Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


UCare generously supports MinnPost’s Second Opinion coverage; learn why.

U.S. gun deaths reach highest level since CDC started tracking them

Gun deaths have risen 27 percent since 1999, when guns killed 28,874 Americans.

Gun enthusiasts looking at rifles during the annual National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Texas.
Gun enthusiasts looking at rifles during the annual National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Texas.
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Gun deaths in the United States reached a record high last year, according to a CNN analysis of data in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database.

The total number of gun deaths in 2017 was 39,773 — up more than 1,100 deaths from 2016 and the highest number since 1979, the year when the CDC first started coding firearm deaths to include them in their mortality data, according to the analysis.

The increase in gun deaths since the beginning of the 21stcentury is startling. As CNN’s analysis points out, such deaths have risen 27 percent since 1999, when guns killed 28,874 Americans.

That rise in the number of gun deaths is not just a reflection of the country’s growing population. The rate at which Americans are getting killed by guns is also increasing. The aged-adjusted rate of gun deaths in 2017 was 12 per 100,000 Americans, up from 10.3 per 100,000 in 1999.

Article continues after advertisement

The CNN analysis was released late last week, right before the weekend that marked the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, in which a gunman killed 20 children aged 6 and 7 years old and six adults.

It also comes at the end of a year that has been the worst on record for gun-related deaths and injuries in schools. So far in 2018, there have been 183 gun-related casualties in schools, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. That eclipses the previous high of 97 in 1986.

The two most deadly school shootings this year occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, and at Santa Fe high School near Houston, Texas, where 10 people lost their lives.

Suicides by gun

Mass shootings, whether at schools or elsewhere, make up a small portion of gun deaths, however. Indeed, most gun deaths in the United States — six out of 10 — are suicides, not homicides.

In 2017, a total of 23,854 people died from suicide by guns, the highest number in 18 years.

Men were six times more likely to kill themselves with a gun than women, the CNN analysis also revealed. All but 3,239 of the gun suicides in 2017 involved men.

White men were the most at risk for a gun suicide. Last year, 18,759 white men used a gun to take their own life. That compared with 1,322 black men, 322 Asian men and 212 American Indian or Alaska Native men.

The aged-adjusted rate of suicide deaths by firearm was 14 per 100,000 for white men compared to 9.3 for American Indian or Alaska Native men, 6.1 per 100,000 for black men and 3.0 for Asian men.

Article continues after advertisement

Gun homicides

Gun homicides in the United States numbered 14,542 in 2017, according to the CNN analysis. Men were the victims in 12,220 of those homicides, making them five times more likely than women to be murdered by a firearm.

Black men were the most affected. The analysis found that 7,661 black men died as a result of gun injuries in 2017, compared with 4,289 white men, 149 Asian men and 121 American Indian or Alaska Native men.

The age-adjusted rate of homicide deaths by firearm was 33 per 100,000 for black men, compared with 4.8 for American Indian or Alaska Native men, 3.5 for white men and 1.4 for Asian men.

Other gun deaths

The CNN analysis also found that 486 of the 39,773 gun deaths in 2017 were unintentional, 338 were undetermined and 553 were the result of legal (police) interventions or war.

The age-adjusted rate of gun deaths in legal interventions or war was highest — 1.1 per 100,000 — among American Indian or Alaska Native men, followed by 0.5 for black men, 0.3 for white men and 0.0 for white women. (The rates for the other groups were not considered statistically reliable.)

‘A public health epidemic’

The CNN report essentially replicates an analysis of the same 2017 CDC data by the nonprofit Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

In a statement released earlier this month, that group reported that “over the last 10 years, the age-adjusted firearm suicide rate increased 19 percent (from 5.81 to 6.93 deaths per 100,000), and the age-adjusted firearm homicide rate increased more than 14 percent (from 4.06 to 4.65 deaths per 100,000).”

Article continues after advertisement

“In 2017, nearly 109 people died every single day from gun violence,” said Adelyn Allchin, the Fund’s director of public health research, in the released statement. “Gun violence is a public health epidemic that requires a public health solution, which is why we must immediately enact and implement evidence-based interventions — like permit-to-purchase policies and extreme risk laws.”

“Gun violence has been part of our day-to-day lives for far too long,” she added. “It is way past time that elected leaders at every level of government work together to make gun violence rare and abnormal.”

FMI:  You’ll find CNN’s analysis of the CDC’s data on the news organization’s website.