Monday, December 17, 2012

A Sleuthing Exercise (Oh What Fun!)

I wanted to share the results of an activity I engaged in today, to make a point.  But please stick with me, because it's not the point I think you're going to think I think start that again - it's not the point I believe you're going to think I'm making.  So please read to the end.  And please don't take this too seriously - I am speaking a little tongue in cheek in my conclusion, so please don't take this personally.  Also note that I do not have ANYONE specifically in mind as a target - I'm not trying to make ANYONE specific whom I know feel guilty, I'm just making a point to whomever cares.  My purpose in writing this is mostly to entertain, but I hope it is educational as well.

Today, I saw this headline from July of this year in a feed I follow (Fark, in case you wanted to know):

Bill Moyers calls NRA "Enabler of Death"

He says that "in my lifetime alone, far more Americans have been casualties of domestic gunfire than have died in all our wars combined."  I thought "no way, really?  He's got to be exaggerating."  Now EVERYONE knows that pundits lie (right?).  So I had a choice: I could assume he's lying, or assume he's not...and if I assume, am I basing that assumption on what I, personally, WANT to be true?  So I thought...well, let's see what 5 minutes and some googling can come up with for deaths in my own lifetime.  (Note that the exercise took just a bit longer, but writing this post took more time.)  Here's one of the first things I found:

That article says that between 2006 and 2010: 47,856 were murdered in U.S. by firearms.  So that's a small chunk of my life - let's look some more.  Next I found this:

Hmm, 30,708 killed in 1998 by firearms, but 17,605 were suicides.  Well...let's be generous and subtract them out, which brings us to 60,959 total between 2006-2010, added to the number of gun related deaths in 1998 I found.  I still need some more data, since that's only 6 years out of my life.  Well, I found this:

Not much here I can use (though there is a lot of eye opening information in that one), but I do see some years I don't have yet: 2005 (10,100), 1999 (6,500).  That brings my total up to 77,559.  I have 8 years out of my lifetime now.  Hmm, I still need more, so I changed my terms a bit, and then I found the motherload:

This page is like a calculator that will show you deaths and injuries related to what you want to see, though it only seems to cover certain years.  So I set the answer to question number one (intent) to all, and cause or mechanism (question 2) to firearm.  I set the years to 1980-1998, and left the other options as the default: census region/state was set to United States, race to "All Races", sex to "Both Sexes", hispanic Origin to "All", and output options to "Standard Output".  The number of deaths it gave back to me was 620,525. 
Now, I'm still missing 1980, 2000-2004, and 2011-2012 (aw dang, I just gave away how old I am).  But I've been searching for a little over 5 minutes now, so let's add what I've got and see what the comparison is to wars - I have  698,084 total deaths for PART of my lifetime from the 5 minutes of searching I did.  Now Mr. Moyers has been alive for a bit longer, so let's just start by looking to see how the number of U.S Military casualties from the wars in his lifetime (I'm guessing which wars were during his lifetime) compare:
(NOTE: I found this info using wikipedia -
WWII:     405,399
Greek Civil War:   6
Chinese Civil War:  164
Korean War:   36,516
Vietnam:   58,209
1958 Lebanon crisis:  6
Bay of Pigs Invasion:  4
Dominican Republic:  47
Iran:    8
El Salvador Civil War:  37
Beirut Deployment:  266
Persian Gulf escorts:  39
Invasion of Grenada:  19
1986 Bombinb of Libya:  2
Invasion of Panama:  40
Gulf War:   258
Operation Provide Comfort: 19
Somalia:   43
Haiti:    4
Columbia:   8
Bosnia-Herzegovina:  12
NATO bombing of Yugoslavia: 20
Afghanistan:   2,031
Iraq War:   4,487
War on Terror:   6,518

Let's pull out the calculator, and I get: 514,162 (someone wanna check my math?)

HOLY CRAP.  There are DEFINITELY more domestic gun-related deaths during his lifetime (and mine) than the deaths in the wars of our lifetimes!  The 698,084 I came up with isn't even the full span of his life!  Now, he said that "in my lifetime alone, far more Americans have been casualties of domestic gunfire than have died in all our wars combined" - so let's pretend we can guess how many total domestic gun-related deaths there were in his lifetime, and add ALL the wars the U.S. has EVER been engaged in, which this page says is a total of 1,326,612.  So if you assume (I know, I'm assuming and it makes a something out of u and me, but I'm not a professional, and I said I was going to do 5 minutes of searching, which I have surpassed now) that you can double the 698,084 deaths I came up with for the years of his lifetime (I believe this is generous, since he's more than twice my age, and I didn't even get the full statistics of all the years of my life), and you come up with 1,396,168.  Which implies.. that it's quite possible (come on, I was generous in the way I did my math) that the number of gun related domestic violence deaths in his lifetime is more than the number of deaths in all the wars the U.S. has ever been a part of!

NOW, for my conclusion (which is not what you're probably expecting it's going to be): I saw a statement by a pundit (which may or may not have supported an opinion I may or may not have already had), and a little alarm went off in my head and I thought "could this be exaggeration?"  So, I went to google, spent just a few minutes of my time researching, and found that it is very possible that he was telling the truth.  I did a fact check!  See how easy that is?  I didn't spend a ridiculous amount of time on it, and when I found numbers that supported his statement, I didn't question them (well, the media is so [blank] biased, so therefore I can't trust anything THEY say), but I accepted that given the research I have done it is quite possible that he was making a truthful statement.  And that's all that can be asked of me, right?  I'm just a regular dude, and I put a reasonable amount of effort into finding out if a statement I suspected was true or not.  Now the question is: how far are you willing to go in order to fact check suspicious statements that politicians and pundits make?  If you go to one of those fact-checker websites to check a statement, and their conclusion doesn't match what you wanted, are you willing to put the work into it?  Or are you just going to say "well, this site is [blank] biased, so I can throw out everything they say!"

Again, I hope you found some humor in the way I presented this exercise, and found it educational, and hopefully I got my point across that it is VERY easy to fact check in this day and age - so please do so!

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