Cherry-Picking Statistics: How the Violence Policy Center Manipulates Data to Advance their Cause

Last week, the Violence Policy Center shared their analysis of 2016 fatal injury statistics, which are released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and available for public analysis. VPC’s headline: “U.S. Gun Death Rate Jumps 17 Percent Since 2008 Supreme Court District of Columbia v. Heller Decision Affirming Right to Own a Handgun for Self-Defense.

That appears to suggest causation as if the Heller decision somehow has driven people to commit crime.

The chart in the press release is even more disingenuous than the headline. Take another look.  A casual look at the chart gives the impression that the firearm death rate has skyrocketed – the marker went from near the bottom of the chart in 2014 almost all the way to the top! The axis runs from 10.0 to 12.5; this technique is commonly used to make numbers seem more dramatic. Take a look at the same data point – the overall firearm death rate in the U.S. – on a chart with a more honest axis.

Notice that the sharp increase presented by the Violence Policy Center is flatter when the axis hasn’t been manipulated to suit an agenda. Readers will also notice that this chart is not arbitrarily set to only post-Heller years but goes back to 1990; the longer trend line reveals some truths that the VPC would like to ignore. Total firearms-related death rates were higher through nearly all of the 1990s than they were in 2016.

One should also notice that the total firearms-related homicide rate continued a marginal and pre-existing downward trend after Heller, moving from 4.28 per 100,000 population in 2006 to 3.45 per 100k in 2014. A trend that directly contradicts the misleading headline touted by the Violence Policy Center.


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