The Associated Press purported to fact-check Hillary Clinton's statement that “nearly 3,000 people have been killed by guns” over the past month but did so by erroneously citing a source that only counts about one-third of total gun deaths. According to the federal government, around 33,000 Americans die in gun-related incidents each year, meaning Clinton's statement aligns with the available data.
During the November 14 Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Clinton said, “Since we last debated in Las Vegas, nearly 3,000 people have been killed by guns. Two hundred children have been killed. This is an emergency.” The Las Vegas debate took place on October 13.
In a November 15 article, the AP falsely wrote that Clinton's “claim appears to be unsupported on all counts,” and claimed Clinton's statistic was “highly exaggerated.” To support its conclusion, the AP cited the Gun Violence Archive, which counted “an average of just under 1,000” gun deaths “per month” in 2015:
THE FACTS: The claim appears to be unsupported on all counts.
The Gun Violence Archive has recorded 11,485 gun deaths in the U.S. so far this year, an average of just under 1,000 per month, making Clinton's figure appear to be highly exaggerated. The archive had more detailed data for children and teenagers, showing 70 from those age groups killed by firearms since the Democratic candidates debated Oct. 13 - not 200 as she claimed.
The AP erred by citing the Gun Violence Archive as a source for the total number of gun deaths. While the Gun Violence Archive is a valuable resource for a number of reasons -- especially because it aggregates detailed information about individual shootings -- it's not a comprehensive count of the total number of gun deaths in the United States because its methodology does not capture every shooting.
Researchers on the issue of gun violence have known that for years the gold standard for a total count of gun deaths in the United States comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS).
WISQARS found that in 2013, the most recent year in which complete data is available, there were 33,636 gun deaths in America. This figure is consistent with the number of gun deaths over the past 10 years - although the death toll is steadily climbing - and indicates that Clinton's figure aligns with the best available data:
In its article, the AP also wrote, “The archive had more detailed data for children and teenagers, showing 70 from those age groups killed by firearms since the Democratic candidates debated Oct. 13 - not 200 as [Clinton] claimed.”
Again, this criticism of Clinton is erroneous because it treats the Gun Violence Archive as a comprehensive source.
The botched AP fact check was subsequently touted by the National Rifle Association.
Chart by Oliver Willis.