Vox’s Misleading Chart about Gun Violence

Vox.com, which prides itself as the place that explains everything in the world in a few words, some snark, or a chart, on Wednesday rushed to explain why the San Bernardino, CA mass shooting took place. Shortly after the first sketchy details of the shooting emerged, Vox posted (and tweeted) a chart purportedly showing why the U.S. is the worst for gun violence in the developed world.

“This map of global gun ownership puts America’s gun violence epidemic in perspective,” Vox tweeted with a link to its story.

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The deep red covering the United States makes it appear in the tweet as if the U.S. has the worst gun violence in the world. No other nation comes close to having that dark of a shade of red. Judging exclusively from the tweet and the chart, according to @VoxDotCom, the U.S. is worse than Syria – a nation that has been wracked by years of civil war resulting in millions of displaced citizens and approximately 200,000 killed.

The U.S. has a population of just under 320 million, and Syria had a population of 23 million in 2013. More recent numbers are hard to come by for obvious reasons. According to an academic source, up to 3 million Syrians are no longer living in Syria.

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (not a pro-gun source by any stretch), in an average year 12,109 Americans die as a result of non-law enforcement, non-suicide gun violence. That translates to 0.0038% of the U.S. population that dies as a result of some form of gun violence.

A New York Times report concluded that 200,000 Syrians have been killed in that country’s 4.5 year long civil war. Around 28,277 Syrians died as a result of “mass shootings or killings,” the remainder died as a result of bombardments, bombings, chemical agents or torture. Averaged out and compared to the total population, around 0.027% of Syrians have died as a result of mass shootings or killings annually.

In Syria, then, the death rate as a result of shootings is 7.1 times greater than the death rate as a result of shootings in the U.S. The impression left by the Vox chart, is wrong.

But the Vox.com article explains – unlike the tweet – that the map is not of gun crimes, but gun ownership per capita, and the article admits that many nations have much higher rates of gun deaths per capita than the U.S. But all of that can be explained away, Vox theorizes, because nations that are worse than the U.S. are not “developed countries” or “industrialized countries.” The article also explains that a “highly sophisticated” study that controlled (read: edited) for certain factors found that gun ownership is to blame for gun deaths in the U.S.

Bottom line: Vox.com tweeted a misleading chart that made it appear as if the U.S. is worse than Syria when it comes to gun ownership and violence, and then offered a convoluted explanation of how the U.S. leads the world in gun-related deaths thanks to high gun ownership levels.