Ken­tucky-based web­site tracks gun vi­o­lence in U.S.

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By John Cheves

LEX­ING­TON, KY.» When gun­shots make na­tional news, Mark Bryant’s phone rings.

Bryant, 62, is nei­ther a law en­force­ment of­fi­cer nor a trauma spe­cial­ist. He runs a pri­vate web­site, Gun Vi­o­lence Ar­chive, that up­dates on an hourly ba­sis, with street-level de­tails, most of the gun-re­lated in­ci­dents that have oc­curred in the United States since 2013.

Want to know how many peo­ple have been killed by guns so far this year na­tion­ally? In a spe­cific state? In a spe­cific city? Last year? The year be­fore that? The num­ber of peo­ple wounded? How many shoot­ing vic­tims were chil­dren? How many mass shoot­ings there were? Po­lice-re­lated shoot­ings? How many times guns were used in self-de­fense? How many shoot­ings were un­in­ten­tional?

Op­er­ated out of a small home just off Rich­mond Road, Bryant’s GVA an­swers such ques­tions for jour­nal­ists, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, even law en­force­ment. And de­spite the pub­lic safety me­nace of gun vi­o­lence in this coun­try, few oth­ers do this kind of work.

Typ­i­cally, the FBI un­der­counts shoot­ings and the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion un­der­counts gun deaths be­cause they rely on in­com­plete re­ports passed along by lo­cal of­fi­cials and ex­trap­o­lated sur­veys. Aca­demic study of gun vi­o­lence slowed nearly to a halt in 1996 once Congress, at the be­hest of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, pro­hib­ited fed­eral fund­ing from go­ing to re­search that could be used to ad­vo­cate for gun con­trol.

“For firearms, we have rot­ten, ab­so­lutely rot­ten data,” said Jon Ver­nick, codi­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Gun Pol­icy and Re­search at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity in Bal­ti­more. “We have some ac­count­ing of the over­all num­ber of deaths. But if you want to learn who pulled the trig­ger or any other cir­cum­stances be­hind the shoot­ings, we col­lect very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion.”

“Com­pare that to car crashes,” Ver­nick said. “We col­lect all sorts of in­for­ma­tion about car crashes. I can tell you not only how many peo­ple died in your state last year in car crashes, I can break it down for you by the make and model of the ve­hi­cle, the speed it was trav­el­ing, the road con­di­tions, the weather, the age and ex­pe­ri­ence of the driver, on and on. But shoot­ings? No. Noth­ing like that with shoot­ings.”

GVA comes closer than most. It has 19 re­searchers around the coun­try to sweep in­for­ma­tion about gun-re­lated in­ci­dents from the web­sites of more than 2,000 news or­ga­ni­za­tions and po­lice de­part­ments. (One re­searcher is de­voted en­tirely to the vi­o­len­ce­plagued city of Chicago, which can see more than 100 peo­ple shot over a sin­gle hol­i­day week­end.) Re­searchers fol­low up with phone calls and open records re­quests to col­lect more de­tails when nec­es­sary.

In­ci­dents are promptly re­viewed, cat­e­go­rized and posted on GVA, with one or more links to orig­i­nal sources to con­firm their au­then­tic­ity. There is no com­men­tary; GVA is non­par­ti­san and takes no po­si­tion on gun own­er­ship or gun con­trol. It sim­ply pro­vides the num­bers.

Last year, ac­cord­ing to GVA, there were 384 mass shoot­ings in the United States, adopt­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s def­i­ni­tion of “four or more peo­ple shot and/or killed in a sin­gle event.” There were 671 chil­dren up to age 11 killed or wounded by guns, and 3,124 teenagers up to age 17 killed or wounded. There were 1,971 ver­i­fied de­fen­sive uses of a firearm, which can in­clude ei­ther bran­dish­ing a gun or shoot­ing it. There were 2,198 un­in­ten­tional shoot­ings.

Over­all, there were 15,063 fa­tal shoot­ings, con­tin­u­ing an up­ward trend since GVA be­gan count­ing, and 30,613 gun-re­lated in­juries, also re­flect­ing a steady an­nual in­crease. None of those num­bers in­cludes sui­cide shoot­ings, which GVA doesn’t track.

GVA’s data has been cited in hun­dreds of news sto­ries by scores of news or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post, The As­so­ci­ated Press, CNN, ABC News, and broad­cast and print out­lets in Canada, Mex­ico, Europe, Asia, the Mid­dle East and Aus­tralia.

“We pro­vide very lit­tle anal­y­sis, and that’s in­ten­tional,” Bryant said re­cently. “We want peo­ple to be able to draw their own con­clu­sions.”

GVA’s bud­get of about $500,000 a year comes from Michael Klein of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., who made a for­tune in com­mer­cial real es­tate and cor­po­rate law be­fore back­ing non­prof­its that in­ter­est him. Apart from GVA, Klein helps fund the Sun­light Foun­da­tion, which ad­vo­cates for trans­parency in pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment.

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