?

According to the CDC’s database (updated in 2020), Utah firearm related deaths in 2019 totaled 394 or 0.0123% of our population. According to Utah’s Public Health Indicator Based Information System (IBIS), 329 of those deaths were suicides. While suicide by firearm has declined from 87% of total firearm deaths in 2010 to 84% in 2019 and we recognize that each is a horrific family tragedy, the fact remains that suicides represent, by far, the greatest number of firearm-related fatalities in our state.

While I would never argue that a suicide is not a violent death, self-inflicted harm is not the same as violence resulting from a street shooting, a murder or armed robbery, yet the image of drunken people in pickups engaging in episodes of Wild West gunplay in the streets is what the Rutans’ misleading statement conjures in the mind. Suicide deserves our focus, not stripping firearms from law-abiding citizens because some of our citizens choose a firearm as a means to a terrible end.

Some simple math reveals in 2019, 65 people in Utah (0.00203%), perished in non-suicide related violence involving a firearm. That is undeniably up 35% from a total of 42 in 2010, but a 25-person fatality increase as 1) Utah’s population increased from 2.775 million to 3.205 million and 2) violent crime increased 3.9% (according to FBI database) during that same period, puts that increase into perspective.

As to Justice Scalia’s opinion in Heller v. DC, the first thing to be understood is the Supreme Court unequivocally confirmed the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and that right extends to private ownership and use of that firearm for any traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense at home, hunting or sport shooting — or for no reason at all.

Secondly the Rutans, as many firearm-phobic people do, ignore the fact that while Scalia did not cast doubt on concealed-weapons prohibitions, laws barring possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, laws barring firearms in sensitive places like schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions on commercial sale of arms, his opinion did clearly state the sorts of weapons protected are the sorts of small arms that were lawfully possessed at home at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification, not those most useful in military service today, so “M-16 rifles and the like” may be banned.

By the way, the favorite target of the anti-Second Amendment cabal is the AR platform, which is NOT an M-16 or a military-grade weapon as it does not feature the three-round burst or the fully automatic functions of the M-16 or any of its variants.

For some additional perspective, the same IBIS database as mentioned above reveals that 8.2 times as many people died of accidental poisoning (530) in 2019 than were killed in non-suicide related firearm incidents (65).

Stripped of the emotion, these are the facts. I hope this provides a degree of clarity.

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