A few weeks ago, Google sent me an announcement of Google Public Data Explorer, a set of tools that helps gather statistics and other information for bloggers, writers, etc...
Thinking about the current gun control debate, I decided to look up the number of firearm deaths in the U.S. After a little bit of finagling, I managed to produce the following graph, with shows the number of deaths per state from 1999 - 2010:
The overall number of death hangs between 20,000 and 30,000 per year overall, but there is a wide gap between the current state with the most, California at 2,935, and the least, Hawaii at 49.
But numbers such as these do not make a complete picture. So I looked up the population of the U.S. Interestingly, the population graph goes from July 1900 to July 2014. Watch how the U.S. grew during those decades.
The graphs show a general correlation between the population of a state and the number of firearm deaths. But if you look closely, you see that in 2010, California had approximately 3,000 firearm death out of over 37 million people. That's significantly less than 1% of the population, more like 0.00007% who died. Which makes me wonder, why are we so upset over firearm deaths when it's not a particularly prevalent problem?
It's a simple answer - the media.
The media glorifies (almost deifies) random acts of gun violence, showing pictures and videos of events over and over again. This coverage overly emphasizes gun-related events, until it feels in the public mind as though gun violence is an overwhelming problem. Also, the coverage encourages copycats, people who feel invisible and want to be noticed/remembered, by creating anti-heroes of the people who do the violence.
Whatever gun control laws we have, we also need to control how the media handles these events, because fixing gun laws and not the media does nothing to fix the problem. It's like giving a screwdriver to someone who needs a hammer. Close, but not really the right tool.