Three days – 4,000 Years

Stolen Years

The statistics on gun violence in this country are heart breaking. Guns killed 11,419 people in 2013. This represents a loss of over 500,000 years of life. Unfortunately, the rate of gun violence continues unchecked. This topic never loses its timeliness. Three Days – 4,000 Years is an adaptation of the powerful U.S. Gun Deaths visualization the data design firm Periscopic created a few years ago in response to the school shooting in Newtown CT.

The Periscopic visualization has a strong emotional impact. Translating that impact into a physical representation of the years stolen by guns was the motivation behind this adaptation.

The original visualization manages to show all 11,419 deaths while still allowing each and every individual to be interacted with in the final product. To give each arc enough substance to be distinguishable in the physicalization, it focuses on just a few days instead of a full year.

Interacting with the model is an emotional experience. As you move your fingers along each arc, you are following the actual and then potential trajectory of a life that was ended by gun violence.


There are seasonal patterns, and the absolute number varies from day to day, but roughly thirty people are killed by guns EVERY DAY. Therefore about 100 deaths occur every three days adding up to 4,000 years of life lost. Four thousand years every three days.

This project is an interesting case study of how a virtual model needs to be adapted to be rendered in physical space. In addition to reducing the timeframe, I rearranged the data so that the cumulative stolen years filled a coherent space with minimal gaps.

The original visualization created by Periscopic put age on the x-axis. The physical version puts year on the x-axis instead. Spreading the life arcs along the x-axis by birth year brings home the fact that this is a disparate group of people each with their own, individual, unrelated life trajectory until they are abruptly brought together over a short three day period by the shared fact that their lives ended in a sudden burst of gun violence.

If this data structure was used to make an online visualization it would look something like this:

Putting time on the x-axis also highlights the duration of the impact of these deaths. The stolen years extend almost to the end of this century.

The physicalization is intended to be viewed from above with the a color change marking the point were lives end and stolen years begin, but it can also be viewed from below. From below, the cumulative bases of the stolen year arcs form an area chart of stolen years.

Stolen years bar chart

This is only three days of data. A representation of an entire year at this scale would be almost 15 meters (48 ft) long.

About the methods:
The gun death data is a subset of the data used in the 2013 version of the Periscopic project. The raw data did not contain the alternate ages Periscopic used to calculate stolen years. I generated new alternate ages using actuarial tables from the Social Security Administration. This approach did not link the alternative age to a cause of death as in the original visualization, but it did give me stolen years estimates that are in rough agreement with those in the original piece.

About the workflow:
I used javascript and node.js to process the data and generate a file for OpenSCAD to render into a 3D object.

Thank you to Periscopic for making this data available.