Gun violence in the United States

Gun-related suicides and homicides in the United States, 1999–2016[1] and 2017[2]
Gun-related homicide and suicide rates in high-income OECD countries, 2010, countries in graph ordered by total death rates (homicide plus suicide plus other gun-related deaths).[3]

Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually.[4] In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 persons),[5][6] and 33,636 deaths due to "injury by firearms" (10.6 deaths per 100,000 persons).[7] These deaths consisted of 11,208 homicides,[8] 21,175 suicides,[7] 505 deaths due to accidental or negligent discharge of a firearm, and 281 deaths due to firearms use with "undetermined intent".[7] 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.[9] In 2012, 64% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides.[10] In 2010, there were 19,392 firearm-related suicides, and 11,078 firearm-related homicides in the U.S.[11] 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.[12]

Firearms were used to kill 13,286 people in the U.S. in 2015, excluding suicide.[13] Approximately 1.4 million people have died from firearms in the U.S. between 1968 and 2011. This number includes all deaths resulting from a firearm, including suicides, homicides, and accidents.[13]

Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher.[14] 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.[14]

Gun violence is most common in poor urban areas and frequently associated with gang violence, often involving male juveniles or young adult males.[15][16] Although mass shootings have been covered extensively in the media, mass shootings in the US account for a small fraction of gun-related deaths[17] and the frequency of these events steadily declined between 1994 and 2007, rising between 2007 and 2013.[18][19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

Gun ownership

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.[22] In that same year, the Census bureau stated the population of people in the U.S. at 306 million.[23]

Accurate figures for civilian gun ownership are difficult to determine.[24] 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.[25] 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.[24]

Household firearms ownership hit a high in 1993–1994 when household gun ownership exceeded 50%, according to Gallup polls. In 2016, household firearm ownership still exceeded 35%, and there was a long-term trend of declining support for stricter gun control laws. Gallup polling has consistently shown two-thirds opposition to bans on handgun possession.[26]

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.[27] 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%.[28] In 2012, Gallup's survey showed 47% of Americans reporting having a gun in their home,[29] while the GSS in 2012 reports 34%.[28]

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.[30] 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.[30] Most firearm owners owned multiple firearms, with the NSPOF survey indicating 25% of adults owned firearms.[30] In the U.S., 11% of households reported actively being involved in hunting,[citation needed] 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%.[28] 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.[31][32][33][34][35]

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.[36] 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.[37] 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.[37] More than half (53%) of Republicans owned guns, compared with 36% of political independents and 31% of Democrats.[37] 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.[38] Kleck compared various survey and proxy measures and found no correlation between overall firearm ownership and gun violence.[39][40] 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.[41][42] 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.[43]


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.[40]

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).[44] 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.[44] For violent crimes, assault, robbery, and rape, guns were used 0.83% of the time in self-defense.[44] 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.[44] In 28% of incidents where a gun was used for self-defense, victims fired the gun at the offender.[44] In 20% of the self-defense incidents, the guns were used by police officers.[44] During this same period, 1987 to 1990, there were 46,319 gun homicides,[45] and the National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that 2,628,532 nonfatal crimes involving guns occurred.[44]

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.[46] The results of the Kleck studies have been cited many times in scholarly and popular media.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53] The methodology of the Kleck and Gertz study has been criticized by some researchers.[54]