A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation claims that 19% of American adults say a family member was killed by a gun. They note that this includes death by suicide but fail to add any more context to the gripping headline. So how true or helpful is this claim?

“19% say a family member has been killed by a gun.”
Kaiser Family Foundation

Mostly false or misleading. Significant errors or omissions. Mostly make believe.

The biggest issue with this new gun death statistic is the lack of definition for a “family member.” As some have pointed out, “Is your great-aunt’s second cousin you’ve never met a family member?” Or as one of my IW colleagues quipped, “Since my great great great grandpa, who was a bank and train robber in California, was killed by gunfire, I can claim that I’ve had a family member killed by guns.” 

Even the bare numbers don’t make sense:


The most problematic aspect of the Kaiser poll is that it hides how small its poll sample was. If you track down the methodology, you find that this study was conducted online and by telephone among a sample of only 1,271 U.S. adults. That number is hardly enough to represent the 258.3 million American adults, nor make the claim that familial gun death has affected 51,660,000 U.S. adults.

It is a tragedy for anyone to be killed, and the recent shootings in just the last two weeks have brought the issue of gun violence to the forefront of many minds. And the mental health crisis in the U.S., noted in the study by the mention that “about half of deaths (55%) in the U.S. involving guns are suicides,” is a real problem we need to address as a nation and as individual communities. But using vague and likely inflated statistics to get an attention-grabbing headline is no way to make headway on the issue.