Mapping the Laws, Lobbying, and Life-Altering Consequences of Guns

Some recent attempts to quantify the chaos.
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Some recent attempts to quantify the chaos.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School makeshift memorial on Berkshire Road in Newtown, Connecticut. (PHOTO: BBJETER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Sandy Hook Elementary School makeshift memorial on Berkshire Road in Newtown, Connecticut. (PHOTO: BBJETER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

This week’s grim first anniversary of the Newtown shooting is a good a time as any to try to get a grip on guns in the U.S. It’s harder than ever to do, though—and media coverage of Newtown, and other tragedies like it, is partly to blame. Fear, cultural differences, and political agendas all continue to contribute to the misinformation and misunderstandings in the media about gun policy and gun crimes.

A Pew Research Center poll released this year showed that, while violent gun crime has steadily decreased over the past two decades, a majority of Americans believe the opposite. It’s a pretty fair assumption that increased coverage of violent crime, and a few particularly horrifying mass shootings over the years, have twisted our perceptions of the big picture.

There have lately been some admirable attempts to clarify the chaos, however. Several resources and retrospectives have launched online in the past few days, put together by news organizations and think tanks. All are worth taking a look at.

In total, of the 1,500 state gun bills that have been introduced in the past year, 109 have become law. But they might not be the type of laws one might initially expect.

The New York Times published a special interactive feature online on Tuesday, mapping out the gun laws enacted in each state since Newtown. The laws are color-coded (for either tightening or loosening policies) and broken down into categories, like public carry policy, guns in schools, and mental health checks. The graphs for each state also follow the laws’ journeys through the legislature, by time and by branch.

In total, of the 1,500 state gun bills that have been introduced in the past year, 109 have become law. But they might not be the type of laws one might initially expect. Since Newtown, the Times reports, “almost every state has enacted at least one new gun law. Nearly two-thirds of the new laws ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners.”

The Sunlight Foundation, a pro-government-transparency non-profit in Washington, D.C., has been rolling out a series this week on gun policy and political influence since Newtown. (Great title—“Guns in America: Lock, Stock, Cash and Influence.”) One post locates the most significant, or most controversial, state gun control laws on a U.S. map, and another provides an interactive table that lets readers “Explore gun influence state by state.”

The latter shows the donations that were given to elected officials and candidates by groups on both sides of the debate. California tops the list for donations for both gun control and gun rights, as it turns out. (The figures aren’t adjusted or averaged for population.) There are links to a lot of tools to play around with, too, to explore FED reports, fundraising events, political ads, and track specific words in the Congressional record, like “background checks,” for instance.

Mother Jones posted a data-driven feature by Mark Follman, bringing attention to the (at least) 194 children who have been shot to death since the Newtown massacre last year. The investigation gathered and analyzed the deaths of everyone aged 12 and under who was killed with guns. That dataset is available for download on the site as well.

Most of those 194 kids were not the victims of high-profile shootings. Most were private, singular tragedies that occurred when kids found guns at home and accidentally shot themselves, or were accidentally shot by friends or family members. Some are homicides or suicides. Sixty children were shot by one of their parents, and the average age of the victims was six. “The NRA says arming more adults will protect kids,” reads the piece’s subhead, “but most are killed at home, our investigation shows, often with unsecured guns.”

The starkness of the black-and-white embedded, downloadable chart is countered on the site by a colorful interactive photo gallery of all of the children killed in the past year. Mother Jones’ commemoration overall—while just as thorough as the ones mentioned above—is the least cut-and-dry, the most emotionally arresting, as it was surely meant to be.

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