Every day our friends at the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) put up the list of people who were killed or injured by guns the day before, something they have been doing since 2014. Their data comes from more than 2,500 open sources, and while it’s not a complete listing of everyone whose life ends because they got hit with a bullet, their efforts give us a remarkable opportunity to understand when, how, where and why shootings take place.
Mark Bryant and his merry band have come in for their lumps from both camps in the gun debate, gun-control scholars seemingly never satisfied unless every bit of data can be linked to a legitimate, government source; Gun-nut Nation trolls refusing to accept the idea that there’s something called gun violence at all. But the GVA gives us details of each incident, read enough of them and you begin to realize that analyzing gun violence just by using numbers obscures as much as it explains.
Let’s take every gun killing listed in GVA for March 25. There were 18 separate incidents in 10 different states resulting in 22 deaths. In other words, more than one out of 5 fatal shootings resulted in more than one death. What does this mean? Neither the FBI nor the CDC, the two agencies which gather data on gun violence, publish the actual number of fatal shooting events; they just give us an overall body count, which is not the same thing.
March 25th was a Monday. Are 22 fatal gun shootings what normally occur on the first ‘business’ day of the week? Again, we have no idea because the studies that look at day-to-day variations in gun killings tend to be localized within a particular city or particular state. Another problem from a quantitative perspective is that the GVA can’t rely on open sources to generate any kind of comprehensive data on gun suicides. If that were the case, generally speaking, a day which registered 22 gun homicides would count only 40 gun suicides, when the actual number is 55 or more. with guns. But one incident described by GVA did stand out in this respect. A man in Harris County, TX caused an accident by driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He came out of his car, observed the incident (nobody was badly hurt) and then went back to his car and shot himself dead. We always think of suicide as a planned, isolated event. Really?
Another interesting bit of information which came out of the listing was that five of the 22 casualties were women, which happens to be roughly twice the usual proportion of female gun homicide victims to victims overall. Two of the women were shot inside their homes alongside a male victim; another woman was pregnant, she survived but the unborn baby did not, another woman sitting in the car was also gunned down.
Finally, two of the shootings took place in situations where liquor was involved, a strip club and a bar. Maybe the shooters were under the influence, maybe not. Alcohol is certainly an extenuating factor in all kinds of violence; that 10% of the March 25 shootings were in or near places serving booze shouldn’t surprise.
I saw the first photographic show mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in 1958 or 1959. It featured the photos of Arthur Zellig, aka Weegee, whose pictures of New York homicides were graphic enough to be considered works of art. Taking a Weegee-like approach to gun homicide brings us face-to-face with a type of behavior that no amount of data can necessarily explain. Americans commit more than 2 million serious acts of personal violence each year, so how come only 75,000 are committed with guns? It’s not like the other 1,925,000 people who really try to hurt someone else can’t get their hands on a gun.
Everyone in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should read some of the descriptions of the shooting events listed in the GVA. It’s a sobering exercise, to say the least, but I guarantee that after you finish, you’ll never think the same way about gun violence again.