Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have finally updated their WISQARS system to include fatal injury data from 2008*, I am happy to announce the below update to last year’s "Graphics Matter" post, including some slight changes prompted by viewer feedback:
This year, we are just going to start over with the disclaimers, and go at it from the top.
1. Intellectual property: While all of this data is publicly available from the sources listed below, it takes time and effort for me to collate it all together and present it in a (barely) understandable format. All of the images in this post are my original works and copyrighted by me. If you want to use any of these images, you are more than welcome to do so; however, I must formally request that you link back to this specific page and give full credit to me, the originator, when doing so.**
2. Fitting it all together: I had to fiddle with orders of magnitude to get all of the lines visible within the same general range, so ups-and-downs did not get minimized. This does not affect the accuracy of the data, it just moves lines around such that you can show them all on the same graph (so you can see the trending of various lines easier). Both the "American Population" line and the "Number of Firearms" line must be multiplied by 10,000 to give their "real" numbers. Additionally, the both forms of the "Rate of Firearm-Related Deaths" are presented in "X per 100,000,000". Again, this change does not affect the accuracy of the information presented (especially since I kept all the digits of each relevant data point, despite moving those numbers’ decimal points around). The important thing on this graph is trending, not specific numbers (although once you multiply by the appropriate order of magnitude, the numbers are still correct).
The "Number of Firearm-Related Death" line was not divided at all – its numbers are its numbers. However, be advised: this category includes "all Intents" of any fatal injury in which the "cause or mechanism" was a firearm, according to WISQARS – "all intents" includes "unintentional", "suicide", "homicide", "legal intervention", and "undetermined intent". This is done, with malice aforethought, to intentionally skew the numbers in favor of those who would support the "more guns = more deaths" hypothesis. Giving those people every benefit of the doubt makes it all the more priceless when their hypothesis is shown to be erroneous.
3. Where the numbers come from: The "American Population" and "Number of Firearm-Related Deaths" information came from WISQARS. Be advised: the CDC pulls their population numbers from the United States Census Bureau, who has a nasty habit of repeatedly going back and revising previous years’ estimates. As such, the American Population numbers from 2000 to 2008 have been changed to reflect the Census’ updated estimates; however, this change did not result in an appreciable change in any of the data (<1%). How the population from 10 years ago changed over the past year, I have no idea…
The "Number of Firearms" was a little more tricky, though… I used the lower end of the range hypothesized in the Small Arms Survey of 2003 as my 2003 data point (as denoted by the large dot on that line). For any years after 2003, I added the BATFE Annual Firearms Manufacturers and Export Report numbers. For the years between 2002 and 1997, I successively subtracted the data from the same BATFE report. For the years between 1996 and 1981, I successively subtracted the data from the Shooting Industry Magazine‘s U.S. Firearm Industry Report (Extended).
If I had used the information from the 1997 study (192 million firearms in 1994), the number of firearms in America would be reduced by approximately 13 million each year. If I had used the upper range of the Small Arms Survey, the number of firearms in America would increase by approximately 38 million each year. I consider my choice to be a gracious compromise. However, the "Number of Firearms" data is only as accurate as its base assumptions, and I have no way of verifying if any of the three numbers available are accurate, or any more accurate than any others – there has been no authoritative, comprehensive inventory of every civilian-owned firearm in America, and there never should be.
The two "Rate" lines were calculated internally to the spreadsheet that generated this graph (however, the "Rate of Firearm Related Deaths per 100,000,000 People" correlates perfectly to a similar statistic generated by WISQARS (once you factor in that their rate is per 100,000 individuals)).
4. Conclusions: Obviously, both the population of America and the number of firearms in America have been increasing over the past 28 years. Additionally, the number of firearms has been, very slightly, increasing faster than the population.
On the other hand, firearm-related deaths have declined, despite a significant bump in the early 1990s. Those deaths have very slowly started increasing again in the past five years, but at a rate roughly commensurate with the population’s.
And on the gripping hand, the rate of firearm deaths in relation to both population and number of firearms has been steadily decreasing (with a few bumps, here and there) over the course of the 28 years graphed.
This post graphically shows that the hypothesis that more firearms result in more firearm-related deaths is historically and demonstrably false. However, showing "more guns = more deaths" to be false does not prove "more guns = fewer deaths" true. In truth, as Yu-Ain Gonnano accurately observed last year, all this chart does is fails to reject the null hypothesis, which means there is more to the story than "gun control" extremists would have you believe with their "more guns = more deaths" oversimplification.
5. Verification: Unlike "gun control" extremists, I have used facts and figures to make my point. Additionally unlike "gun control" extremists, I will make those facts and figures, as well as my methods, publicly available (last year’s spreadsheet is available here). You will note that that particular spreadsheet also contains the data for my "more guns = more ‘gun violence’" Graphics Matter post, which will be updated as soon as the FBI finalizes 2010’s numbers. Feel free to download the spreadsheet (I promise it is clean) and take a look at the numbers for yourselves. If I did something wrong, please correct me. If you can find better counts of the number of firearms in America (or anything else), please provide them. I know that the facts are the only things that matter, again, unlike the "gun control" extremists, and anything that can give us a better look at those facts is something we should pursue.
6. Controlling for variables: In short, I did not. Countless "gun control" extremists have fielded the argument that more guns invariably lead to more firearm-related fatalities. Their argument never progresses past that point, so this post makes no attempt to do either, and instead focuses on the core hypothesis contained within it. Obviously, the firearm-related fatality numbers in America are influenced by far more things than simply the number of firearms present, but I lack the wherewithal and data to adequately address all of those various factors, nor is it really necessary to adequately make my point. It is precisely due to that omission and simplification of the situation that trying to misappropriate this chart to claim that the Brady Bill is responsible for the sharp decline in firearm-related fatalities is a failing argument before it is even expressed; rather than try to convince yourself it works, I would suggest that you might want to check out this set of four posts done by fellow pro-rights weblogger Reputo. He takes a look at all of the significant elements at play that could describe that somewhat precipitous increase, then decrease, in crime in the 80s and 90s, and does so in a significantly more-understandable, less-confusing way.
So how did 2008’s data change things? Again, not appreciably. The American population grew 0.92% (a bit faster than the previous year), firearm-related deaths grew 1.17% (also a bit faster than the previous year), the number of firearms in common circulation increased by 1.68% (also a bit faster than the previous year), firearm-related deaths per 100,000,000 people increased by 0.25% (ditto), firearm-related deaths per 100,000,000 firearms decreased by 0.5% (the same as last year), and the number of firearms owned per 10,000 people grew by 0.76% (a bit faster).
Basically, firearm-related deaths grew slightly faster in 2008 than the American population, which is the same as 2007, but in contrast with 2006 and 2005 where the opposite was true, and 2004 and 2003 where firearm-related deaths actually decreased slightly. Over that same period (2003-2008), the number of firearms in common circulation has been increasing between 1.3% and 1.67% a year.
… Which brings us to the second half of these posts. We are all familiar with the phrase, "Correlation does not equate to causation," but a lot of people forget about the rest of it, "… but causation requires correlation." So, given that the hypothesis of "more guns = more deaths" is demonstrably false over the past 28 years here in America, is there any correlation at all between those two events?
Given that the chart of firearm-related deaths is not monotonic, we cannot solve for Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients, so we are stuck with the Pearson correlation coefficient, which allows us to solve for linear correlation between two data sets. As you can see on the spreadsheet, I solved for linear correlation by hand, and then by using Excel’s onboard linear regression tools, with the same results.
Assuming the number of firearms in common circulation describes the X-axis of a graph, and assuming the number of firearm-related fatalities describes the Y-axis of a graph, the equation necessary to describe the closest-fit line is: Y = -0.00004X + 40646. The ‘r’-value for this line is -0.37031, and the R2 value for this line is 0.13713.
What does that mean? ‘r’-values can range from -1 to +1, with +1 meaning that all data points lie perfectly on a line, with Y increasing as X increases, and -1 means the same with Y decreasing and X increasing. 0, logically enough, means no correlation at all. Based on an ‘r’-value of -0.37031, the number of firearms in civilian circulation and the number of firearm-related deaths are weakly correlated, but in a negative fashion – as the number of firearms increases, the number of firearm-related fatalities generally decreases, though not in anything even approximating a "direct" fashion.
Additionally, it is interesting to note that last year’s data yielded an ‘r’-value between firearm numbers and firearm-related fatalities of -0.36343. As the dataset grows, so too does the negative correlation between raw numbers of firearms and raw numbers of firearm-related fatalities.
To give you a pretty picture of what we are talking about:
As we discussed in last year’s post, there are no other equations that match the current distribution with any better degree of fit and do not suffer from some radical departures later on in the graph, so we will just move right along.
Is -0.37031 a significant correlation? Well, it seems to depend on who you ask, and whether or not you are interested in doing some complicated math, but, regardless, it is still a negative correlation. But wait… all of this conveniently overlooks the impact of population growth on all fatality numbers. What happens if we look at rates, rather than raw numbers?
Assuming the number of firearms per 100,000 people in common circulation describes the X-axis of a graph, and assuming the number of firearm-related fatalities per 100,000 people describes the Y-axis of a graph, the equation necessary to describe the closest-fit line is: Y = -0.00029X + 35.07780. The ‘r’-value for this line is -0.76483, and the R2 value for this line is 0.58497.
Well, would you look at that? If you pay attention to rates as opposed to raw numbers, the linear correlation between firearm ownership and firearm-related deaths over doubles, is still quite negative, and is arguably strongly negative. Interesting, that.
Equally interesting is that the rates experienced the same increase in negative correlation, based on the additional data, as the raw numbers. It would seem as though every time I crunch the numbers, the outlook just gets more and more bleak for the myth that "more guns = more deaths".
*Wipes forehead* Whew. So after all this nonsense, where do we stand?
1. The hypothesis of "more guns = more deaths" is demonstrably false over the past 28 years of documented American history. The number of firearms in civilian circulation have been steadily increasing over that time period, and the number of firearm-related fatalities has not been equivalently increasing. However, again, since there seems to be some confusion on the concept, proving "more guns = more deaths" to be false does not prove "more guns = fewer deaths" to be true. Doing so would require accounting for far more variables than I did, and involve far more interesting math than I employed, and require controlling for far more variables than I care to.
2. When comparing raw numbers, there is a weak, negative correlation between the number of firearms in America and the number of firearm-related fatalities, and that correlation seems to become more negative with additional data.
3. When comparing rates, there is a strong, negative correlation between the number of firearms per person in America and the number of firearm-related fatalities per person, and that correlation seems to become more negative with additional data.
Is that not interesting?
As before, all of the above data is freely available on the spreadsheet, and you are more than welcome to check my calculations, perform some figuring of your own, and use the numbers for whatever you see fit. However, if you decide to use the above graphics, please see Disclaimer 1 above.
However, while all of these pretty pictures do a fairly handy job of demolishing a childish argument far too repeatedly parroted by "gun control" extremists, none of it really matters – our rights are not subject to any statistics anyone can dredge or dream up. Or, to put it another way:
Where the hell do you get off thinking you can tell me I can’t own a gun? I don’t care if every other gun owner on the planet went out and murdered somebody last night. I didn’t. So piss off.
So, please, feel free to use these charts and this data to address the specious arguments of "gun control" extremists, but make sure never to buy into the basic premise that if, one day, the statistics were to turn against us, it would be "appropriate" to abridge our rights. It would not be, no matter how much other people might want it to.
* – Does anyone know why the CDC had those numbers up in July of last year, but took until September to generate them this year?
** – I would have thought this form of citation would be standard for any other respectable website out there, but it would seem as though some content-stealing hacks have a hard time giving credit where credit is due. Originally the post indirectly alluded that the Brady Campaign generated my chart due to the omission of the "click here for the www.wallsofthecity.net original", which was only added after a rather heated conversation with that site’s obnoxious and paranoid owner, and still fails to link back to the appropriate page.