I’ve been spending my time working with some data. As you may recall, I’ve been learning Python in recent years, and it is very useful in the analysis of data. In order to practice, I’ve been looking for some good data sets, and I’ve found a set of homicide statistics as kaggle.com.
Here’s the thing. Data in a data set is like gold in a mine: You have to work with it a lot before you have anything you’d want to show anyone. Then once you’ve got it all worked up, you have to be able to interpret it.
I can have hours of fun, day after day, working with numbers, but it takes someone like a sociologist or a criminologist or a political scientist to interpret them. On the other hand, any old Joe Blow can sit around the coffee shop and give you his opinion on numbers. In that spirit, here we go.
You hear a lot about people getting killed by guns. What do the numbers say? I’ve got data from 1980 to 2014. In that time, about 46 percent of the homicides were committed using handguns. Having said that, even that is not true, exactly. If you pool all of the data in that range of years, you get almost 50 percent. Most years it is 48 percent, but there was a stretch of years from 1990 to 2006 where homicide by handgun hopped over the 50 percent mark.
That is an awfully long span of time to just put to the side. I do so because the total number of murders went down over that interval. There were 23,000 homicides in 1980; there were 14,000 in 2014. You don’t need a mathematician to tell you the difference between those two numbers. All other methods of killing were pretty steady during that time, but homicide by handgun spiked.
There are 15 different weapons listed. Among those are Firearm, Gun, Handgun, Rifle, and Shotgun. If anyone can tell me the difference between a Firearm and a Gun, please do. If you can tell me how a Handgun, Rifle, or Shotgun aren’t just examples of the other two, I’d like to know that as well. This being said, all other categories of weapons that kill people by throwing pieces of metal propelled by the expanse of ignited gunpowder are dwarfed by the handgun in their use in homicide. (You might imagine Lynyrd Skynyrd “Saturday Night Special” playing in the background at this point.)
Steadily, year by year, the favorite means of killing are: Handgun, Knife, and Blunt Object, in that order, with roughly 46 percent, 15 percent, and 10 percent. My analysis from the Joe Blow coffee shop point of view: If you are going to kill someone, you go after the most efficient means within your reach. If there is a handgun, you go there first; if there is not a handgun, you go for a knife; if there is not a knife around handy, you pick up something hard and heavy. Of course it is not that simple. There must be something else feeding into that 46 percent, but I will leave that for others or another time.
Who is doing the killing? The short answer is men. Of cases where the killer was known, they killed almost 90 percent; women were lagging behind with only 10 percent.
Who is getting killed? The answer is also men. When the sex of the victim is known, 77 percent of those killed are men. When the sex of both victim and killer are known, men are killing men 75 percent of the time and women are killing men 78 percent of time. Regardless of the differences in the sexes, they both agree that men need killing more, but women believe it 3 percent more.
This is a rather heavy subject. However, take heart, the total number of homicides has gone down in absolute numbers during a time interval in which population increased by roughly 50 percent. Murder has gone down both by total and by percent.
That is an improvement.
— Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.