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

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

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.

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.

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).”

“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.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 12/17/2018 - 11:23 am.

    How do those numbers compare to alcohol related deaths? Just curious.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 12/17/2018 - 11:41 am.

      Roughly 88,000 a year. 37,000 or so auto related deaths annually. Two thirds of all gun deaths are suicides so shouldn’t even be counted in gun violence statistics.

      • Submitted by Greg Smith on 12/17/2018 - 11:49 am.

        Amazing stats, nearly half of the fun deaths are suicide by white males. Any other demo there would be congressional panels, telethons, lapel pins, but for old white guys, meh?!?

      • Submitted by Pat Thompson on 12/17/2018 - 03:01 pm.

        The wording in the article is gun deaths, except where quoting someone who uses the other phrase. That said, killing yourself with a gun is violence of a sort, just not interpersonal violence.

  2. Submitted by Greg Smith on 12/17/2018 - 11:50 am.

    Gun deaths

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/17/2018 - 03:43 pm.

    Mr. Barnes is using sophistry again. In any other context I can think of, being killed by a bullet to the head would be labeled a “violent” death. The fact that the victim pulled the trigger doesn’t change that, so **of course** suicides by gun should be counted as deaths via “gun violence.”

    That so many of those killed are suicides makes the whole issue of regulation and gun control much more complicated, however. While there are suicidal people who **do** exhibit warning signs that can be recognized by others who are properly trained, my impression is that a sizable percentage provide no indication at all to family and/or friends that taking their own life is something they’re planning to do. How will that fit a regulatory framework based on “extreme risk” laws? My guess is that they’d still be flying under the regulatory radar.

    One of the saddest parts of all this is that many people who attempt suicide by other means change their minds, and many are able to figuratively step back from the abyss to live fairly normal lives. Pulling a trigger, unfortunately, is usually final.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 12/17/2018 - 05:48 pm.

      Killing yourself isn’t violence. Violence (esp gun) is something you do to another person. They’d be just as dead using pills and booze or if they jumped off a building.

      Suicide is a mental health issue. Even if guns didn’t exist, they’d just find another way to kill themselves.

      Extreme risk laws should never exist. They just take away the rights of the individual based solely on the word of a 3rd party (who may or may not have an ulterior motive). Angry exes, mad relatives, upset neighbors… none of those would have an axe to grind now would they??? We even have people making false accusations of ra pe against people who are later proven innocent when the story falls apart.. but that doesn’t undo the damage done to the innocent party’s reputation/life.

      “Black men were the most affected. The analysis found that 7,661 black men died as a result of gun injuries in 2017” — that is where the problem lies and it’s something the black community should be addressing post haste. That is extremely lopsided given the population demographics.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 12/18/2018 - 10:37 am.

        Sorry BB, your definition fails the common sense test. We don’t get to pick what words etc. mean. Or are we know entering a world where, “alternate” definitions, go along with “alternate” facts?

        Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, “

    • Submitted by Greg Smith on 12/18/2018 - 07:50 am.

      Would then an intentional narcotic death be classified as pill violence?
      the subtle bias is the connotation is violence is an other person inflicting the gunshot on an unsuspecting victim. By lumping all deaths together, it paints a more scary picture to drive an agenda of gun control. An agenda that would largely not address the major source of gun deaths, suicidal white guys.

  4. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 12/17/2018 - 06:43 pm.

    “The increase in gun deaths since the beginning of the 21st century is startling. As CNN’s analysis points out, such deaths have risen 27 percent since 1999”

    27 percent in 20 years is about 1.3% per year by my math, which could signify an epidemic I suppose.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 12/18/2018 - 10:59 am.

    Some interesting conjecture! Seems we have a lot of white guys killing themselves, also seems we have a lot of white guys that are very pro-NRA, is there a linkage between being in the NRA and suicide? Is it causal, joining the NRA increases the probability that you will want to commit suicide? Seems to be about as factual/scientific as some of the other comments being posted!

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