Claim:  A meme accurately depicts the rate of firearm-related murders in the United States compared to other countries.

MIXTURE

Example: [Collected via e-mail, October 2015]

Origins:  On 13 October 2015 the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety tweeted the above-reproduced graph that visually contrasts the rate of gun murders in the United States versus compared to fifteen other countries. A large bar representing the United States depicted a rate of 3.7 gun murders per 100,000 residents per year, with the pictured country with the next highest rate being Italy, with a mere 0.68 murders per 100,000 resident. 

Small print at the bottom of the chart cited a January 2011 article in the journal Trauma, titled “Homicide, Suicide, and Unintentional Firearm Fatality: Comparing the United States with Other High-Income Countries” as the source for its claims. (Notably missing from the article’s title was its final word: “2003.”) That citation provided some context for the comparative data illustrated by the chart, primarily that the provided statistics referenced “high-income countries.” But that context was misleadingly elided in the creation of the chart, leaving viewers to surmise that the United States was first (by far) among all countries with respect to gun murders. Moreover, the 2015 chart cited research published in 2011, which in turn referenced homicide rates from 2003 (not 2015).

Using the same Centers for Disease Control (CDC) mortality data tool we used to verify a similar gun death rate claim, we were able to locate the specific metric (rate of gun-related homicides per 100,000 people) referenced by the chart. In 2003 (the year from which the 2011 article’s data was pulled) the rate was 4.11 (not 3.7), and the rate in 2013 (the most recent year for which such statistics were available) was 3.55.

Although those difference may not meaningfully impact the chart’s assertions, other factors render it highly misleading. As noted earlier, the chart title (“Gun Murders Per 100,000 Residents”) hints that the United States comes in at the top globally in rate of gun murders, but the article from which the chart was sourced (“Homicide, Suicide, and Unintentional Firearm Fatality: Comparing the United States with Other High-Income Countries, 2003”) contrasted the U.S. only with what it categorized as “high-income” nations. (Compared to all countries in the world, the United States ranks significantly lower in this metric.) While an argument could be made about the validity of comparing gun homicide rates in countries with similar economic conditions, viewers who stumbled upon the chart out of context had no way of knowing that it referenced only a specific subset of the world’s nations.

As we noted in a previous article about gun deaths in the United States compared to the rest of the world, the U.S ranks behind dozens of other nations (for both gun-related murders and non-gun-related homicides. The UK Guardian newspaper ported comprehensive gun homicide numbers onto a spreadsheet in 2012 [DOC] based on then-recent data compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) culled from various agencies worldwide, and that information enabled readers to more meaningfully assess how the U.S compared to other countries in terms of the actual rate of gun homicides. The combined data provided a total per capita gun homicide rate for the U.S. of 2.99, which ranked it behind 27 other nations (including Brazil, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and South Africa).

So while the chart provides a roughly accurate rate of firearm-related murders in the U.S per 100,000 people, it elides several meaningful bits of context (including its use of older statistics) and fails to denote that several other countries maintain higher rates of gun murders than the United States when the world as a whole is considered.

Last updated: 2 November 2015

Originally published: 2 November 2015