Are Gun Accidents More Dangerous Than Bathtubs to Kids? Depends on the Definition of "Kids"

The politicization of "fact checking" in media and that Daily Show List of Fox Lies


Old-ish news made new again by the Daily Show's much-retweeted Vine alleging to show "50 Fox News Lies in 50 Seconds."

I'm just focusing on one, relevant to a longer piece I'm working on regarding defensive use of guns in America and the debate over whether weapons are just too dangerous to be of any "social value."

The folk at Politifact decided to back up the Daily Show with their documentation of the alleged lies, and here's what they said about Tucker Carlson declaring on Fox last August 19 that "Far more children died last year drowning in their bathtubs than were killed accidentally by guns."

The Politifact folk give this their harshest assessment: "Pants on Fire." A total lie. Nothing to be argued about or debated.

And here is the data they provide to back it up:

As the following table shows, total deaths for children 17 and under due to drowning in a bathtub were 95 in 2011, the latest year the numbers are available. Total deaths from accidental gun shots were 102. The one age range where Carlson might be able to make a case is for children 0 to 4 years old. For that group, 73 died in a bathtub and 29 were killed by guns. But in every other age group, guns are more deadly than bathtubs.

Age Drowned in a bathtub Accidental gunfire
15-17 years 7 28
10-14 years 12 29
5-9 years 3 16
0-4 years 71 29
Total 93 102

Carlson didn't say what age children he had in mind, but in the context of the story he was responding to — and his rhetorical question about something "I want to know before I let my child go over to your house" — this is not about children under 4 years old. Parents don't let toddlers "go over" to a friend's house.

For that age range, Carlson's comparison is off by a factor of three. Bathtubs caused 22 deaths for kids 5 and older and guns caused 73 deaths.

The divisions of year ranges are totally arbitrary, note. And also note Politifact claims "The one age range where Carlson might be able to make a case is for children 0 to 4 years old" because that is an arbitrary division the chart makes.

But those of us who can add all the different categories will see that Carlson's statement was true for those 0-14, not just 0-4—the only age range of the ill-defined term "kids" who one would imagine are particularly vulnerable to tub drowning. 

For kids 0-14, from their own numbers, we see 86 tub drowning deaths and 74 accidental gunshot deaths—making tubs 16 percent more deadly than gun accidents for that age group.

Only by bringing in older teens 15-17 do they make Carlson's statement wrong, since for the totality of the 0-17 age group, gun accidents are 9.6 percent more deadly than tubs

Rather than Politifact saying, well, if by "kids" you mean under 14 15, he's absolutely right with his obviously underdefined statement, but if you define "kids" as up to 17, then he's a "pants on fire" liar.

And their own presentation of the facts has a blatant lie, claiming that the "one" age range in which Carlson "might be able to make a case" is 0-4, because that's one of the chart's arbitrary age ranges. I love the "might," instead of outright saying "he's totally right about that age range." He's also totally right about the entire 0-14 age range.

Politifact: bringing you the political facts.