The Trace is a pseudo-journalistic enterprise backed by gun control crusader Michael Bloomberg. Despite its supposed aversion to “fake news,” members of the mainstream media have taken to republishing The Trace’s disarmament disinformation, or basing their own coverage upon it. For example . . .
When the Driver Who Just Cut You Off Also Has a Gun, thetrace.org headline proclaims. “Road rage incidents involving firearms have more than doubled since 2014, our analysis shows.” Analysis that CBS News has bought hook, line and sinker.
Naturally any time The Trace starts throwing statistics around I get suspicious. A closer look at The Trace‘s take on road rage proves that they’ve provided yet another wonderful example of one of Mark Twain’s favorite sayings: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
The Trace starts off with the usual blood-drenched anecdote, then heads straight into their thesis: gun-related road rage incidents are on the rise!
Law enforcement agencies do not collect data on road rage episodes as a specific category. But an analysis by The Trace of cases logged by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive indicates that drivers are pulling guns on each other more and more, and that the number of people killed or wounded by a bullet on America’s streets and highways is on the rise.
As FactCheck.org points out, America’s violent crime and murder rate has been dropping for the last couple decades — despite the removal of numerous onerous restrictions on firearms ownership, leading to greater numbers of firearms owners and guns. So how big is this problem exactly?
The Trace’s analysis found that incidents categorized as road rage — broadly, where someone in a car brandished a gun in a threatening manner or fired a gun at another driver or passenger — have more than doubled in the last three years, from 247 in 2014 to 620 in 2016.
All told, there were at least 1,319 road rage episodes involving firearms over that span. Nationwide, at least 354 people were wounded and 136 people were killed.
As noted by The Trace, police departments don’t normally keep track of road rage incidents as a specific category — it gets lumped in with other categories of crimes. The numbers are just too small to merit individual attention.
So where did The Trace get those stats? Writer Aviva Shen turned to our old friends at the Gun Violence Archive; an organization that “uses news and police reports to track incidents of gun violence in the U.S.”
Using police reports as a basis for analysis is one thing. We can assume that, in general, an increase in reported crime is equal to an increase in actual crime. (Except in New York City.) When you use news reports to collect data the resulting analysis loses any notion of credibility.
That’s because all media organizations have an editorial bias. They report some stories and exclude others. If it’s “sweeps week” (when ratings are gathered for advertising sales), TV news may amp-up sensational coverage. If it’s a busy news day nationally, they may spike a smaller local news story.
As for the “rise” in firearms-related road rage by the Archive — parroted by The Trace, accepted by its partners — it may simply reflect editors’ decision to report this type of crime more than before. Based on the increased availability of cell phone video, a change in their state’s “stand your ground” law, or some other factor.
Equally, the Gun Violence Archive reads 2,000 sources to compile their data. I’m pretty sure there are more than 2,000 news publications in the United States. Is it possible that they missed some data because they were ignoring it? Definitely.
I’m more inclined to believe The Trace’s analysis of firearms-involved road rage incidents where people were killed or wounded. But The Trace does not provide any links to the source data for verification. Which renders any claims about the accuracy of the trend analysis more laughable than a Patton Oswalt bit.
Naturally, The Trace goes on to claim that this data is proof that road rage incidents are becoming more violent, that the prevalence of concealed carry is to blame, and that increased gun control is the panacea that we should be striving to implement to save us from this scourge of road rage related deaths.
Even if we take these numbers seriously, you have a 0.0002% chance each year of being involved in a road rage incident involving a firearm. The probability of being wounded or killed is even lower; easily rounded down to zero. In fact, you’re more likely to win more than a million dollars in the lottery than die in a road rage incident.
Every death is a tragedy. Preventable deaths even more so. But when acting on this large a scale the question should never be “can we save one life with this change”? It should be “how can we best save lives in general“?
Every year, more lives are saved through the use of firearms than are lost during road rage incidents. [Note: when it comes to the Gun Violence Archive’s stats on defensive gun use, “only verified incidents are reported.”] The cost of reducing firearms availability outweighs the benefit of possibly fewer fatal road rage incidents. And that’s a fact.