Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 2, 2013

Fact Check: Gun deaths statistic is off

BY FACTCHECK.ORG
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---- — Q: Is it true that 85 percent of all the children killed by guns in the world are killed in the United States?

A: No. This statistic, misused by the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, refers to a study of 23 high-income countries in 2003 that made up less than 14 percent of the world's population. A coauthor of that study says the percentage of children killed in the world who lived in the U.S. is "well, well, well under 85 percent."

FULL QUESTION: Is it true that of all the children killed by guns in the world 85 percent of them are killed in the United States?

Facebook post: More people need to be asking this question.

"How do we get to the point where 85% of children that are killed with guns are killed in the United States? That is a sobering statistic." — Capt. Mark Kelly

Full Answer

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — who was wounded in a mass shooting in Arizona that left six others dead — and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, announced the formation of a political action committee after the recent Connecticut school shooting. The PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, will lobby legislators to "stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership," according to its website.

The couple appeared on ABC News on the second anniversary of the Arizona shooting to make an appeal for action. In the interview with Diane Sawyer, Kelly described meeting with the families of those slain at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Kelly, Jan. 8: The first couple that we spoke to, dad took out a cell phone and showed us a picture of his daughter, and I just about lost it. You know, how did we get to the point where 85 percent of children that are killed with guns are killed in the United States? That is a sobering statistic, 85 percent.

The statistic cited by Kelly was posted on Facebook, and quickly spread under the heading, "More people need to be asking this question." Several of our readers asked us if it was accurate.

The short answer is no, although the point Kelly made is valid. The problem is that Kelly left out an important qualifier.

The statistic comes from a study by Erin G. Richardson and David Hemenway, "Homicide, suicide, and unintentional firearm fatality: comparing the United States with other high-income countries, 2003."

The report looked at firearm deaths in 23 populous high-income countries, as reported to the World Health Organization for 2003.

Richardson and Hemenway: Total population for the United States for 2003 was 290.8 million; the combined population for the other 22 countries was 563.5 million.

There were 29,771 firearm deaths in the United States and 7,653 firearms deaths in the 22 other countries. Thus, among these 23 countries, 80 percent of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States in 2003, and 86 percent of all women killed by firearms were US women, and 87 percent of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms were U.S. children.

The report makes a compelling case that the homicide rate for children in the U.S. far surpasses that of the other 22 high-income nations combined. But it is not a statistic that included the entire world. As the report notes, it is looking at 23 countries with a combined population of just over 854 million. The world population in 2003 was 6.3 billion. In other words, the study looked at countries that made up less than 14 percent of the world's population.

Included in the study were: Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom (England and Wales), United Kingdom (Northern Ireland), United Kingdom (Scotland) and the United States.

Not included were any countries in Central or South America or Africa, where many countries have higher gun homicide rates than the U.S. According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the U.S. gun homicide rate was 3.2 per every 100,000 people in 2010. Every country in Central America, for example, had a much higher homicide rate, led by Honduras, where the homicide rate was 68.4 per every 100,000 people in 2010.

So what percentage of total children gun deaths occur in the U.S.? We could find no research to answer that question.

"I have no idea what percentage of the world's (childhood gun deaths) are from the U.S.," said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and coauthor of the report from which the statistic originated. "But it is well, well, well under 85 percent."

"The problem is that the data from many countries is not that good," Hemenway said. "Another problem is how you count all those countries with civil wars going on. Are those gun deaths or war deaths?"

Again, the data in Hemenway's report present an alarming picture of the frequency of child gun homicides in the U.S. compared with 22 of the world's highest-income countries.

But without that qualifier, the statistic is grossly inaccurate.

By Robert Farley for FactCheck.org

Editor's note: For sources for this report, see the FactCheck.org web site.