The Telling Geography of American Gun Violence

I like data. I am a social scientist after all. I am also very impressed by some of the new developments in data visualization which did not exist when I was being trained.

The gun violence newsadvocacy organization The Trace recently used data from the Gun Violence Archive to create an interesting “atlas” of American gun violence. The data visualization tool allows you to enter an address in a search box and it displays the number of fatal and nonfatal shootings near that location since 2014 (the year the Gun Violence Archive launched). It also allows you to limit the results to mass, officer involved, child involved, and accidental shootings.

I have written many times about the telling geography of gun violence in America. The problem with averages when trying to understand any phenomenon in the United States (including anything having to do with guns) is that no one lives in “America.” There are many Americas. Some of these Americas – like my neighborhood in Winston-Salem – are more like our first world counterparts in the OECD, and some of them are more like the third world politically, economically, and socially. Consequently, some Americas are as safe Europe and some are as dangerous as Central America.

The Trace’s new data visualization shows that there have been at least 58 shootings (23 fatal, 43 nonfatal) within 5 miles of my home for most of the past 5 years. But the map shows that most of those shootings occurred on the eastern perimeter of the circle created by that 5 mile radius. Which is not at all coincidental since the vast majority of all gun violence in Winston-Salem is concentrated in the eastern part of the city.

This can be seen below if I scroll out from the initial view above.

My wife and I actually just moved further east and closer to downtown Winston-Salem, which brings the concentration of gun violence in East Winston and North Winston closer to home. But the particular neighborhood in which we live is at least as safe as gunless Europe. 4 shootings in the past 5 years within 1 mile of our home – 1 fatal and 3 nonfatal.

Both of these homes in Winston-Salem are actually less safe than the condo my wife used to own in a bedroom community outside the city where there were only 2 shootings within 5 miles in the previous 5 years, none fatal. (Of course, the Gun Violence Archive reports numbers, not rates, and there is a larger population in the City of Winston-Salem than the Town of Clemmons, but adjusting for population the rate of gun violence is still lower in Clemmons.)

One of the things I especially like about data is the challenge of properly understanding what data say and critically engaging what they don’t say and cannot say. The Trace properly notes some of the limitations of the data used to build this atlas.

The Gun Violence Archive harvests its data from various sources (including media and law enforcement), but it does not capture every shooting in the United States. Notably, it excludes suicides committed with guns (the majority of all gun deaths in the United States), except those that were a part of a murder-suicide.

Including suicides would substantially change this atlas as the social geography of suicide differs greatly from homicide.

10 comments

  1. I think both the pro and anti gun folks can make use of that tool. As you and I have long said, none of us live in America/New Mexico/North Carolina. We live in a local area and it can really influence safety from crime. If both sides would admit that little fact, maybe we could get somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did it for a 5 mile radius around my home. The first thing I noticed was that some of the homicides were not murders but officer involved shootings. Actually, 2 out of 3 were officer involved shootings. Including these in the stats is misleading as it gives the impression when just looking at “red dots” that they all involved the criminal misuse of a firearm.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, one of the filters build in is police involved shooting. Many in the “gun violence prevention” community, as you well know, treat officer involved shootings the same as criminal homicides when counting. Someone in Facebook comments also notes that there is no distinction made here for lawful use of lethal force in self-defense. Although only several hundred private citizen justifiable homicides a year, they do not break this out as far as I can tell.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. David grew up in Winston Salem and lived there till 2017. Have long known there were parts of the eastern and southern sides of the city I did not go to day or night. But that is going to be true of any community. I now live in south central Virginia and nothing within 5 miles of me. Dosen’t mean I will disarm though.

    Like

    • Jared Taylor, the New Century Foundation, and American Renaissance are too close legitimate white supremacists and white separatists and race scientists for my comfort. As a sociologist I prefer historical and social over genetic explanations for these findings.

      Like

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