Data: Lumpy vs. Diffuse

Added on by PS Cat02.

Mimi and Kim came back from their vacation tonight. They got back around 9 p.m. and then went straight to bed. I guess I'll ask them how their trip was tomorrow. Anyway, we're happy they got back safely.

Earlier tonight I was reading an article about the shooting murder-suicide at Virginia Tech. 32 people were killed, the murderer also died when he shot himself. I was thinking about the horror of that number - 33 people suffering and dying like that is just so sad, not to mention all the other people who were physically injured or emotionally traumatized that day. The article went on to call it 'the deadliest single-perpetrator shooting in United States history'.

I suppose it's natural to compare one tragic day to other tragic days - it's not a pleasant thing to do but I can kind of understand the logic of doing so. But then I got to thinking - what about comparing tragic days to ordinary days?

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2005 there were 14,860 murders. 10,100 of those people were killed with a gun. Divided by 365, that's an average of about 28 people killed with a gun every day. I guess you could say that in terms of number of victims, it's kind of like having a Virginia Tech mass killing every single day, except it's spread out all over the country.

Another way to think about that number is to say that every month in the U.S. about 850 people are shot to death. One way you can imagine the relative scale of this number is to know that the average size of an elementary school in the United States (According to Education Statistics Quarterly 1995-1996 data) is 428 students. So if you can imagine a person with a gun going to an average-sized elementary school and then executing every single student there, and then going to another school and then doing the same thing over there too - well, that's how many people are getting shot to death each and every month in the United States.

It's fairly peaceful out here in the middle of the desert, so much so that it's easy to get lulled into a false sense of 'there's nothing going on'. I certainly don't think about gun violence every day, even though it certainly looks like it never really stops. Maybe the occurrences aren't sufficiently 'lumped together' enough to warrant our concern. We seem drawn to 'exceptional stories' and 'big numbers' - apparently even when the big numbers are actually smaller than the everyday numbers.

~ pinky