Analysis: The Surprising Way Gun Violence Is Dividing America

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Analysis: The Surprising Way Gun Violence Is Dividing America


Byline: Andrew Van Dam The Washington Post

On average, there are 276 gun homicides a week in America. There are 439 gun suicides. All told, there are, on average, nearly 1,200 incidents involving gun violence, every week, in America.

But this landscape of gun violence -- suicides, homicides, mass shootings, accidents -- is not evenly distributed. Instead, it plays out over geographic and political dividing lines -- and these may help explain why individual Americans see the issue so differently.

To better understand how the geography of gun violence may affect how Americans think about the issue, The Washington Post analyzed data on gun deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for every county from 2007 and 2016 and the nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive from 2016 to present. (Our full methodology is explained at the bottom of this article.)

A distinct pattern emerged: In Democratic regions of the country, which tend to be cities, people are more likely to be murdered with a gun than they are to shoot themselves to death. And in regions of the country won by Republican, which tend to be rural areas and small towns, the opposite is true -- people are more likely to shoot themselves to death than they are to be murdered with a gun.

This pattern could partially explain differing partisan views on the issue of gun control, experts say, though they added that more analysis would be necessary to prove a direct link. In the most Democratic regions, gun violence is more often committed against another, crimes that probably generate more news coverage and fear. In the most Republican areas, it is more often committed against oneself, suicides that may not attract as much attention.

-- -- --

One of the biggest paradoxes -- or, at least, potential paradoxes -- about gun violence in America is that more gun violence occurs in Republican areas than Democratic areas.

On average, there were slightly more gun deaths in Republican areas than Democratic-leaning ones in the decade from 2007 to 2016. And the disparity in death rates was even greater -- 5.7 per 100,000 in Republican-leaning counties, versus 4.7 in Democratic-leaning counties -- due to the higher total population in counties won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Much of the disparity comes from the fact that there are so many more suicides than homicides a year, and suicides are so much more prevalent in rural areas and small towns.

Democratic areas (measured by the party that controls the congressional district) are far more likely to experience almost all forms of malicious gun violence than Republican areas. These charts exclude suicides, for which data are not available on a congressional district basis, so it only breaks down the fraction of gun violence that is accidental or confrontational.

In almost all cases, guns kill or injure more children, teens and people in Democratic districts. Mass shootings, which vary widely in number depending how restrictive your definition is, occur more often in Democratic districts.

These Republican and Democratic breakdowns correspond strongly with National Rifle Association ratings. Of the 430 for which grades were available, only 33 (7.7 percent) deviated from the simple Republicans get "A" ratings, Democrats get "F" model.

-- -- --

Of the 15 largest metropolitan areas in the country, 12 voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Her margin in most exceeded 27 percentage points. The Democratic base, quite simply, experiences higher murder rates.

Harvard University sociologist Robert Sampson, who studies urban violence and the factors that cause it, has found that concentrated poverty, inequality and racial segregation are strongly related to higher rates of violent crime in cities. His research has also shown that gun violence is concentrated in specific areas, down to particular city block. …

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