America has resumed its long-running debate on gun control, following the terrible attack at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, last week and two more shootings Friday, at Northern Arizona University and Texas Southern University. This time around, perhaps nothing has gotten more play than this table from a short column by National Journal graphic artist Libby Isenstein. The chart ranks the states by their rate of “gun-related deaths” and notes whether each state has gun-restricting laws like background checks and waiting periods, or laws that expand gun accessibility and use, like concealed-carry and stand-your-ground rights. The chart’s implication is clear: the more gun restrictions, the fewer horrible crimes.
Isenstein’s chart has since been posted on countless blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages, with the subtext (and often the explicit text) that if troglodyte gun-rights supporters could appreciate simple statistics, they’d stop impeding common-sense gun controls that would deter terrible crimes like the one in Roseburg. President Obama also made this point explicit last week in a statement about the Roseburg shooting:
States with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens [to obtain guns] and criminals will still get their guns, is not borne out by the evidence.
The president’s comment has since received some critical scrutiny from The Washington Post’s “Fact-Checker” Glenn Kessler. And UCLA law professor and Post contributor Eugene Volokh criticized the National Journal table in a recent post on the lack of a statistical link between gun control and overall homicide rates. Yet the chart continues to bounce around the Internet and the media. Its currency reveals how readily people seize on statistics they don’t really understand but think—in this case, wrongly—support their opinions, claiming the intellectual high ground while dismissing opposing viewpoints as hopelessly ignorant, biased, and dishonest.