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According to recent surveys, self-protection is the most common reason for owning a firearm. (Shutterstock) According to recent surveys, self-protection is the most common reason for owning a firearm. (Shutterstock)

According to recent surveys, self-protection is the most common reason for owning a firearm. (Shutterstock)

By D.L. Davis June 6, 2022
By Laura Schulte June 6, 2022
By Vanessa Swales June 6, 2022

A range of topics caught the attention of readers of PolitiFact Wisconsin in May, but in a month with multiple mass shootings, it was a fact-check written in September 2021 on gun deaths in the United States that topped the list for the month.


Here’s a look at our "High Five," our feature that looks at the most-clicked items posted in the previous month.

1. State Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, said: "No other country on the planet witnesses the number of gun deaths that we do here in the United States, and it’s not even close."

Agard’s staff pointed to various studies examining the level of gun violence in the United States and in other countries, including studies on mass shootings, gun ownership, and the number of children shot and killed. 

According to the World Population Review "Gun Deaths By Country 2021" report,  Brazil topped the list of the most gun deaths, with a total of 43,200 out of the 250,000 deaths worldwide. The United States had the second-highest number with 37,200. 

The report noted that in the U.S., mass shootings receive a great deal of media attention, however, they account for a small number of overall gun violence deaths. So, by that measure, Agard was close -- the U.S. ranks second, but is certainly not "far and away" in first.

In a March 2021 article, the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation focused strictly on gun homicides (so, not including gun-related suicides) among 64 high-income countries and territories.

The U.S. ranked 8th with two U.S. territories -- Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- coming in first and third. (Bahamas was second).

Of course, countries are of various sizes. So, what about deaths as a proportion of the population? 

There Agard fared even worse.

A March 24, 2021 NPR article cited data from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and noted "the U.S. has the 32nd-highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world: 3.96 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019."

When the institute narrowed it further, and looked at high-income countries and territories with populations of 10 million or more, the U.S. did come out on top, with 4.12 per 100,000 population. Next was Chile at 1.82, then Canada at 0.5.

So Agard was off by a bit when looking at raw numbers, and off by a whole lot when looking at gun-related deaths as a share of the population. 

We rated her claim Mostly False

2. State Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, claimed: "Because the U.S. Senate is a minority institution, meaning you don't have to get the most votes and still control the chamber, we need to have more than a majority of Democrats in control to codify Roe v. Wade." 

Roys was referring to Senate rules which require 60 votes for ending debate prior to a vote on a bill, which means it’s possible to have one party with control – in this case the Democrats – but without the ability to move measures forward that don’t have support from the other.

We rated Roys’ claim True.

3. Rebecca Kleefisch, the former Wisconsin lieutenant governor, who is one of four Republicans hoping to unseat Gov. Tony Evers, claimed the governor is "a big proponent of this defund the police movement." 

The phrase "defund the police" really entered the national consciousness in the wake of the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. 

There are various proposals to reduce, redirect or even drastically cut the money spent on law enforcement. In some scenarios, the idea is to spend some of the money instead on community programs or mental health services with the hope it will mean less crime and fewer incidents that need a police response.

But Evers has not gotten on board with "defund" efforts. 

For example, in a June 2020 meeting with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters and editors, Evers backed having police departments overhaul how they use force, but specifically opposed slashing their funding.

Most law enforcement officers "are in the profession for the right reason," Evers said, "so the idea of completely disassembling police in the state or Milwaukee, I couldn't support."

Meanwhile, Evers has taken other steps – chiefly with federal pandemic relief money – to direct more than $100 million to police departments and local law enforcement. 

We rated the claim False.

4. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., claimed gas prices are high "due to the Democrats’ war on fossil fuels." 

Originally posted in March 2022, the continued increase in gas prices gave this new attention. Johnson noted, among other things, halting subsidies for oil companies, ending fossil fuel company drilling on public lands and ending the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Experts say those things could have had a small impact, but it’s more likely that the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the supply and demand for oil, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions are having a much larger impact. 

We rated Johnson’s claim Mostly False

5. Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said: In a recent year, the Milwaukee Police Department "collected more guns per capita off the streets than in New York." 

Johnson’s staff pointed to 2016 and provided two articles – one published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the other by Wiscontext, which is part of PBS Wisconsin. Both articles reported that Milwaukee had a higher gun recovery per capita versus some of the country’s largest metropolitan cities.

In 2016, the 2,421 guns recovered by Milwaukee police translated into a rate of 406.84 guns per 100,000 people, according to the Journal Sentinel article

That same year, New York City reported 3,583 gun recoveries, which translated into about 42 per 100,000 people, according to a 2017 report. The numbers do not include any guns obtained through turn-in or buy-back programs.

We rated the claim True.


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PolitiFact Wisconsin 'High Five' for May 2022