Violent by Trade: More Gun Dealers Than Starbucks in the U.S.

15/06/2016 09:31 | Updated 15 June 2016

Over and over again, mass shootings in the U.S. seem to prove that guns in the hands of many might not be a brilliant idea. At least 50 people died in the latest shooting spree by a self-styled IS member on Sunday in Orlando. The sad thing is that we all know nothing is going to change. Nobody in the U.S. seems to have the power to put an end to the reign of terror of the firearm.

Firearms are big business.

The magnitude of how readily available deadly weapons are in the U.S. is made clear by the chart below based on figures by data visualization hub 1point21. It shows how the gun trade compares to supermarkets, McDonald's and Starbucks. Trading in guns seems even more common than selling burgers or coffee. In total there were 64,747 gun dealers in the U.S. as of December 2015.

The editors of 1point21 have come up with an impressive map that shows the locations of gun dealers versus Starbucks in the whole of the U.S. They sought out Starbucks as a random reference size. "64,747 is a big number, so we wanted to compare it to something that everyone can relate to. The feeling that there is a Starbucks on every corner is part of our cultural zeitgeist", it says on the webpage in the way of an explanation.

The raw figures look impressive and pretty straight forward. However, the picture becomes blurred, when the map is broken down into selected cities. In Chicago for example, which has the most mass shootings, there are more Starbucks joints than gun traders. Then again, Chicago officials are pretty sure that most weapons are illegally acquired out of state, and then brought to the city which itself has relatively strict gun laws.

In New York City there are more than twice as many Starbucks (1,556) than there are gun dealers (803). (These are the numbers for the four boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan added up.) There were 11 recent mass shooting in NYC. In Houston, the fourth biggest city in the U.S., gun traders (686) outnumber Starbucks threefold (200) and there were five recent mass shootings.

Overall, there doesn't seem to be a simple correlation between the number of gun traders and the intensity of gun violence. At least it doesn't seem straightforward enough to simply state that the more gun traders a city has, the more mass shootings take place. At the end of the day, the staff of 1point21 wanted to test a loose hypothesis. "With the escalation of gun violence and mass shootings all over the country, it sometimes seems like firearms are more accessible than corporate coffee."

So, while the overall number of gun dealers in the U.S. is huge, when broken down to localities you get a mixed picture. The single most important reason for this might be, like in the above mentioned case of Chicago, that the guns needn't necessarily be bought where they're fired. Nor are they always bought legally at all. This doesn't impact the plausible assumption that the overall availability of guns affects the frequency of their use, and ups the likelihood of getting killed by one.

All along, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun aficionados argue: "Guns don't kill people, people do." They might actually have a point. However, that slogan doesn't come attached with a proposition on how to end gun violence. All it's saying is that there might be an underlying reason and an immediate cause for gun violence.

Fact is, the number of peace time dead killed by firearms in the U.S. is high. 191,468 people were killed by firearms in violence related incidents in America, excluding suicides, from 1999 to 2014. In comparison, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan cost 2,381 U.S. service personnel their lives, from 2001 to 2016. For Operation Iraqi Freedom the number amounts to 4,502 killed in action.

It seems there is a civil raging in America. From an outside point of view it's incomprehensible that the happiness of the greatest number should hinge on the free availability of firearms.