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.”