There are few issues more important to Americans than gun policy. According to Gallup, 72 percent of American voters identified gun policy as being “very important” to their 2016 vote decision. Recent polls also show more than 80 percent of Americans see gun violence as a serious or very serious problem.
Despite the high levels of interest in this issue, Congress decided to bend to the NRA’s preferences and has severely limited the federal government’s ability to conduct research on gun violence over the past 20 years by banning any gun-related research that could be policy-relevant. As a result, the state of data collection on gun violence is abysmal. Without good and timely information, it’s hard to press for specific changes.
In absence of reliable, detailed information about gun violence, projects like the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) have stepped into the breach. By collecting information from more than 1,500 sources, GVA has created a high-quality alternative to the public sources of information about gun deaths and injuries that Congress has limited. GVA’s database provides near real-time incident-level data on firearm deaths and injuries, including information on characteristics of the incident participants (age range, sex) and the incident itself (general location, context of firearm use). It also provides the informational source of the database entry, so users can gather even more context about individual cases if they are interested.
While GVA is not an advocacy group, it provides information that is unquestionably useful in the current political moment. We were pleased to see that they were able to provide their national data in chunks that are highly relevant to political action. GVA has announced that they are now making GVA data on gun violence incidents available for download by congressional district.
Choosing the “Congressional Reports” tab at the top of the screen allows you to choose your state and then congressional district of interest. This selection then returns information about the members of Congress serving that district as well as a “stats” table which lists the total number of firearms incidents and mortality, the number of children and teens injured or killed by firearms, and certain contexts of interests (including firearms use in mass shootings and self-defense) that have occurred since 2014. Clicking on the state’s “Stats” table, which on its surface provides just aggregate data, brings up a page with incident-level data for the congressional district. The incident data can be explored interactively. Each case links to more detailed variables and related news sources. The basic incident-level data can also be downloaded as a .csv file.
If you are not interested in congressional districts, or you’d like to compare a single district to the state in general, the “Congressional Reports” screen also facilitates your access to datasets for an entire state. By selecting a state and then choosing “all districts,” you can also get the state’s entire gun-related death and injury data for 2014-2016.
Because GVA includes not just deaths and injuries, but also threatening events in which shots were fired but nobody was injured, this data provides a more comprehensive picture of gun use than a data source which solely provides deaths and injuries. It is clearly information that anyone could use to evaluate the state of gun violence in their own location, or across different locations with different gun laws.
Here at the Sunlight Foundation, we really love open data and we have a particular interest in open government data. It’s data that we know we should have a basic right to, since we pay for it through our taxes and because it’s on a subject of great public interest.
When political leaders refuse to produce and and publish the public data we want, we’re grateful that private groups can step in to help out. For those of us who want data on the issue of gun violence — in our districts, in our states, and across the country — the GVA’s new Congressional Reports tool allows us to get the information we really need in order to thoughtfully analyze the issue.