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Sunday’s Doonesbury fact-checked and passed

Politifact.com decides to fact check Sunday’s Doonesbury strip that claims since 9/11 “270,000 Americans were killed by gunfire at home.”

We began by contacting Garry Trudeau, the cartoonist who has drawn Doonesbury for more than four decades. He got back immediately with a summary of his methodology.

“The final figure lacks precision, because it’s extrapolated,” Trudeau wrote us, noting, correctly, that the most recent data for gun deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is from 2007.

“What I had were six years — 2002-2007 — of a remarkably stable number, around 30,000” gun deaths per year, Trudeau wrote. “So in my judgment, multiplying 30,000 times nine yielded a figure reasonable and accurate enough for rhetorical purposes without using hyperbole. If anything, it may be slightly on the low side.”

Sure enough, Garry’s numbers bear out. The only sticky point was the phrase “at home” – meaning were these quarter of million plus people killed in their homes? Stats don’t back up an in-home interpretation of the phrase, but Garry’s intent was not in a person’s house but more the opposite of “abroad.”

So if one interprets “at home” to mean in or near someone’s home, the numbers Trudeau calculated wouldn’t be correct.

When we raised this point with Trudeau, he said that wasn’t what he meant: “I didn’t say ‘in the home,’ I said ‘at home’ as opposed to abroad, where the wars are. Failure to communicate clearly, I guess. Rats.”

Community Comments

#1 Peter Kurilecz
February/16/2011
@ 12:06 pm

wonder how many have been killed in automobile accidents since 9/11? from 2000 through 2009 approximately 365,000 vehicular deaths! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year Gee! that is more than those kill…ed by firearms.
yes doonesbury was mostly true, but then one needs to compare it to other causes of death to get the context. For those calling for increased gun control (which only harms the law abiding) why not call for increased control on who can own/operate a motor vehicle. Far more deaths and injuries are caused by motor vehicles than by firearms.

Trudeau is looking at the gross number and not looking into the details.

more death data can be found here
more death data from the CDC
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

trudeau is just repeating the old trope that gun control will stop crime and deaths. they won’t

#2 Mike Lester
February/16/2011
@ 12:38 pm

?I didn?t say ?in the home,? I said ?at home? as opposed to abroad, where the wars are. Failure to communicate clearly, I guess. Rats.?

A rather cavalier response to an incredibly important distinction.

#3 Darryl Heine
February/16/2011
@ 2:55 pm

Could it have waited until September when it will be a decade since 9/11/2001’s tragic events?

#4 Dave Stephens
February/16/2011
@ 3:02 pm

He should just admit he completely mis-spoke – gun accidents in the home is ONE statistic and gun accidents away from home is ANOTHER and gun deaths overall is yet ANOTHER…

Sure enough, Garry’s numbers DON’T bear out unless he corrects himself by stating, “in the US.”

#5 Mike Peterson
February/17/2011
@ 4:43 am

I knew what he meant, but, then, I wasn’t working very hard to misunderstand what he meant.

#6 John Auchter
February/17/2011
@ 8:11 am

I was impressed Trudeau responded and tried to clarify. (Comment board readers know how well that typically goes.) I was also impressed with 270,000 unnatural fact-checked deaths. Well, maybe “appalled” is a better word. But you probably knew what I meant….

#7 John Cole
February/17/2011
@ 8:22 am

Ha! Trudeau also didn’t write “mother may I” before delivering the punchline. Thus his entire thesis is suspect!

Anyone reading the strip should understand what he meant by “at home.” And 270,000 dead people is, um … a LOT of dead people. 30,000, too.

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