Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually. In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 U.S. citizens), and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” (10.6 deaths per 100,000 U.S. citizens).These deaths consisted of 11,208 homicides, 21,175 suicides, 505 deaths due to accidental or negligent discharge of a firearm, and 281 deaths due to firearms use with “undetermined intent”. Of the 2,596,993 total deaths in the US in 2013, 1.3% were related to firearms. The ownership and control of guns are among the most widely debated issues in the country.
In 2012, there were 8,855 total firearm-related homicides in the US, with 6,371 of those attributed to handguns. In 2012, 64% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides. In 2010, there were 19,392 firearm-related suicides, and 11,078 firearm-related homicides in the U.S. In 2010, 358 murders were reported involving a rifle while 6,009 were reported involving a handgun; another 1,939 were reported with an unspecified type of firearm.
Firearms were used to kill 13,286 people in the U.S. in 2015, excluding suicide. Approximately 1.4 million people have been killed using firearms in the U.S. between 1968 and 2011. This number includes all deaths resulting from a firearm, including suicides, homicides, and accidents.
Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher. Although it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the U.S. had 82 percent of all gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed with guns, 91 percent of children under 14 and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed with guns. In 2010, gun violence cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $516 million in direct hospital costs.
Gun violence is most common in poor urban areas and frequently associated with gang violence, often involving male juveniles or young adult males. Although mass shootings have been covered extensively in the media, mass shootings in the US account for a small fraction of gun-related deaths and the frequency of these events steadily declined between 1994 and 2007, rising between 2007 and 2013.
Legislation at the federal, state, and local levels has attempted to address gun violence through a variety of methods, including restricting firearms purchases by youths and other “at-risk” populations, setting waiting periods for firearm purchases, establishing gun buyback programs, law enforcement and policing strategies, stiff sentencing of gun law violators, education programs for parents and children, and community-outreach programs. Despite widespread concern about the impacts of gun violence on public health, Congress has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from conducting research that advocates in favor of gun control. The CDC has interpreted this ban to extend to all research on gun violence prevention, and so has not funded any research on this subject since 1996.
The Congressional Research Service in 2009 estimated there were 310 million firearms in the U.S., not including weapons owned by the military. Of these, 114 million were handguns, 110 million were rifles, and 86 million were shotguns. In that same year, the Census bureau stated the population of people in the U.S. at 306 million.
Accurate figures for civilian gun ownership are difficult to determine.significant other While the number of guns in civilian hands has been on the increase, the percentage of Americans and American households who claim to own guns has been in long-term decline, according to the General Social Survey. It found that gun ownership by households has declined steadily from about half, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, down to 32% in 2015. The percentage of individual owners declined from 31% in 1985 to 22% in 2014.significant other However, the Gallup organization has been performing similar polls for the same interval, and finds that household ownership of firearms was approximately the same in 2013 as it was in 1970 – 43%, and individual ownership numbers rose from 27% in 2000, to 29% in 2013.significant other Pew found that fewer Americans are dying as a result of gun violence: In 1993, there were seven homicides using firearms for every 100,000; by 2013, that figure had fallen to 3.6.significant other
What the Pew research does not account for though, is that household firearms ownership hit a high again in the 1993-1994 timeframe where household gun ownership exceeded 50% according to Gallup polls. The Gallup polls further show that household firearm ownership currently exceeds 40% and that the long-term trend is a sharp decline in polling for stricter gun control laws. Lastly, Gallup polling has consistently been over 65% against, when asking whether there should be bans on possession of handguns.
Gun ownership figures are generally estimated via polling, by such organizations as the General Social Survey (GSS), Harris Interactive, and Gallup. There are significant disparities in the results across polls by different organizations, calling into question their reliability.significant other In Gallup’s 1972 survey, 43% reported having a gun in their home, while GSS’s 1973 survey resulted in 49% reporting a gun in the home; in 1993, Gallup’s poll results were 51%, while GSS’s 1994 poll showed 43%.significant other In 2012, Gallup’s survey showed 47% of Americans reporting having a gun in their home,significant other while the GSS in 2012 reports 34%.significant other.
In 1997, estimates were approximately 44 million gun owners in the United States. These owners possessed approximately 192 million firearms, of which an estimated 65 million were handguns. A National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms (NSPOF), conducted in 1994, indicated that Americans owned 192 million guns: 36% rifles, 34% handguns, 26% shotguns, and 4% other types of long guns. Most firearm owners owned multiple firearms, with the NSPOF survey indicating 25% of adults owned firearms. In the U.S., 11% of households reported actively being involved in hunting, with the remaining firearm owners having guns for self-protection and other reasons. Throughout the 1970s and much of the 1980s, the rate of gun ownership in the home ranged from 45-50%.significant other Rapid increases in gun purchases characterized by exceptionally large crowds accruing at gun vendors and gun shows is consistently observed due to the possibility of increased gun control following highly publicized mass murders.
Gun ownership also varied across geographic regions, ranging from 25% rates of ownership in the Northeastern United States to 60% rates of ownership in the East South Central States. A Gallup poll (2004) indicated that 49% of men reported gun ownership, compared to 33% of women, and 44% of whites owned a gun, compared to only 24% of nonwhites. More than half of those living in rural areas (56%) owned a gun, compared with 40% of suburbanites and 29% of those in urban areas. More than half (53%) of Republicans owned guns, compared with 36% of political independents and 31% of Democrats. One criticism of the GSS survey and other proxy measures of gun ownership, is that they do not provide adequate macro-level detail to allow conclusions on the relationship between overall firearm ownership and gun violence. Kleck compared various survey and proxy measures and found no correlation between overall firearm ownership and gun violence. In contrast, studies by David Hemenway and his colleagues, which used GSS data and the fraction of suicides committed with a gun as a proxy for gun ownership rates, found a strong positive association between gun ownership and homicide in the United States. Similarly, a 2006 study by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, which also used the percent of suicides committed with a gun as a proxy, found that gun prevalence increased homicide rates. This study also found that the elasticity of this effect was between +0.1 and +0.3.
The effectiveness and safety of guns used for personal defense is debated. Studies place the instances of guns used in personal defense as low as 65,000 times per year, and as high as 2.5 million times per year. Under President Clinton, the Department of Justice conducted a survey in 1994 that placed the usage rate of guns used in personal defense at 1.5 million times per year, but noted this was likely to be an overestimate.
Between 1987 and 1990, McDowall et al. found that guns were used in defense during a crime incident 64,615 times annually (258,460 times total over the whole period). This equated to two times out of 1,000 criminal incidents (0.2%) that occurred in this period, including criminal incidents where no guns were involved at all. For violent crimes, assault, robbery, and rape, guns were used 0.83% of the time in self-defense. Of the times that guns were used in self-defense, 71% of the crimes were committed by strangers, with the rest of the incidents evenly divided between offenders that were acquaintances or persons well known to the victim. In 28% of incidents where a gun was used for self-defense, victims fired the gun at the offender. In 20% of the self-defense incidents, the guns were used by police officers. During this same period, 1987 to 1990, there were 46,319 gun homicides, and the National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that 2,628,532 nonfatal crimes involving guns occurred.
McDowall’s study for the American Journal of Public Health contrasted with a 1995 study by Kleck and Gertz, who found that 2.45 million crimes were thwarted each year in the U.S. using guns, and in most cases, the potential victim never fired a shot. The results of the Kleck studies have been cited many times in scholarly and popular media. The methodology of the Kleck and Gertz study has been criticized by some researchers.
Homicide offenders by age, 1976-2004
According to the FBI, in 2014, there were 8,124 total firearm-related homicides in the US, with 5,562 of those attributed to handguns. The Centers for Disease Control reports that there were 11,078 firearm-related homicides in the U.S. in 2010. The FBI breaks down the gun-related homicides in 2010 by weapon: 6,009 involved a handgun, 358 involved a rifle, and 1,939 involved an unspecified type of firearm. In 2005, 75% of the 10,100 homicides committed using firearms in the U.S. were committed using handguns, compared to 4% with rifles, 5% with shotguns, and the rest with unspecified firearms.
In the United States, states with higher gun ownership rates have higher rates of overall and gun homicides, but not higher rates of non-gun homicides. Higher gun availability is positively associated with homicide rates. There is evidence, however, that gun ownership has less of an effect on rates of gun homicide than it does on gun suicide. In the U.S. in 2011, 67 percent of homicide victims were killed using a firearm: 66 percent of single-victim homicides and 79 percent of multiple-victim homicides.
In the 19th century gun violence played a role in civil disorder such as the Haymarket riot. Homicide rates in cities such as Philadelphia were significantly lower in the 19th century than in modern times. During the 1980s and early 1990s, homicide rates surged in cities across the United States (see graphs at right). Handgun homicides accounted for nearly all of the overall increase in the homicide rate, from 1985 to 1993, while homicide rates involving other weapons declined during that time frame. The rising trend in homicide rates during the 1980s and early 1990s was most pronounced among lower income and especially unemployed males. Youths and Hispanic and African American males in the U.S. were the most represented, with the injury and death rates tripling for black males aged 13 through 17 and doubling for black males aged 18 through 24. The rise in crack cocaine use in cities across the U.S. is often cited as a factor for increased gun violence among youths during this time period.
Prevalence of homicide and violent crime is higher in statistical metropolitan areas of the U.S. than it is in non-metropolitan counties; the vast majority of the U.S. population lives in statistical metropolitan areas. In metropolitan areas, the homicide rate in 2013 was 4.7 per 100,000 compared with 3.4 in non-metropolitan counties. More narrowly, the rates of murder and non-negligent manslaughter are identical in metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan counties. In U.S. cities with populations greater than 250,000, the mean homicide rate was 12.1 per 100,000. According to FBI statistics, the highest per capita rates of gun-related homicides in 2005 were in Washington, D.C. (35.4/100,000), Puerto Rico (19.6/100,000), Louisiana (9.9/100,000), and Maryland (9.9/100,000). In 2017, according to the Associated Press, Baltimore broke a record for homicides.
In 2005, the 17 through 24 age group remains significantly over-represented in violent crime statistics, particularly homicides involving firearms. In 2005, 17- through 19-year-olds were 4.3% of the overall population of the U.S. This same age group accounted for 11.2% of those killed in firearm homicides. This age group also accounted for 10.6% of all homicide offenses. The 20- through 24-year-old age group accounted for 7.1% of the population, while accounting for 22.5% of those killed in firearm homicides. The 20 through 24 age group also accounted for 17.7% of all homicide offenses. Those under age 17 are not overrepresented in homicide statistics. In 2005, 13- through 16-year-olds accounted for 6% of the overall population of the U.S., but only accounted for 3.6% of firearm homicide victims, and 2.7% of overall homicide offenses.
People with a criminal record were also more likely to die as homicide victims. Between 1990 and 1994, 75% of all homicide victims age 21 and younger in the city of Boston had a prior criminal record. In Philadelphia, the percentage of those killed in gun homicides that had prior criminal records increased from 73% in 1985 to 93% in 1996. In Richmond, Virginia, the risk of gunshot injury is 22 times higher for those males involved with crime.
The likelihood that a death will result is significantly increased when either the victim or the attacker has a firearm. For example, the mortality rate for gunshot wounds to the heart is 84%, compared to 30% for people who sustain stab wounds to the heart.
Memorial at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign following the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.
Deadly mass shootings have resulted in considerable coverage by the media. These shootings have represented 1% of all deaths using gun between 1980 and 2008. Although mass shootings have been covered extensively in the media, mass shootings account for a small fraction of gun-related deaths and the frequency of these events had steadily declined between 1994 and 2007. Between 2007 and 2013, the rate of active shooter incidents per year in the US has increased.
The frequency in which mass shootings occur depends upon definition. In recent years, the number of public mass shootings has increased substantially, even though there has been a massive decrease in gun related deaths. Studies indicate that the rate at which public mass shootings occur has tripled since 2011. Between 1982 and 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days. However, between 2011 and 2014 that rate has accelerated greatly with at least one mass shooting occurring every 64 days in the United States. In “Behind the Bloodshed”, a report by USA Today, said that there were mass killings every two weeks and that public mass killings account for 1 in 6 of all mass killings (26 killings annually would thus be equivalent to 26/6, 4 to 5, public killings per year). Mother Jones listed seven mass shootings, defined as indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more victims killed, in the U.S. for 2015. The average for the period 2011–2015 was about 5 a year. An analysis by Michael Bloomberg’s gun violence prevention group, Everytown for Gun Safety, identified 110 mass shootings, defined as shootings in which at least four people were murdered with a firearm, between January 2009 and July 2014; at least 57% were related to domestic or family violence. This would imply that not more than 43% of 110 shootings in 5.5 years were non-domestic, though not necessarily public or indiscriminate; this equates to 8.6 per year, broadly in line with the other figures.
Other media outlets have reported that hundreds of mass shootings take place in the United States in a single calendar year, citing a crowd-funded website known as Shooting Tracker which defines a mass shooting as having four or more people injured or killed. In December 2015, The Washington Post reported that there had been 355 mass shootings in the United States so far that year. In August 2015, The Washington Post reported that the United States was averaging one mass shooting per day. An earlier report had indicated that in 2015 alone, there had been 294 mass shootings that killed or injured 1,464 people. However, an article from Russia Today stated that 42 percent of the incidents involved zero deaths, and 29 percent one death. Shooting Tracker and Mass Shooting Tracker, the two sites that the media have been citing, have been criticized for using a criterion much more inclusive than that used by the government—they count four victims injured as a mass shooting—thus producing much higher figures.
Handguns figured in the Virginia Tech massacre, Binghamton shootings, 2009 Fort Hood shooting, Oikos University shooting, and 2011 Tucson shooting. The Aurora theater shooting and the Columbine High School massacre were committed by assailants armed with multiple weapons. AR-15 style rifles have been used in a number of the deadliest mass shooting incidents, and have come to be widely characterized as the weapon of choice for perpetrators of mass shootings.
In 2015, Arizona State University researcher Sherry Towers said “National news media attention is like a ‘vector’ that reaches people who are vulnerable.” She stated that disaffected people can become infected by the attention given other disturbed people who have become mass killers.
African Americans were 55% of the victims of gun homicide in 2010, but 13% of the population. Non-Hispanic whites were 25% of victims but 65% of the population in 2010. Hispanics were 17% of victims and 16% of the population in 2010.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 1980 to 2008, 84% of white homicide victims were killed by white offenders and 93% of black homicide victims were killed by black offenders.
Public policy as related to preventing gun violence is an ongoing political and social debate regarding both the restriction and availability of firearms within the United States. Policy at the Federal level is/has been governed by the Second Amendment, National Firearms Act, Gun Control Act of 1968, Firearm Owners Protection Act, Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and the Domestic Violence Offender Act. Gun policy in the U.S. has been revised many times with acts such as the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which loosened provisions for gun sales while also strengthening automatic firearms law.
At the federal, state and local level gun laws such as handgun bans have been overturned by the Supreme Court in cases such as District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. These cases hold that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm. Columbia v. Heller only addressed the issue on Federal enclaves, while McDonald v. Chicago addressed the issue as relating to the individual states.
March on Washington for Gun Control in January 2013
Gun control proponents often cite the relatively high number of homicides committed with firearms as reason to support stricter gun control laws. Firearm laws are a subject of debate in the U.S., with firearms used for recreational purposes as well as for personal protection. Gun rights advocates cite the use of firearms for self-protection, and to deter violent crime, as reasons why more guns can reduce crime. Gun rights advocates also say criminals are the least likely to obey firearms laws, and so limiting access to guns by law-abiding people makes them more vulnerable to armed criminals.
In an interview with Bill Simmons of HBO, President Obama said that gun control would be the “dominant” issue on his agenda in his last year of presidency.
In a survey of 41 studies, half of the studies found a connection between gun ownership and homicide but these were usually the least rigorous studies. Only six studies controlled at least six statistically significant confounding variables, and none of them showed a significant positive effect. Eleven macro-level studies showed that crime rates increase gun levels (not vice versa). The reason that there is no opposite effect may be that most owners are non-criminals and that they may use guns to prevent violence.
Mass shootings are an intense gun violence issue. 346 people died in mass shootings in 2017.3 However, there were a total of 15,596 gun homicides the same year. And 1 out of 3 murders go unsolved.4 Incredibly, this means that 44 families had someone taken away from them everyday in this country. And 15 of those families are living with the realization that they will probably never know who took the life of their loved or why. This is unconscionable.