Mass shootings draw the media headlines, but The Trace says we can learn much more about the state of gun violence in America through data that gets little attention.
While the Las Vegas mass shooting in October claimed the grim designation of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the Trace suggests that other sets of numbers reveal more about guns in America today. For example, this year the country’s firearm death rate has climbed to a level not seen in decades. New research deepened our knowledge of guns’ effects on crime, medicine, and law. The Trace made its case with a set of 11 statistics. They include the following:
The national firearm death rate rose above 100 per day in 2016. A study found that while the national rate of gun suicide fell between 1991 and 2015, 21 states saw an increase in suicides over that period. Every week, 136 children and teenagers are shot. More than 135,000 students in the U.S. have lived through school shootings since Columbine. Hospital costs for firearm injuries total $622 million per year. The NRA spent an unprecedented $419 million during the 2016 campaign season. Three million Americans carry loaded handguns every day, and 1.8 million guns have been reported stolen in the past decade.
Gun charges in New York that hinge on officer testimony often don’t lead to jury convictions. To change that, the city is pursuing an ambitious and expensive plan to collect and test DNA from every gun recovered to build cases based on physical evidence.
For all of New York City’s success in reducing violent crime, only about half of the people arrested for carrying a loaded gun in the city get convicted. Juries like hard evidence and often mistrust cases that hinge on police testimony. To change that, the city is pursuing an ambitious and expensive plan to collect and test DNA from every gun recovered by police, reports The Trace. The goal is to boost the number of successful prosecutions and discourage the carrying of illegal weapons–“to make it radioactive to even pick up a gun,” said Richard Aborn, president of the nonprofit Citizens Crime Commission of New York City.
The New York program, which began in the summer of 2015, is expanding. Last year, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner performed DNA tests for 1,682 gun cases, nearly quadruple the number from 2014. The city this month gave the office an additional $8 million to pay for 55 new employees to process gun swabs, plus training and equipment. That money amounts to about 10 percent of the office’s total annual budget. Police officials and the medical examiner’s office said they could not estimate the total cost of the swabbing and testing program since it would include staff time for police, prosecutors, and scientists, as well as equipment and training in several different departments and agencies.
Columbia professor Desmond Patton has spent four years studying the relationship between Twitter messages and shootings in Chicago. He believes a careful monitoring of social media “has significant implications for gun violence prevention.”
Is a careful reading of Twitter the key to predicting future gun violence in Chicago and elsewhere? Desmond Patton, a Columbia University professor, thinks so. He writes for The Trace, “For the past four years, I have examined the relationship between Twitter activity and gang violence among young people who live in Chicago…I work with social workers to accurately decode what teens are saying, and collaborate with data scientists to detect patterns in social media communication that may lead to gang violence. The process often feels like an archaeological dig, carefully combing through Twitter conversations, studying emojis and hashtags, videos and images, to figure out the cues that often end with gunfire erupting.”
Patton notes that Chicago police have cited social media as a factor in the city’s surging violence. Patton writes, “Their diagnosis may sound to some like an attempt to duck responsibility for the failure of the local law enforcement system to interdict more illegal firearms or do more to stop repeat shooters before they injure or kill again. But having studied the phenomenon – known in the academic community as internet- or cyber-banging – I can tell you that the frequency with which young people use platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to hurl insults, taunt enemies, and brag about violent acts is playing a meaningful role in fueling retaliatory efforts between gangs and cliques in marginalized neighborhoods. It also has significant implications for gun violence prevention.”
Gov. Nathan Deal must decide soon whether to sign the controversial bill that would allow concealed weapons on Georgia college campuses. Backers bent rules to get the bill passed after the latest legislative session had been schedule to expire. The Trace tells the backstory.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a second-term Republican, has until May 9 to decide whether to sign or reject a newly passed bill that would allow concealed weapons on the campuses of state colleges and universities. The Trace unpacks how Republican supporters bent procedural rules to carry the controversial bill across the legislative finish line. As the deadline ticked down on the legislative session on March 30, most of the state’s residents and many of its political leaders were transfixed by an inferno blazing under I-85 in Atlanta. Inside the state house, negotiators from the House and Senate hammered out revisions to the campus carry bill, bringing their report to lawmakers’ desks at 11:45 p.m., with minutes left on the legislative clock.
Journalists scrambled for a copy of the new bill, tweeting out pictures of its final language. As the updated legislation circulated, three Democrats joined Republicans in voting to suspend their own rules, extending the midnight deadline and giving the bill the extra time needed for lawmakers to enter their positions for the record. “Everyone looked at each other and said, ‘Wait, is this happening?’” said one person who was present. It happened. The bill passed the House 96-70 and the Senate 33-21. “There wasn’t really any debate,” said Sen. Elena Parent, a Democrat who opposed the legislation. What the guns-on-campus bill did have, she added, was “people determined to get it through.”
Results of a new survey suggests that as many as 600,000 firearms are stolen each year in the U.S. That’s more than one gun theft per minute. Many states now allow owners to carry guns in their cars and trucks, and thieves have caught on, stealing thousands of firearms from vehicles.
The Trace reports that privately owned firearms are stolen in America with alarming frequency: between 300,000 and 600,000 every year, a forthcoming survey of gun ownership by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities will show. At the high end, that’s more than 1,600 guns stolen every day, more than one every minute. The survey, which will be published next year, offers the most comprehensive and accurate evaluation of gun ownership in America in more than two decades. A summary of its major findings was provided in advance to The Trace and The Guardian.
The research reveals a country whose gun-owning citizens are increasingly worried about the threat of violence — even though crime rates have fallen — and are responding to that fear by purchasing handguns in big numbers. Since 1994, the number of guns in the U.S. has increased by 70 million to an estimated 270 million. Many states have specifically rolled back restrictions against leaving firearms in vehicles. In interviews, gun owners said they took their guns with them when they traveled by car — and because they felt empowered to do so, or because they underestimated the risk — they left them there when they worked, shopped, or played. Thieves have apparently caught on to this trend and steal thousands of guns from cars.