Shootings are a better measure of gun violence than murders are, writes Jeff Asher for FiveThirtyEight.com. There is a lot of randomness in what happens once a bullet leaves a gun — whether someone lives or dies depends heavily on luck. Focusing just on murder leaves out all the people who could have died. And it ignores the life-changing injuries and emotional trauma that often accompany nonfatal shootings. Gun violence researchers are often forced to focus on murders rather than shootings for one simple reason: better data. Cities are not required by the FBI to track shootings specifically, and many cities choose not to count them.
Cities with the worst murder rates do not necessarily have the highest rates of gun violence victimization, as measured by shooting victims per capita. Murder rates may better serve as a measure of how lethal shootings in a city are than as a measure of that city’s overall level of gun violence. Asher collected shooting victim data for last year from 17 cities. Cincinnati is one of the most violent cities on the list, as measured by shootings, despite having comparatively few murders. Newark is the opposite: a city with more murders than its shooting rate would suggest. It appears that shootings in Baltimore and New Orleans tend to be more deadly than those in Chicago, contributing to the former two having consistently higher murder rates than Chicago. What isn’t clear is why. Answering this question would provide tremendous insight into the mechanics of gun violence in U.S. cities and could help cities devise strategies for lowering their murder rates. The question is hard to answer without more complete, more detailed data.