04 March 2013    13 Comments
Gun Violence Statistics: U.S. Murders in Numbers

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, the political uproar over gun control has reached a (justifiably) feverish pitch, and the gridlock in Washington got me wondering–what do gun violence statistics tell us? Using data culled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), I ran some analyses on America’s murder and gun violence statistics.  What the data tells us is both vindicating and surprising for gun control advocates.

Many arguments in favor of gun control are predicated on the idea that the United States suffers from higher rates of violence than other developed countries.  So, does the United States really have a murder problem?  According to data prepared by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, the homicide rate in the U.S. is around 5.0 persons per 100,000 (note that the U.N. data, which is based on FBI crime statistics, is about 0.5 per 100,000 lower than the statistics kept by the CDC).

As the data shows, the murder rate in the United States is about five times that of most developed nations (and China), which are converging around 1.0 homicides per 100,000.  So, as it turns out, the United States does in fact have a problem with violence.  Even Canada, which is often touted as a “good” example for responsible gun ownership, has a homicide rate about twice the average of other developed nations.  It is a troubling fact that gun violence rates are converging among developed nations at a much lower rate than they exist in the United States.  This indicates that something statistically out of the norm is occurring in the U.S.–we have a murder problem.

According to the CDC’s gun violence statistics, the number of homicides in the United States has varied roughly between 16,000 and 18,000 deaths per year, with about two-thirds of all murders over the past 10 years in the United States being carried out with a firearm (about 11,000-12,000 persons per year).  That amounts to 32 gun homicides per day, every day for the past ten years.  To put this in perspective, that is about 60 times the rate of U.S. military deaths in all U.S. wars over the past 10 years, and over 3 times the average of all murders in most developing nations.  As far as murders go, guns are the weapon of choice.  This overwhelmingly supports the notion that the United States’ murder problem is also very much a gun problem.

Another very interesting piece of information in the CDC statistics, and this has received some coverage in the press, is that the number of gun homicides every year pales in comparison to the number of gun suicides.  The number of gun suicides every year hovers around 17,000, which accounts for about half of all suicides.  This statistic is vitally important to the debate about mental health, because mass shootings and violent crime are often carried out as a murder-suicide.  The number of murder-suicides every year is estimated at 1,000 to 1,5000 persons, and there have already been several shocking murder-suicides this year, including the Newtown shooting and the Webster shooting.  In both of these instances the gunman committed suicide after murdering unarmed victims.  This supports the idea that limiting access to guns should be part of any mental health initiative addressing gun violence.  Implementing universal background checks (non-retail dealers are not required to perform background checks) with a centralized database on mental health and criminal history is an important way to address this issue, though additional measures would be necessary to target the black market in firearms.

Note that the total gun death rate has been steady over the past 10 years, and that the gun suicide rate and gun murder rate seem to diverge simultaneously. This suggests a classification problem – that some murders may in fact be being classified as suicides. Could criminals be getting smarter?

One final piece of the gun violence statistics puzzle is the source of guns.  Where do violent offenders’ guns come from?  In the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Justice surveyed prison inmates on exactly this question.  What they found out is that almost half of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons used in crimes came from illegal sources.  There is a very active underground market in guns, and this market is wreaking havoc on society.  The high rate of black-market gun sales underscores the fact that existing gun regulations are not being adequately enforced.  Whether this is a matter of resources or just lax enforcement is unclear.  But what is clear is that much gun violence could probably be stopped just by keeping already illegal weapons off the streets.  (Mayors such as Michael Bloomberg have made this a centerpiece of anti-gun-violence campaigns.)

On the other hand, the most popular source of single-shot firearms was a family or friend.  There is no easy solution to the dilemma posed by this statistic, which reflects the cultural problem that we have with guns.  As a society, we have too many guns that are too accessible to people contemplating criminal acts.  In order to reduce gun violence, any government initiatives would have to include some component to reduce the number of legal firearms kept in a household.  There are a number of solutions to this, such as public service ads (think of the anti-smoking campaigns) or through enhanced liability or insurance requirements.

While policymakers must contend with the gun lobby in enacting policy changes, the politics of guns obscures very obvious solutions to violence in America.  Gun violence statistics provide a clean snapshot of many dimensions of our gun problem and some obvious areas we can address.  The United States does has murder problem and guns make up the lion’s share of that problem–let’s hope Washington can come to grips with that reality.

For a breakdown of gun murders by state, see my next post on gun violence statistics.

(13) Readers Comments

  1. As the numbers of gun ownership has in creased over last 10 years the number of violent crime has been going down the thing that most politicians won’t admit is how much drugs and gang violence is affecting the number of murders in this country in so called gun safe zones. These people are criminals and have no regard for the law.these people will always obtain guns illegally or not. Keep criminals off the streets instead of releasing them to commit more violent crime. Gun controll does not work because criminals have no regard for the law as for me I prefer to be able to defend myself and my family and not on a government that can’t.

    • Gun Nut Nonsense doug. Gun ownership has actually declined. Now of course, gun free zones aren’t peoples delusion that there will be no guns in that zone. What the zones are designed for is to make sentences higher. Nobody who has done some actual thinking thinks the gun free zones actually keep guns out. As to gangs, etc. Take Chicago. 57% of the crime guns confiscated come from Illinois OUTSIDE of Chicago. Illinois has terrible gun laws. Lax. On top of that, 43% of crime guns found by the CPD came from out ogf state. Mississippi, Indiana and Michigan were the top states where guns came from. So, it really is the easy availability of guns that enable criminals. Yes, there are illegal guns but most nof them come from lax places that don’t require background checks, etc. What people who cling to gun nut ideas do is MAKE IS EASIER FOR CRIMINALS. I am not saying they won’t find a gun eventually but gun nuts make it easier for criminals. Gun nuts are enablers for criminals..Washington, DC is another example of lawxs outside of DC being loose and helping criminal enterprisers and spouse murderers.

      • jimmy v,gun sales are at a all time high,in places that have allowed conceal carry the murder rate has went down fact,and talk to prisoners they even done a study and asked them which states or cities they liked to rob in and they of course said the ones with the toughest gun laws like chicago cause they knew the public didn’t have guns.and if you take black on black murder out of hte stats the murder rate drops almost half.go to factcheck and john lott and look it up .in 2011 muder rate 2011 was 3.6 per 100.000 lowest since 1981,robbery is down 45,per 100000 lowest since 2004 suicides with gun is up highest since 1998 gun assaults are down lowest since 2004.the criminals will get guns even if guns are outlawed the guns will come across the border just like drugs they haven’t stopped them ,criminals don’t care if they break the law so they will have there guns and i want to be able to protect my family and myself,so i want my guns,it is my right and not to be infringed

      • jimmy v you are a moron as most anti gunners . the guns may of been from those other states but were not legally obtained all of the states require background checks. more people are killed by drunk drivers so lets require you to get a background check every time you buy a bottle of booze or buy a car or renew your drivers license. utter nonsense hire more ATF agents and enforce our current laws and provide stronger penalties , like forty years for just possessing a stolen firearm and no parole when one is used in a crime. current crime levels are below that of 1960. In the states with conceal and carry laws have seen their crime rates drop even faster honest gun owners aren’t out there killing other people they will protect them a and protect your 1st amendment right even when you try to twist and distort what you are reporting as truth like new yorks governor or Obama it s easy to be anti gun when you get to walk or drive around with the secret service or nypd guarding you 24 seven at the tax payers exense.

  2. guns and long blades are not legal in my country, the murder rates in the USA are 4x higher than in my country… we live next door to Belgium with lacing gun laws… so some guns come in.. guns are made for murder folks.. not to open beer bottles… it is not a defensive tool, like for instance pepper spray.. only well trained and licenced people who are tested thoroughly should have access to murder tools …use common sense… people are dying for no good reason. . out law the gun idol

    • Okay, skip all the opinions, skip all the emotions, skip the fact that in America, we’ve always had guns. Let’s think about some facts. If government were to attempt complete confiscation of firearms, they would only be taking the firearms from honest, law abiding citizens. Criminals would still have guns. Policemen would still have guns. What does this mean? America would become a police state and no longer a free country with just as much crime.

      So that’s the first fact.

      Secondly, it was solely the Newtown tragedy that sparked this national conversation. What are the facts about Newtown? Lanza, the murderer, had FIVE mental health issues including the following: Aspergers Disorder, Extreme Personality Disorder, Extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Autism. He was raised with firearms and taught how to handle them well. This, coupled with his obsession of extreme violence in entertainment and gaming, led to a catastrophic tragedy America will never forget. The questions that need to be raised have quite little to do with the murder weapon. Instead, ask questions such as “Should a household with adults who have mental health issues be permitted to own firearms?”, “Are the Mental Health and Law Enforcement authorities really doing their job?”, “Does there need to be a change in the way the mentally ill are taken care of, especially those violent in nature?”, “Why isn’t a thorough mental health background check issued in every state when purchasing a firearm?”, “Why doesn’t every school, every mall, every hospital, everywhere have little to no security?” and “Why is the entertainment industry permitted to be as brutal, gory, and violent as they please?”

      There will be murders. There will be crime. There will be a need for change.
      But, is confiscation the right answer?

    • hey why don’t you say which socialist state you live. I am sure its one that executions for stating your opinion that is against the current political ruler is quite common and we murdering americans had to save your asses while you sprayed pepper spray at hitlers Nazis after they so peaceably took all your guns. if you have it so good in your country by Belgium why are you not there?

  3. I , as an citizen of the United States of America feels that it’s a shame that there are not enough gun control laws in this country. There has been so many senseless murders, especially in the black community. And by the way, I am a Black or African American female of Fifty Seven years old. And the bottom line for me is that I would like for there to be better gun control laws.

    • if you take out all the black on black and black on white murder it cuts the murder rate over half,and this is fact in places were the people are aloud to have guns and didn’t before the murder rate went down.look at chicago they have the toughest gun laws in the US but they have one of the highest murder rates.prisoners were asked which laws they liked the best and they said they liked the tougher gun laws cause they didn’t have to worry about people being armed,and could rob a house or person,and not get shot and they hated states that had concealed handgun laws ,cause they didn’t know who was carrying a pistol.murder rates have went down in the last 20 years according to FBI stats.

    • gee ask all your African americans why they keep shooting each other more gun laws aren’t needed we just need to enforce what we got yes most black people are killed by their own race just lik e white people are make more laws and the criminals will still ignore them criminals aren’t afraid of laws but I would bet you they would be more afraid of you pointing a loaded gun at them that you go and learn to use legally than any law you could ever write.

  4. First, let me say that I have guns, shoot them, hunt, and was in the military for 6 years. I loved my SAW, firing 40mm automatic grenade launchers, Browning .50 Machine guns, tossing grenades and shooting rockets.
    Everyone has brought up a variety of good points. All the point should be taken into thought. However, we must consider first violent rates. Good ownership going up in number but not in percentage basically means that it has gonna down. And just because ownership goes up and violence goes down, does not mean they are related. Guns, like any weapon (bow, sword, knife, cannon ect), are a double edged sword (kind of a pun) they both enable and can stop violence. Most important they make violence easier. Violence goes down due to the education, economic and social reasons, not from something as simple as guns…….in parts of the middle east, “gun ownership” is higher, everyone knows everyone has guns but violence is still higher than the US……having or not having them is not the root, but the easy availability of them makes violence easier….to man with a hammer everything is a nail, they say. Also, on average nations that have less guns have less gun crime. Moreover, access to “illegal guns” is not that accessible, so criminals always having access is not the issue either. No one is going to illegalize guns in the US and the vast majority of “crazy liberals” have no interest in confiscating and rounding up gun owners. Guns should be regulated like cars, both quite dangerous. You should have training and registration. There should be checks for legitimate health problems and warning signs, but remember that the NRA opposes all this. More importantly, they do not represent gun owners but the folks at the top of the organization and gun manufacturers.
    Simply put: register, regulate, monitor and track. No confiscation of current items period!
    Finally, we need and do restrict certain types of weapons. We don’t need .50 sniper rifles (though it is pretty hard to get one when it costs 2,000-5,000 buck!), rockets, grenades and automatic weapons. We don’t need to wonder around with AR-15 rifles on out backs nor P91 SMGs (though they are quite fun), 50 round rifle clips or 30 round double-drum pistol Simply leave what we have, offer a buy back maybe, and restrict future sales.

  5. why should law abidding gun owners,have more laws put on them and less bullets in a mag cause of criminals,why impose on me and the rest of up standing americans.do you think the criminals will still get guns if the gov does away with them.it will be just like the drug trade and then you will have more gang mirdersand larger numbers of killed at a time ,look at mexico they have more gun laws than we do and they have like 30000 deaths a year cause of guns and drugs

  6. this is liberal BS

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