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Charts that aren’t helpful

November 11, 2013

Welcome to another exciting edition of charts that just aren’t all that helpful.

An article on Breitbart has been making the rounds lately. The article purports to show a correlation between high gun ownership and low homicide rates. The article does this by showing the following two charts:

gun_ownership

This chart suffers from a few issues. The legend and coloring simplify things too much. Groupings such as 30-50 guns per 100 people is a very wide range. In a country of 50 million, that can be a difference of 10 million guns. Also, it doesn’t take into account how those guns are stored. For instance, in Australia, all guns kept in the home have to be locked up, not so in the United States. So the chart doesn’t really tell the whole story.

homicides

The major issues though are with this second chart and the connection that is drawn with the top chart First, unlike the top chart, the bottom chart does not indicate the year the data is from. For instance, the rate of homicides per 100,000 people in the US was 5.7 in 2007. The rate did not drop below 5 until 2010 when it hit 4.7. Second,  every country is colored in, even though the UN data is incomplete for many countries. So, it looks like the chart mixes data from a variety of years which isn’t kosher. Third, the legend is completely skewed in such a way as to make it seem as if the United States has an extremely low homicide rate.

How you ask? Let’s take a look at the data.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime maintains a list of homicide stats for countries around the world. Below is list of countries, the homicide rate per 100,000 people, and the homicide count from 2007:
Australia: 1.2 (255)
Canada: 1.6 (539)
France: 1.3 (826)
Germany: 0.9 (757)
Japan: 0.5 (574)
Sweden: 0.6 (30)
United Kingdom: 1.4 (733)
United States: 5.7 (17,128)

Same information, this time from 2011:
Australia: 1.1 (244)
Canada: 1.5 (529)
France: 1.2 (743)
Germany: 0.8 (662)
Japan: 0.3 (442)
Sweden: 0.9 (81)
United Kingdom: 1.0 (540)
United States: 4.7 (14,612)

So, according to the chart, the United States is on par with other developed nations, including Canada, most of Europe, Australia, and Japan. However, when we look at the data, we see that it does not bear this out. The US has a homicide rate of 5.7 or 4.7 (depending on the year) while no other country listed above goes over 1.6. In 2011, the US had a homicide rate of 4.7 and over 14,000 deaths while the next closest country in the list above, Canada, had a rate of 1.5 and only 529 deaths.

Thus the whole “more guns equals less crime” theory just doesn’t line up with the data. In fact, for developed nations, the lower the rate of gun ownership the lower the rate of homicides, just look at Japan. It has a population of 127 million, there are only 0.6 guns per 100 people, with a homicide rate of 0.3 per 100,000. Not just that, but look at all the countries in the top chart that are green and that are also green in the bottom chart. There are quite a few and yet the article makes no mention of this phenomena.

This is yet another example of a chart being manipulated to prove a theory and people not questioning whether or not the underlying data supports this view.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2014 8:28 pm

    I wonder why it is that the cities in America with the tightest, most stringent gun control laws (Chicago, Washington D.C., Detroit) have the highest murder rates and crime rates in general?

    Read John Lott’s, “More Guns, Less Crime”:

    Thanks.

    • February 7, 2014 12:17 pm

      Thank you for your comment.

      This article in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/us/strict-chicago-gun-laws-cant-stem-fatal-shots.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) addresses your question, stating:
      “Chicago’s experience reveals the complications inherent in carrying out local gun laws around the nation. Less restrictive laws in neighboring communities and states not only make guns easy to obtain nearby, but layers of differing laws — local and state — make it difficult to police violations.” You should read the entire article.

      As for John Lott’s, “More Guns, Less Crime,” I have read it. The problem here is that it is a singular study. Gun rights advocates always point to this single study and ignore the dozens of other studies that have shown the exact opposite. I wrote a previous post (https://handswideopen.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/a-conversation-that-needs-to-happen/) that contains links to many research studies showing that “more guns = more homicides”. The Harvard Injury Control Research center (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearms-research/) has done a fantastic job of surveying all the literature and studies out there and summarizing the results. All of it shows that the “more guns, less crime” assertion isn’t true.

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