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Magazines > Information Today > November/December 2019

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Information Today
Vol. 36 No. 9 — Nov/Dec 2019
DATABASE REVIEW
Gun Violence Websites Study National Crisis
by Mick O’Leary

Gun Violence Archive, Everytown for Gun Safety, and The Trace

SYNOPSIS

The Gun Violence Archive provides detailed data on gun violence incidents in the U.S. since 2014. Everytown for Gun Safety, a national advocacy organization, contains research and reporting on several key gun violence themes. The Trace provides original research, analysis, and news on all aspects of gun violence in the U.S.
In the deeply troubled history of American mass shootings, incidents in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, during the first weekend of August stood out. Each resulted in a large number of deaths: 22 and 10, respectively. They occurred within a few hours of each other. The El Paso shooter published a hate-filled manifesto. The incidents were immediately followed by unusually extensive and fervid public discussion.

Not coincidentally, there were dramatic traffic surges on three important websites that deal with gun violence in the U.S.: the Gun Violence Archive, Everytown for Gun Safety, and The Trace. Although each is just a few years old, they have all become go-to sources for data and analysis on this uniquely American problem.

GUN VIOLENCE ARCHIVE

The Gun Violence Archive (GVA; gunviolencearchive.org) provides extensive data and up-to-date tracking on American gun violence. GVA began as a project of Slate magazine in 2012, prompted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. In 2013, it was taken over by Mark Bryant, a retired computer analyst. Initial and ongoing financial support has been provided by Mark Klein, a successful tech entrepreneur who co-founded the Sunlight Foundation (winner of Database Review’s 2015 Best Unknown Database award). Oddly for a nonprofit public interest organization, the GVA site itself has no information on its foundation, management, or funding.

Mass shootings, horrific as they are, account for only a very small portion of annual U.S. gun deaths. For 2018, GVA recorded 337 people killed or injured in mass shootings (defined by GVA as “four or more shot and/or killed in a single event”) out of the year’s general totals of 14,774 killed and 28,235 injured. GVA organizes shooting incidents into 11 categories. Three are totals: Incidents, Deaths, and Injuries. The other categories are subtotals by age category—Children or Teens—or by incident type: Mass Shooting, Officer Involved Incident, Defensive Use, etc.

GVA does not do a daily capture of data on suicides, which account for a significant majority of gun deaths. As explained in GVA’s General Methodology section (gunviolencearchive.org/methodology), suicide data is reported by law enforcement agencies differently from other types, and as a result, these numbers cannot be included in the daily summaries. This data is added in aggregate to end-of-the-year reports when it becomes available.

GVA researchers continually scan more than 6,500 sources, including news media, police reports, and government agency data. For each incident, numerous datapoints are aggregated into individual incident records:

  • Participants, both victims and shooters
  • Incident type (mass shooting, robbery, home invasion, and several others)
  • Location (address, U.S. congressional and state House and Senate districts, and geolocation)
  • Gun data (number, type, etc.)
  • Source links

Individual record fields may be empty because the data was not reported in the source documents.

The incident records are arranged in databases by year or incident type. The annual databases start with 2014; the 2019 database is updated daily, with records usually appearing the day following the incident. There are 18 databases by incident type: Children Killed, Accidental Injuries, Officer Involved Shootings, etc. Databases for congressional districts can be generated. The databases are in three formats: tables, CSV exports, and interactive maps. The tables and CSV files are buggy, with frequent incomplete displays and partial downloads. The databases are searchable by keyword, with multiple filters: location, incident characteristics, gun types, etc.

A COMMON HERITAGE

Everytown for Gun Safety (everytown.org) and The Trace (thetrace.org) have quite different content from GVA. Instead of gun violence statistics, they concentrate on gun-related investigations, analyses, case studies, policy prescriptions, and news.

They also share a common heritage in the gun control efforts of IT magnate and one-time New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. In 2006, Bloomberg was instrumental in founding Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an advocacy and policy group. In 2012, another advocacy group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, was founded in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook incident. The two groups merged in 2014 under the Everytown brand. Everytown is a nonprofit that is significantly funded by Bloomberg, with additional support from other donors. The Trace was founded in 2015 to provide news, research, analysis, and policy development on U.S. gun topics. It is a nonprofit that received startup funds from Everytown and gets ongoing support from Everytown and other sources.

EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY

Everytown is an advocacy group with a strong research and publication function. It’s a large, nationwide organization that’s been described as a counterforce to the National Rifle Association (NRA). Its activist agenda includes lobbying, rallies, and educational campaigns. It also conducts a considerable litigation program, employing what it calls the largest team of gun-safety litigators in the country. There is a separate site (everytownresearch.org/law) that catalogs its numerous litigation efforts, with links to corresponding documents.

Everytown’s research work is focused on five core issues: Better Background Checks, Disarming Domestic Abusers, Combating Daily Gun Violence, Protecting Kids and Communities, and Holding the Gun Industry Accountable. Each issue’s page offers a publication collection that contains many original research studies, reports, policy discussions, fact sheets, infographics, and maps. Each collection can be searched by keyword and filtered by issue, document type, and date.

Everytown has a valuable standalone resource in its Gun Law Navigator (everytownresearch.org/navigator), a historical database of modern U.S. state gun laws. It summarizes the status of state gun laws from 1991 and provides state versus state and state versus national comparisons, as well as tracks law changes over time.

THE TRACE

The Trace conducts original research and reports on all aspects of gun violence in the U.S. The collection contains research investigations, local case studies, first-person narratives, interviews, policy prescriptions, and podcasts. It is classified into several dozen topics and is keyword-searchable. The Daily Bulletin (thetrace.org/category/daily-bulletin) provides summaries of the latest gun-related news and events.

The Trace has produced numerous large-scale investigations. A typical example is Missing Pieces (thetrace.org/missing-pieces), which studied the connections between stolen weapons and crime. The yearlong project examined records from more than 1,000 police and law enforcement agencies and connected thousands of weapons to crime scenes. The project was conducted in partnership with more than a dozen local NBC TV stations. Many of The Trace’s larger investigations are similarly partnered. It has worked with 100-plus news and media organizations, including national properties such as Politico, The New Yorker, Slate, and The Atlantic and many local news outlets.

The Trace gives in-depth, ongoing attention to several key themes in its Projects section. Three of these take on the NRA by delving deeply into its finances, lobbying efforts, and members’ motivations.

In partnership with GVA, The Trace has developed a highly informative graphic project: An Atlas of American Gun Violence (thetrace.org/features/gun-violence-interactive-shootings-map). It is an interactive U.S. map that can be panned, zoomed, and filtered to display incidents by location, date, and type, with links back to GVA records.


Mick O’Leary has been reviewing databases and websites for Information Today since 1987. Send your comments about this article to itletters@infotoday.com or tweet us (@ITINewsBreaks)