Tag Archives: Arkadi Gerney

Visualizing The Impact Of Guns

Number of Gun Deaths Since Newtown 5-28-13

“How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?” Interactive map created by  Slate and @GunDeaths visualizing the toll firearms have taken since Dec. 14.

In Un-Selling The Gun a couple of weeks ago I touched upon the problem of conveying the impact of firearms on the individuals and communities they effect. Humans aren’t always very good at understanding data. In fact, some studies have shown that comprehending specific amounts above the number 3 is still a relatively new skill. And that’s where charts, maps, visualizations, and narratives come in handy. People will go to some interesting lengths to compensate for the limitations of the human brain.

In addition to emotional, first-person stories, gun policy activist Arkadi Gerney once used a “murder truck” (his nickname) to display the number of Americans murdered with guns since the Gabby Giffords shooting.  In his piece on The New Yorker‘s website, he wrote:

On the morning of February 16, 2011, when Mayor Bloomberg launched the truck on a national tour, the digital display read “1,311.” Omar Samaha , whose sister was murdered at Virginia Tech, would captain what was officially called the “Fix Gun Checks” truck on a journey across America.

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Image of the “Fix Gun Checks” truck via HuffPo

But the truck and Gerney’s best efforts still didn’t result in the gun control legislation that he’d hoped to pass. Maybe the bare number by itself (well, with a spokesman and his heart-wrenching story) wasn’t enough to get the message across.

Slate has a similar yet perhaps more powerful project called “How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown? in which every individual killed is represented by an icon showing whether they were an adult or child, female or male. The graphic is also sortable by age, gender, and date and is accompanied by a the same data applied to a map of the U.S. and filterable by location (screenshot at top). There’s something about the human shapes that really stuns. Maybe it’s a sense of scale? I can mentally place these people in relationship to my own body, to the scale of an individual person. And then pull out to a macro view of the country or city. This micro/macro pairing just works for me. It’s graphic without being gratuitous. Simple and but not sanitized.

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Speaking of data, there was quite a kerfuffle a few weeks back over the release of a Pew Research report demonstrating that the number of gun deaths has been going down since a peak in the mid 90’s. According to Pew:

Despite national attention to the issue of firearm violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.

Maybe we’re just better at understanding the gravity of these numbers? Perhaps it isn’t that we think crime is statistically increasing. Rather, increased access to information, personal stories, and illustrative data design lets us understand just how bad gun violence is. Perhaps our awareness of firearms-related deaths is increasing even as the actual number has been decreasing?

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Un-Selling The Gun: Anti-Firearms Advertising

An anti-gun advertisement Arkadi Gerney helped to create featuring Omar Samaha, whose sister Reema was killed by Seung-Hui Cho in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

Last week on The New Yorker‘s website, gun policy activist Arkadi Gerney wrote about a deeply personal experience with firearms that lead him to his pro-gun-control career. As someone currently researching in the stories told by firearms advertising, I am also interested to learn about the techniques Gerney used to try and sway people in the opposite direction, to “un-sell” guns in the interest of gun control. Gerney talks about campaigns that worked and didn’t work, saying:

All these efforts depended on survivors and family members telling their stories. Internal public-opinion research we conducted showed that the scale of gun violence made the numbers hard to comprehend. It was important, we determined, to put human faces on the problem. People listen when victims talk to them.

It’s a way of making the abstract concrete. Humans are famously terrible at understanding the full meaning of numbers or complex statistical analysis. In many ways, the American gun control debate is a debate about who controls the gun narrative— the meanings and associations we embed into these objects. As Gerney writes:

The gun issue is emotionally charged—and ripe for emotional appeals. It’s easy to make data-driven arguments for stronger gun laws built on statistical evidence; but that levelheaded approach has never been enough.

Second Amendment advocates know this, too; they’ve developed a case with its own emotional weight, on which the core issue is not guns but freedom. It’s about liberty fought and died for two hundred and thirty years ago, and paid for with blood in fields in foreign lands ever since. Advocates for stronger gun laws would be unwise to diminish the deeply felt sense of history, culture, and liberty that for so many years has motivated millions to send thirty dollars a year to the N.R.A., call a member of Congress, hold a sign at a rally, or run for office.

Gerney goes on to say that “it’s the stories of the people whose lives are changed that can help to permanently change the debate, and thus make our country safer.”

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