Throwing Knives at Newtown?

One small but noteworthy trend has emerged in the wake of the massacre at Newtown Elementary: A sudden focus (bordering on infatuation, in some cases) on knife crimes among gun rights advocates fending off calls for assault rifle and ammo bans.

The NRA, its defenders, and John Birchers are increasingly making the case that mass-casualty knife crimes in China and Britain — countries with tight gun control laws — prove the old people-kill-people mantra used by the NRA and gun manufacturers for decades. I got a taste of this argument recently when I Twitter-defended David Gregory, and his use of an illegal-in-DC high-capacity clip as a prop, a move that prompted calls for Gregory’s immediate placement in DC stir, preferably with amorous Angel Dust freaks.

Here’s one from this morning:

@ReignX82  @GlennThrush noticed didn’t comment on stabbing on bus in DC. Course that’s a city where people get murdered all the time.

Another, not sent to me, but posted under the popular ‘knives’ hashtag:

@JsrRoger: #knives as lethal as #guns when murder is your intent

That is, statistically, not the case, of course. Very few mass casualty events over the last 100 years have involved knives — and the ones that have used cleavers, hackers and hammers seem to be confined to China for reasons linked to culture, poverty and the paucity of privately-owned guns.

Of the 15 worst school massacres, for instance, 13 involved guns and two others involved bombs or flamethrowers. Two — the aforementioned China rampages of in ’06 and ’10 — used knives, but there’s no telling what the killers might have done if they had access to more efficient methods of murder.

Yet the knives-are-just-as-bad argument has been a common equivalence theme, post-Newtown, on the right.

The Monday after the Friday massacre in Connecticut, a post on the John Birch Society’s New American site opened with the same point. Writer  went on to explain how “gentrified” Western European cultures (with lower percentages of young, violent minorities) , not gun regs, accounted for the continents markedly lower murder rates.

“The same day as the tragic Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, a Chinese man stabbed 22 children in China’s central province of Henan. The attack yielded almost no news coverage in the United States. Although no fatalities have been reported in this particular Chinese stabbing incident, China — which has strict gun control laws — has had a spate of school stabbing massacres in recent years with many fatalities. In September, an ax-wielding Chinese man killed three school children and wounded another 13. And NBC News reported December 15 that “there was a particular string of knife attacks against schoolchildren across the country in early 2010 that killed nearly 20 and wounded more than 50.”

Nor is this a fringe frame. A couple of weeks back, David Keene of the NRA told Bob Schieffer on CBS “face the Nation” (emphasis mine):

“Driving is a privilege, and owning a firearm… is a constitutional right,” he said.The fact that something is misused, whether it’s a baseball bat, or the mass killing in a Chinese school with an axe and a knife, doesn’t mean that you ban baseball bats, axes and knives or guns.”

The numbers, again, simply don’t support the argument that bats, axes, knives or golf putters pose anywhere near the threat as a Bushmaster, Glock or Colt. Nationwide, the number of people killed in non-mass incidents is equally weighted towards guns, despite the widespread availability of cutting objects (you don’t need a background check to buy a meat cleaver at Wal-Mart), and their common use in violent, domestic disturbances.

Of the 12,644 homocides committed in the U.S. in 2011, 68 percent (8,583) were the product of gun violence.

Knives or other cutters were the culprit in 13 percent of cases, or 1,694 deaths, according to the FBI.