Shelbyville Daily Union

Community News Network

December 13, 2013

Gun deaths not easily tracked or tallied

WASHINGTON — Five days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Barack Obama delivered remarks in which he stressed that, this time, the national conversation about guns must lead to action. "The fact that this problem is complex," he said sternly, "can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing." He also spent a moment noting just a few of the Americans who had been killed by guns in the days since Newtown:

"Since Friday morning, a police officer was gunned down in Memphis, leaving four children without their mother. Two officers were killed outside a grocery store in Topeka. A woman was shot and killed inside a Las Vegas casino. Three people were shot inside an Alabama hospital. A 4-year-old was caught in a drive-by in Missouri and taken off life support just yesterday."

At Slate, this got us to thinking: Who were the people who had been killed by guns in the days since Newtown? How did they die? What were their stories? So we partnered with a Twitter user, @gundeaths, who since the summer had been linking to news stories about people killed by guns, and thanks to a lot of overnight coding by my colleague Chris Kirk, we created the first version of our interactive feature, "How Many People Have Been Killed By Guns Since Newtown?" which used news reports to create an approximate real-time tally of deaths by gun in the United States.

The feature was meant to be a provocation of sorts: We knew that those rows of figures, each one attached to a name, piling atop one another every day, made for an arresting visual, one that might trouble even the most ardent gun-rights supporter.

But as time went by and the interactive was discussed, questioned, and cited, this provocation also became a kind of experiment. How many deaths were being reported on, and how many were falling through the cracks? Why was it that no single source was collecting this data in real time? In other words, we wanted to know if an interactive like this can actually be valuable as something besides a provocation - whether crowdsourcing can produce real-time data and whether that data is useful and complete. (Hoping people might use our data for their own research purposes, we made it available as a downloadable file.)

A year after Newtown, the 11,400-plus human figures on that list remain a chilling reminder of the toll guns take on Americans every day. And the answers to our questions have started to become clear. Some people did use our data, for both interesting visualizations and public programs (sometimes, alas, without reading it carefully first). But we've also learned some tough lessons about how hard it is to track death by gun in America. The overwhelming likelihood is that our interactive missed more than half of the gun deaths in the past 12 months. The main reason there is no single source collecting this data in real time is surely because it is an enormous, daunting task - one that we only made a small dent in, with the help of devoted volunteers.

As for the greater question of whether an interactive like this can ever be something more than an incomplete shout in the dark: I think it can, because of a quiet revolution in gun-related research and data collection that is sparking at universities and government agencies in the wake of Newtown. It seems likely that Obama's lasting legacy on guns won't be a federal law, but rather a simple executive order he signed on Jan. 16, which helped make this revolution possible. There's a long way to go, but I think a better, more complete, privately funded version of our gun-deaths calculator could make a real difference. That's why I'm so glad that a better, more complete, privately funded version will be launching at the beginning of 2014, led by a businessman with a history of using technology to collect and disseminate data. He has a real challenge before him.

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 21, 2014

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 21, 2014

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 21, 2014

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • A quarter of the world's most educated people live in the 100 largest cities

    College graduates are increasingly sorting themselves into high-cost, high-amenity cities such as Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco, a phenomenon that threatens to segregate us across the country by education.

    July 18, 2014

  • Your chocolate addiction is only going to get more expensive

    For nearly two years, cocoa prices have been on the rise. Finally, that's affecting the price you pay for a bar of chocolate - and there's reason to believe it's only the beginning.

    July 18, 2014

  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 17, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • web_starbucks-cof_big_ce.jpg Starbucks sees more Apple-like stores after Colombia debut

    This week Starbucks opened its first location in Colombia — a 2,700-square-foot store with a heated patio, concrete columns, mirrors on the ceiling and walls of colorful plants.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
AP Video
UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Obama Voices Concern About Casualties in Mideast Diplomacy Intensifies Amid Mounting Gaza Toll AP Exclusive: American Beaten in Israel Speaks Obama Protects Gay, Transgender Workers Raw: Gaza Rescuers Search Rubble for Survivors Raw: International Team Inspects MH17 Bodies Raw: 25 Family Members Killed in Gaza Airstrike US Teen Beaten in Mideast Talks About Ordeal 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism Native American Teens Get Taste of College Legendary Actor James Garner Dies Ukraine Rebels: Black Boxes Will Be Returned Recording May Show Attempt at Crash Cover-up
Poll

Should the minimum wage for workers be raised in Illinois?

Yes
No
     View Results
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Helium debate
Helium