Debunking Huckester Huckabee’s hack of skateboarder deaths

It really hurts my brain to listen to conservative pundits like Mike Huckabee attempt to engage in social issue conversations. In the old days, conservatives and liberals generally agreed on the existence of problem but disagreed on the policy tactics to potentially solve it. That’s not where we generally are now. the debate is if problems are even problems in the first place. If you cannot agree something is even a problem than there’s no way to even discuss potential solutions.

That’s because a lot of time in the past there was some general agreement about the research itself. It was generally understood that even though there was some partisan bias that could come from research, the underlying data and scientific methods used to obtain it were mostly treated as neutral. There just wasn’t the kind of debate about the data that you see today with the anti-science movement of post-‘Counter-Enlightenment’ beliefs like anti-evolution, climate change deniers, anti-environmentalists, pro-frackers/drillers/pipeliners, flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, chemtrailers, anti-cosmology, anti-abortifact movement (anti-abortion as it pertains to contraception) and related women’s health issues and so on; or that happens when the right refuses to even collect data on firearm related deaths, police violence and systemic bias in law enforcement, social issue impacts such as hate crimes related to racism, gender, sexual identity, or minority religious beliefs, and a willing to yield to corporate interests on issues related to prescription drugs (enabling of the opioid crisis, for example), genetic modification, and plastics in the environment (the hot button new issues is the pro-plastic straw movement on the right).

These days, in the current incarnation of opinion based news shows the tactic is generally more about appealing to truthiness, what in one’s gut “feels” correct, as opposed to what the data suggests which results not in policy debates but a questioning of the validity of the data itself. And, while it’s not unique to the conservative viewpoint, liberals do it to (I’m looking at you anti-nuclear power people), it’s an extremely popular viewpoint among those on the right.

One popular way to undermine the research is to produce strings of false equivalencies and related bad debate tactics based on personal, emotional perceptions that appeal to those skeptical of research and data itself. There’s few places more susceptible to this than among the conservative media and Mike Huckabee is no exception with his contributions on Fox.

And that’s where Huckabee is trying to go with this garbage Tweet he made about taking skateboards away from skaters as a way to avoid the “dozens killed” and “thousands injured” via skateboarding in response to Beto suggesting he would support a buyback and ban of specific lightweight semi-automatic rifles which, on face value, is not that much different from The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act or Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) that was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which before it was allowed to expire was a very successful piece of legislation in reducing a specific type of firearm fatality.

On face value this is a stupid argument between a tool that’s primary use is transportation that occasionally results in accidental death and a tool that’s sole purpose is to maim or kill. Sure, skateboarding goes beyond transportation to a form of artistic expression which rises to the level of sports competition at times – but that’s an extension of it’s primary use being that of getting from point a to point b. Meanwhile, in the occasion guns are not being used specifically to maim or kill the utility is the practice of using the tool in a manner, or means, to better hone the craft of maiming or killing and/or demonstrate the ability to potentially maim or kill by focusing on a proxy, such as a target, so the practice or sport occurs to demonstrate the end result without the assumed immediate injury or death being left in the aftermath.

There’s a big difference between skateboarding and the use of a fire arm in its intended state or the practicing the use of a firearm in a controlled setting with what the underlying intent of the activity is to be better at using the fire arm in its intended state. More simply, one doesn’t skate with the intent to cause death but one does shoot or practice shooting with the “intent” cause “death.” It’s really tough to argue around that, though, I’m positive someone will tell me that target practice isn’t about killing it’s about aiming — but, why else are you aiming except the original intent of aiming over and over again was to be more accurate in killing when the time came. Full stop.

Returning to skating tough, The Public Skateparks Researchers, an advocacy group for riders, there have been been 40 and 50 skateboarding related deaths each year over the last decade. So, Huckabee is indeed correct in his quote for deaths.

However the number of deaths is out of context.

According to PSR, on average, more than 70% of the deaths over that time frame occur due to incidents involving motor vehicles. This is especially noteworthy because more than half the deaths include long boarders versus motor vehicles and the long board’s primary use is transportation according the PSR as well as surveys conducted among skaters by mags like Thrasher. These are instances where the motor vehicle and the skateboarder are sharing the road for its intended purpose, getting from point a to point b.

Furthermore, an additional 10-15% of the annual deaths were from incidents involving other forms of personal transportation including, but not limited to, bicycles, scooters and pedestrians. Similar to with motor vehicles the incidents generally involved long boarders using roads, sidewalks and other transportation paths to get from point a to point b and intersecting with others using the paths for the same intent.

When looking at injuries there are a number of different data sources, so while the raw numbers are generally all over the place depending on the collection methods the overall trends, or groupings of incident are somewhat similar. For Huckabee on this point his hyperbole of “thousands injured” is actually an understatement. But, that’s not a reason to celebrate. His point, even getting the volume wrong, is as an extension of deaths to demonstrate the inherent danger of skating, is still easily debunked.

As we’re looking at numbers they range from about 98,000 treated in hospital emergency rooms according to PSR research to about 107,000 sustaining injuries requiring insurance outlays by an industry audit estimate and as high as 127,000 a year according to the National Safety Council’s research. The NSC’s number places Skateboard injuries 10th on it’s overall ranking nearly equal to trampoline injuries, almost 25% below bat-and-ball sports, and less than half of trackable injuries due to gridiron Football.

So, skating is about transportation related issues first and foremost and, injuries from collisions with motor vehicles dominate the data, as you would expect, while incidents involving other forms of personal transportation are among the most next most frequent. The same instances that cause death are generally the top reasons for injury as well.

The research doesn’t speak in much detail about “fault” meaning we don’t know if it’s the skater, or the other party involved, or both, or some coincidence that neither had control over, that created the accident situation, just that the incident between the two occurred and the skater was injured or died.

Nor do we know what, if any, protective gear the skater may, or may not, have been wearing. The effects of protective gear, however, are generally understood as it pertains to normal circumstances, such as falling, and relatively speaking very little gear is designed to sustain a user under the blunt force trauma of a 3,000 lb or great vehicle colliding with them even at slow speeds.

And, it’s important to note that much of the research is highly dependent on how local jurisdictions categorize incidents on skateboards. Believe it or not, skateboard related injuries are more likely to be noted by law enforcement and insurance claims as “pedestrian” than HPV (“Human Powered Vehicle”) which can obviously also skew some of the raw numbers.

However, what’s notable is these are all accidental deaths and injury on skateboards that occur in a similar manner to other forms of transportation. There’s actually not much special about skateboarder deaths as compared to normal motor vehicle accidents, or accidents including bicycles, or scooters, or with pedestrians, etc.

To put this into perspective in NYC alone there were 19 cyclist deaths so far in 2019 according to the NYPD. The national numbers are obviously higher though sources differ on citing the exact numbers for both but NHTSB estimates for 2018 were 765, relatively flat to the 777 for the year before and down slightly from a peak of 840 the year before. The last tabulation for injuries readily available was 45,000 reported to NTSB in 2015 while some cyclist advocacy groups using emergency room reporting data have found the numbers to be closer to 200,000 and estimates of serious but not reported injuries in the most broad of definitions pushes a half million.

However, as you would expect, the majority of the bicycle deaths are motor vehicle related accidents, similar to skateboarding. The percentages vary between 62-75% And, incidents with other forms of personal transportation make up a large percentage of what’s left, again similar to skateboarding in the 10-15% range.

Comparatively, in NYC there were 70 pedestrian deaths so far in 2019 according to the NYPD. Nationally, 6,227 pedestrians died in traffic related accidents in 2018 which was a 30 year NHTSB high. Non-NHTSB qualifying deaths of pedestrians is more difficult to come by but some attempts by pedestrian advocacy groups place the deaths only slightly higher based on local reporting of deaths that fall outside of NHTSB defined criteria.

So, what we’re really talking about is personal transportation related deaths overall since the instances of death are relatively low both in raw numbers and relative percentages.

In that case, why pick out skateboards over, say, scooters, or bikes, or people walking? Or even cars.

Well, we know why it’s not cars. Because motor vehicles are highly regulated. There are registration laws on who can legally own them. There are separate licensing laws on who can legally operate. There are separate insurance laws dictating for both owners and operators what their obligations are. And, there are manufacturing and distribution laws that set minimum. Furthermore, there are laws intersecting all of these that define the correct operation of them to which both operators have to abide by, owers have a fiduciary responsibility to uphold and manufacturers and distributors are also held accountable to.

But in terms of other forms of transportation, there are laws and related regulation that touch on all of them, including skateboarding, although none are nearly as comprehensive as that of motor vehicles.

But more importantly to Huckster’s perception is likely a lot of skateboarding related laws have proven to be controversial. For instance, may anti-skateboarding laws do little to protect boarders themselves but rather protect communities from that of which is perceived as the stereotype of skateboarding as a nuisance. This is, in part, because skater scenes are perceived to be a part of youth counter culture and therefor treated with some of the same mainstream cultural disdain as that of scenes like punk and hip hop which also heavily intersect the skater community. Within skating there was a whole anti-law enforcement movement around the “Skateboarding is not a Crime” banner in order to combat the misconceptions about skaters being destructive, reckless and impolite.

Who knows how the Huckster’s mind works but it’s likely this reason of persecution that made him compare skating to gun ownership. Furthermore, maybe, he perceives skateboarders as being rebellious type to social norms like gun owners. Maybe, he even misconstrues the death and injury numbers in specific instances as being comparable to that of the raw skater numbers and hopes no of the other issues are bought up.

Addressing the last point first, since it is the most obvious, so far in 2019 there have been 19 mass shootings resulting in 51 deaths by the most restrictive definition. Sure looks like mass shootings are no worse than skateboarding.

Except, skaters volunteered to participate in an activity, an accident that is partially beyond their control occurred, and they were injured or died. Meanwhile, in these types of shooting incidents innocent people are being massacred through no choice of their own by someone using a tool designed to kill for its purpose of killing.

And, that narrow definition of mass shootings only works because it creates a similar number of deaths to skateboarding. However, 270 mass shootings resulting in 335 deaths using the more broad definition – on that even Wikipedia references using FBI and related firearm data. The comparison takes on a whole different skew when viewed through this more broad definition.

The significant majority of those who died in the narrow definition were the victims of lightweight semi-automatic rifles while it’s closer to a simple majority in the broader one.

This isn’t just a discussion about firearms in general, but rather, more specifically a specific subset of firearms and how they are being used.

This isn’t including murders in general, just a specific type of murder. Nor does it include accidental death, suicide, murder attempts that result in only injury, or anything else.

Thus these aren’t accidents like a car accidentally hitting a skateboarder resulting in the skater’s death due to personal negligence or other circumstance by either the car or the skater. These are incidents where the sole intent of the gun user was to maim or kill the victim. Neither a car nor a skateboard is technically designed to maim or kill anyhow, they are both modes of transportation where a circumstance other than successful transport occurred, but a gun generally is intended to maim or kill and specifically that’s the sole specific use of lightweight semi-automatic rifles is exactly that.

The reality here is that you wouldn’t be confiscating skateboards to reduce transportation deaths in general as some from of transportation accidents would continue to occur as skaters switched to other replacement forms of transportation, all you would do is limit the already low number of skate related deaths. However, instituting a lightweight semi-automatic rifles buyback and ban would eliminate a very specific type of mass death because there are very few tools available to those who want to commit mass death available to them to replace the lightweight semi-automatic rifles. While those who want to create that type of havoc can find ways to do it, it’s hightly unlikely a knife murder is going to accumulate the same numbers, it’s fairly unlikely a hand gun would do it as well, and so on. This isn’t speculation as there are stats to reference during the last national gun band to reference: mass murders went down compared to the data set preceding it. mass murders went up in the data set following the lapse of the band. full stop.

About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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