About the News21 databases
News21 used nine databases for the Gun Wars project. Here is a description of how we obtained the data and the obstacles faced in gathering public records.
Child and Youth Gun Deaths
News21 requested and analyzed records from 49 of 50 states’ health departments. We asked for documents from 2002 to 2012, or the latest year available, involving gun deaths of persons aged 0-19 broken down by manner of death and race. Sometimes, the information was provided in online databases.
Because of varying state laws and health department policies, complete information was not always provided and certain records were suppressed, with states citing confidentiality. Additionally, differing standards for what information states collect created variety in formatting the data. News21 paid a total of $702.80 for records from five states.
Rhode Island was the only state that refused to provide data to News21.
The homicide data analyzed by News21 is from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program’s Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) from 2008 - 2012. News21 requested and obtained the SHRs directly from the FBI, but instead used the same reports obtained from the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) National Archive of Criminal Justice Data, as the reports available from the ICPSR have been standardized in file formats that are much easier to use for data analysis.
Uniform Crime Reporting data is submitted voluntarily by local and state law enforcement agencies. Thus, datasets can be incomplete.
For example, in 2012, limited data was received from Alabama and Illinois, and no data was received from Washington, D.C.
The SHRs contain detailed information about homicide victims and offenders. Each incident includes up to 11 victims and 11 offenders. Information provided includes the age, race and sex of each victim and offender as well as the type of weapon used, the relationship of offenders to the victim and the circumstances of the homicide.
The News21 analysis focused on homicides with firearms. Some listings include information about where the homicide occurred down to the county in which it occurred. In many incidents, not all of this information is available, especially the circumstances, relationship, and detailed information about the offender. In some cases, the offender was not found.
News21 conducted an analysis of domestic homicides with and without a firearm in the United States using SHRs from 2008 - 2012.
News21 tabulated the number of homicides between boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, former spouses, common-law husbands and wives and same-sex partners. The total numbers reflect the domestic homicides in the U.S. over a five-year period, excluding ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends (currently, the FBI does not account for this relationship).
Because of the unknown circumstances of some homicides, the data almost certainly is incomplete and does not account for all domestic homicides in the five-year period. For instance, Alabama, Florida and Washington, D.C. did not report homicide data in some of these years.
News21 analyzed state laws on using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in every state and noted whether they mandate that agencies report mental health records. Because interpretations of state statutes can vary, News21 also verified the requirements with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. News21 only counted states that require reporting from sources such as courts and hospitals. Some states require only courts to report records, while other states also require hospitals to report records.
News21 compiled the amount of grant money awarded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics to 22 states over the last six years for programs aimed at improving mental health reporting — specifically, grants under the NICS Act Record Improvement program and the National Criminal History Improvement Program. The database does not include the millions of dollars in other criminal justice grants from Department of Justice agencies, which may be used for NICS improvements but are not necessarily allocated for that purpose. States like Maryland, for example, have received $10 million in criminal justice grants but only $159,000 in NICS grants.
News21 obtained the number of mental health records reported and maintained by each state in NICS through a Freedom of Information Act request. The counts vary widely for multiple reasons, including the states’ reporting laws, the number of people adjudicated mentally ill in each state and the way each operates its electronic record-keeping.
News21 analyzed the public records of all 50 state legislatures to find passed or proposed bills that would limit the federal government’s ability to regulate guns within state borders. We combed through 10 years of firearms bills and found 209 such bills.
Guns in Schools
News21 analyzed the legislative databases of all 50 state to tally how many allow firearms in schools and under what conditions.
Gathering a complete list was challenging because of wide variations in wording and classification of such laws. Some of the laws were found under criminal statutes, others under education and others as part of weapons laws.
There also were two states that apparently do not have existing laws regarding firearms in schools.
Fifty state statute databases were analyzed to determine where people can carry a firearm in public, either openly or concealed.
There were various challenges in collecting the information for each state.
In most cases, the state statutes outlined requirements to carry a firearm in public, explicitly listing prohibited places. Sometimes, information wasn’t expressly stated or the legal language was ambiguous.
Pre-emption laws, which prevent municipalities and counties from making their own firearms ordinances, vary state by state. In some places, local firearms laws may be more strict about where an individual can carry a firearm than is allowed in state law.
Most state statutes don’t have specific sections related to open carry. News21 determined that if the state law didn’t address specific locations or didn’t have an overarching statute that stated “the carrying of a firearm (concealed or open) is allowed everywhere except …” then open carry was classified as “unregulated.”
State attorney generals were asked about open carry laws, but they wouldn’t provide interpretation of laws regarding firearms.
Stand your ground
News21 looked at legislation over the past 10 years in 50 states to determine how stand your ground laws and related self-defense legislation have expanded.
News21 found more than 150 such self-defense bills introduced or passed in the past decade. This is the most extensive compilation of such bills of which we know; however, it is not necessarily complete.
In order to examine the impact of stand your ground, News21 filed more than 20 public records requests for police reports and obtained court records of individual cases in Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Kentucky and Louisiana. The most expensive quote for a police report was from the Monroe County Sheriff’s department in Michigan, where they asked for $240. The least expensive reports were from Mesa, Arizona, where the first 50 pages cost $5 and each subsequent page cost 20 cents.
Texas was the least transparent state when it came to police reports. Texas state law allows law enforcement to refuse complete criminal police reports in cases that do not close in a conviction, which means News21 was only able to obtain summary reports for several of the Texas cases.
News21 requested records from state health departments for data about firearm-related suicides in 2012.
Due to varying state laws and health department policies, detailed information was sometimes suppressed, which makes comparing states problematic. Washington, D.C., and six states did not provide any information at all, mainly because these states did not have the 2012 data compiled yet.