I have recently seen quite a bit of outrage on social media aimed towards gun control in the USA. I don’t know why facebook’s algorithms decided that I should care about a topic that bears no relation to my interests, but seeing every other item in my news feed and on reddit trying to convince me to think a certain way without reference to data rings my internal “propaganda” alarms.
Normally, this would not bother me, but this time it struck a nerve. You see, many of the people sharing/liking these emotional articles and “hilarious” twitter beatdowns, none of which reference data or actual experiments, are the same people that were pointing fingers at how climate change deniers ignore science!
To be clear, it is likely that they are right! Perhaps stronger gun laws would make gun-related violence drop. I simply can’t tell from the media. That is what bothers me - a witty reply to a tweet certainly makes one feel great, but it has nothing to do with the truth of the matter. If you are inundated with such appeals, it becomes a classic example of propaganda, and I really hate it when I feel that I am being manipulated for someone’s agenda.
With that in mind, I decided to do a basic sanity check. Something stupidly simple: Take the amount of gun restrictions in each state, and plot it against the states’ firearm death rate.
This would be easy to do in excel, but python is much more fun than messing with data by hand, so I have performed the data cleaning in a jupyter notebook, which you can download here.
Finally, it is important to understand that even my simple analysis could lead to the wrong conclusion. Articles which do a much more in-depth analysis can easily be found online, like here. There is also peer-reviewed research which shows similar results: yes there is a correlation between guns and deaths, but no, causation cannot be concluded. With a more in-depth analysis, even causation might be determined.
To be clear, I am not advocating for anything here. I simply felt like I was being manipulated, because there was a lot of yelling on social media, but a distinct lack of facts.