Fact-checking figures about gun violence in Texas

State Rep. César Blanco speaks during a press conference in Austin, Texas (Stephen Spillman/Austin American-Statesman).
State Rep. César Blanco speaks during a press conference in Austin, Texas (Stephen Spillman/Austin American-Statesman).

Seven people were killed and at least 21 others were injured by a gunman who opened fire while driving down highways and streets in the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa. 

The attack sent shockwaves across a state still recovering from a separate mass shooting. In early August, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso and killed 22 people. 

After news broke of the shooting in Odessa, state Rep. César Blanco, a Democrat who represents El Paso, sent a series of tweets with information about gun violence in Texas. 

We took a look at each tweet and rated them one at a time. 

Three of the claims were based on information provided in a fact-sheet produced by the San Francisco-based Giffords Law Center, which advocates against gun violence. One relied on figures from the Department of Defense. 

Let’s dive in. 

Statement: "Every 3 hours someone is killed with a gun in Texas."

Jason Phelps, a spokesman for Giffords, said that this figure was calculated based on gun deaths recorded in Texas over the past five years. 

From 2013 through 2017, the most recent year available, 15,695 firearm deaths were reported in Texas, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Phelps said the Giffords Law Center used that number and divided it by the number of hours over the same five-year period: 43,824. 

It comes out to roughly one death every 2.8 hours.

Ruling: We rate this claim True.

Statement: "In Texas 3,139 people are killed a year with a gun."

This statement also came from the Giffords Law Center fact-sheet.

This is the average number of firearm deaths per year over the past five years, from 2013 through 2017, according to Phelps.

We pulled the figures ourselves, and they add up. Over the past five years, there were an average of 3,139 firearm deaths each year in Texas, according to CDC data.

Ruling: We rate this claim True.

Statement: "Annual cost of gun violence in Texas: $16 Billion...that’s $632 per Texan."

This figure was developed by the Giffords Law Center based on a model of the cost of gun violence created by a researcher at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, according to Phelps.

The model, developed by Ted Miller, looks at both direct and indirect costs associated with gun injuries and deaths. This includes expenses for medical care, law enforcement and the criminal justice system, as well as costs to employers for work loss and costs associated with reduced quality of life.

Analyzing the economic impact of gun violence is tricky. Typical methodology considers costs associated with medical care and reduced productivity of victims, but intangible costs like pain and suffering are not included, since they can’t be quantified, according to researchers at the Urban Institute.

Phelps said the $16 billion figure published by the Giffords Law Center is an average cost over the years 2010 to 2014, the years with the most recent firearm injury data available from the state.

Miller said in 2014, in terms of the value of the dollar that year, he has the cost of gun violence at $710 per Texan, or $18.5 billion in total for the year. Considering that the figure from Giffords is an average over five years, Miller said the estimate "sounds about right."

But this is not an actual expense that Texas taxpayers have to cover. Instead of looking at the direct cost to taxpayers or government entities, Miller’s research measures the social cost of gun violence, which includes expenses paid by victims, their families and their employers.

Ruling: We rate this claim Half True. The figure for total cost is supported by Miller's data, but Blanco's tweet leaves the impression that Texans are footing the bill.

Statement: "There were more gun deaths in Texas last year than there were US casualties in Afghanistan."

Blanco said this statement was based on figures from the U.S. Department of Defense and CDC figures on firearm deaths.

In 2017, the year with the most recent data available, there were 3,513 firearm deaths in Texas.

That same year, there were 15 U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan, including both "hostile deaths" and other fatalities. Over the same year, 111 members of the U.S. military were wounded in Afghanistan.

For some perspective, there have been more firearm deaths in Texas than U.S. casualties in Afghanistan every year since 2001, the start of the war in Afghanistan.

In 2010, the year with the highest number of casualties recorded, there were 498 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan and 2,714 firearm deaths in Texas.

Ruling: We rate this claim True.