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By Taylor Leighton July 7, 2016

Debbie Wasserman Schultz right about far-reaching effects of gun violence

In the wake of the Orlando shootings and lacking congressional action regarding gun reform legislation, many are calling attention to the the devastating truths about gun violence in the United States. One of the vocal supporters advocating for tighter gun restrictions is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

Wasserman Schultz took to her Medium page to lament the occurrence at Pulse Night Club and to express the need for stricter gun legislation that she believes can prevent future gun violence fatalities, especially by suspected terrorists.

In her June 18, 2016, post, Wasserman Schultz wrote that "40% of Americans know someone who has been killed by a gun — gun violence has touched someone you know."

Many other politicians have made many claims regarding gun violence, but this assertion seemed particularly far-reaching. Do two out of every five Americans know someone whose death can be attributed to a gun? We took a closer look.

The evidence

We reached out to one of Wasserman Schultz’s campaign representatives, and they told us that the 40 percent figure came from an October 2015 Huffington Post article that cited a YouGov poll from the same month. YouGov is an online market research organization that utilizes a network of over 4 million users who offer their personal views and experiences by participating in surveys.

The poll that Wasserman Schultz refers to surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults selected by a random sample stratified by age, gender, race, education and region.

One of the questions asked in the survey was, "Do you personally know anyone who has been killed by another person with a gun?" The poll found that 22 percent said yes, with 6 percent saying the person was in their family and the other 16 percent saying it was someone else they knew.

Another question asked, "Do you personally know anyone who has committed suicide using a gun?" On that question, 28 percent of participants answered yes, with 7 percent knowing a family member who used a gun to commit suicide and 21 percent saying they knew someone else who committed suicide with a gun.

The 40 percent figure asserted by the Huffington Post article as well as in Wasserman Schultz’s Medium post come from the total percentage of participants who had professed to knowing someone who had died because of a gun. The 40 percent figure is reached once you take into account the overlap between the respondents who knew both a homicide and a suicide victim.

We reached out to to Peter Moore of YouGov, who published the poll online, to ask if Wasserman Schultz’s claim accurately encapsulated the results.

"I’ve had a look at the full dataset, and I can confirm that the 40 percent figure is accurate," Moore said. "Her statement does properly capture the poll’s findings. It is also consistent with other similar survey data."

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We asked Moore about possible sources of error in the survey, and he responded, "There are none in particular beyond the general margins of error associated with surveys," which was determined to be 4.1 percent by YouGov.

To contextualize the YouGov poll, we reached out to James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law and public policy at Northeastern University. While not debating the results or methodology of the poll, he did offer some caveats.

He noted that suicides account for a large share of the deaths -- a fact that may not be obvious from Wasserman Schultz’s statements. He also said that the poll’s wording leaves a fair amount of interpretation to the respondent.

Respondents "have to decide how well they know someone," he said. "There are better ways to write questions like this so it’s not so vague."

In all, the way the questions were worded may make the percentage sound "a lot worse than it is," Fox said.

Past data

While there have been many surveys conducted regarding guns and gun violence, the most similar polls to the YouGov poll were surveys conducted in 1993 and 1999 by Gallup. The question in both years was, "Not including military combat, has anyone close to you--such as a friend or relative--ever been shot by a gun?"

In 1993, 64 percent responded no and 36 percent responded yes. In 1999, the percentage of people answering yes dropped to 31 percent, compared to 69 percent responding no.

It’s important to note that the Gallup questions refer to people getting shot -- a larger universe than those getting shot and killed. So, it’s not a direct comparison. Though the Gallup results can by no means confirm or refute YouGov and Wasserman Schultz’s claim, the numbers do not appear drastically different. With limited inquiry into the number of people who are close to victims of gun violence, it is difficult to ascertain a clear estimate.

Our ruling

Wasserman Schultz said, "40 percent of Americans know someone who has been killed by a gun ."

Wasserman Schultz is right about the 40 percent figure if you consider the YouGov poll findings. It’s important to note that a majority of the 40 percent figure comes from suicide deaths, not homicides. And there is limited research on this topic generally. Overall, we rate her claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Medium post, June 18, 2016

Huffington Post, "40 Percent Of Americans Know Someone Who Was Killed With A Gun," October 8, 2015

YouGov, "Poll Results: Gun Control," October 7, 2015

Email Interview, Wasserman Schultz campaign representative Ryan Banfill, July 1, 2016

Email Interview, Peter Moore of YouGov, July 5, 2016

Email Interview, James Alan Fox, professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University, July 6, 2016

Email Interview, Carl W. Brown, Jr., iPoll Acquisitions Manager for the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, July 1, 2016

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz right about far-reaching effects of gun violence

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