Firearm data resources for reporting on the Orlando mass shooting

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJU.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has launched a campaign to address the epidemic of opioid addiction.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJU.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., spoke about gun violence as a public health issue at Health Journalism 2016. Click here to see his comments.

In light of the mass shooting in Orlando, many journalists covering the event will need access to statistics on firearms, legislation, past mass shootings and related information to add context to their posts. It’s often challenging to find this information, and all of the reported data has flaws in methodology or data collection.

Even though it can be tricky to find reliable stats related to firearms and firearm injuries and deaths, journalists can compile a pretty good big picture by visiting several sites and pooling their data. Here are some data resources compiled from AHCJ’s Medical Studies Core Topic.

In addition, for those wanting to understand the bigger picture, read detailed analyses of studies, arguments, counterarguments and reports, and to gain a stronghold on how these arguments intersect, the excellent evidence-based blog Armed With Reason can be a helpful place to start.

For basic numbers, the best starting place is the CDC’s FastStats Injuries page, where you can download tables that break down firearm deaths and injuries by age and other demographics. The injuries here, however, are an underestimate since not all firearm-related injuries are reported (especially not those in which a person didn’t seek medical attention).

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System provides data on the number of background checks that NICS conducts monthly in the United States, but they can’t be used as a proxy for sales since a background check may occur without a sale or a private transaction may occur without a background check. It also includes the numbers for federal denials according to the reasons.

Then, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports offers several tabs, including “Violent Crime,” “Murder” and “Expanded Homicide,” but it’s important to note these stats are underreported and sometimes inconsistent. For example, both Florida and Alabama report the total number of homicides in their state but without breaking it down by weapon (downloadable with Excel) or mode.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics offers information on background checks for transfers, stolen firearms, homicide trends and other data. For mass shootings, no state or federal agency tracks these consistently, but the Gun Violence Archive on Mass Shootings is a good place to start. It also provides a Creative Commons map and a description of methodology. Everytown for Gun Safety, the advocacy group that grew out of the Newtown tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has also posted an Analysis of Mass Shootings with some great infographics.

Finally, the overall site of Gun Violence Archive pulls together probably the most comprehensive stats you’ll find. This nonprofit, nonpartisan group compiles data from a wide range of state and federal reported data, and the site transparently describes all its methodology.

1 thought on “Firearm data resources for reporting on the Orlando mass shooting

  1. Norman Bauman

    Nature profile of Garen Wintemute

    This article from Nature explains why there aren’t many sources of scientifically valid, relevant information on gun violence, and mentions a few researchers who did meet those criteria.

    http://www.nature.com/news/firearms-research-the-gun-fighter-1.12864
    Nature | News Feature
    Firearms research: The gun fighter
    There are almost as many firearms in the United States as there are citizens. Garen Wintemute is one of few people studying the consequences.
    Meredith Wadman
    24 April 2013

    (Garen Wintemute, director, Violence Prevention Research Program, UC Davis, one of 2 convictions for misdemeanor violece were 15x as likely to be charged with the most violent crimes. Visited 78 gun shows in 19 states, starting 1999, saw blatant promotion of guns as murder weapons, signs “Great for Urban Hunting,” “Great for Getto Cruisers.” Concealed camera, voicemail on cell phone. Paper on straw purchases. Criticizes gun control research if it’s weak.)

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