Proof That Gun Violence Statistics Are Often Misleading

You can't believe everything you see.

As the debate over control continues to rage on in America, pro-gun activists and people who want stricter gun laws often cite statistics and trends to prove their point.

But how reliable are these stats? And how trustworthy can the (admittedly nice-looking) graphs they cite be? 

The truth is isolating certain law changes or statistics to prove a point about gun violence rarely ever does the trick. 

Look no further than South America. In Venezuela, after crime and violence were running wild, the government decided to impose strict gun laws and disarm the people. What happened? Violence actually went up

Not far from Venezuela in Bogota, Colombia, violence was also an issue. When the government imposed stricter gun laws, they saw violence decline along with gun ownership. So what gives?

These two contradictory outcomes are a great way to open the conversation about gun control. Simply put, making guns harder to get doesn't always lessen crime, and making guns easier to get doesn't always keep more people safe. To illustrate just how deceiving some gun statistics can be, we've pulled three separate statistical groups that we've seen people cite as evidence in their favor. 

We hope this encourages you to look at everything with a more critical eye.

Michael Schall / A Plus
Michael Schall / A Plus

In this chart, we show the disparity between shootings and the rate of homicide. As more liberal gun laws have been imposed in the United States, people have often times cited the declining homicide rate in relation to guns as evidence that it's working. But that graph is actually misleading — you would think it implies there were less shootings or less gun violence, but there weren't. In fact, the rate of people being shot was increasing well into 2013. So how is this possible?

One possible explanation is that we are getting better at treating gun wounds

Take a look at this graph about gun violence in Missouri.

Michael Schall / A Plus
Michael Schall / A Plus

Often times, the circled part of the graph was cited by people who wanted more gun control as showing that gun violence spiked after gun registration laws were loosened. After a study revealed the spike in gun violence in the middle of 2007, PBS published an article with the headline, "Study shows gun violence surged in Missouri after repeal of gun control laws."

But when you zoom out and look at the graph as a whole, something else becomes clear. Gun violence was already on its way up and the loosening of gun laws may have actually slowed the rise. Truthfully, there doesn't seem to be a strong correlation between the gun laws and the violence that was occurring. All we know is the general trend of violence was heading upwards between 1999 and 2012.

That might be why Fox News published an article of their own titled "Media cherry picks Missouri gun data to make the misleading case for more control" shortly after PBS' article.

"While it is true that the murder rate in Missouri rose 17 percent relative to the rest of the U.S. in the five years after 2007, it had actually increased by 32 percent during the previous five years," author John R. Lott wrote. "The question is why the Missouri murder rate was increasing relative to the rest of the United States at a slower rate after the change in the law than it did prior to it."

Contradicting gun ownership statistics.

Michael Schall / A Plus
Michael Schall / A Plus

Another hot debate amongst gun ownership advocates and opponents is where gun ownership actually is in the United States. Perhaps the most commonly quoted statistics in this argument appear on the left of the infographic above. They're from NORC at the University of Chicago's General Social Survey

The statistics suggest there was a sharp decline in gun ownership over the last 40 years. But on the right, a Gallup poll shows a steady rate of homes with guns and an increase in gun ownership amongst the people who took the survey. So how could this be?

As it turns out, the General Social Survey is conducted by going door-to-door and asking people about the gun ownership.  A Zogby Analytics survey showed that 35 percent of Americans don't think it's anyone's business whether they own a gun, and that number goes up slightly amongst gun owners.

The Gallup survey, on the other hand, is conducted anonymously and shows a flat rate of gun ownership.

So what can we make of all this? 

In the end, it's just important to give everything a critical examination. It's certainly true that America needs to address its mass shootings and consider gun reform, but let's just make sure we're being constructive when we have those conversations