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.