Guns in America: By the Numbers

Dec 12, 2013

Credit Digital Vision / Thinkstock

As the slogan goes, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." But the people who do get killed are frequently the ones pulling the trigger.

Matthew Miller at the Harvard School of Public Health, who will appear Friday on WNPR's Where We Live, found that gun owners are more likely to die by suicide than non-owners. Across the U.S., the more available guns are, the more frequently suicide occurs.

Miller's study compared increases in suicide rates and differing state gun laws. "Maybe people are just more suicidal in high gun-ownership states," Miller told The Harvard Crimson that he had speculated, "but we found that this is not the case." 

In the northeast in particular, states with more guns had higher rates of suicide. More guns in cities, too, Miller found, leads to more overall suicide as well as more gun suicide.

The availability of guns is also a specific risk factor for youth suicide in the U.S. A gun in a house "puts the entire family at a greater risk of suicide," Miller said. "People should keep that in mind when making the decision to buy a firearm." Gun permits surged in Newtown after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Thousands of Homicides

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 31,672 people died from firearm injuries in 2010. Of those deaths, 35 percent were from homicides, or roughly 11,085 deaths. Those numbers are from just one year.

In the three years prior to the December 14 shootings in Newtown, more than 270 school-aged children were killed in Chicago alone.

Attending an event Wednesday in Washington, D.C. in support of stronger gun laws, Reverend Henry Brown of Hartford said, "Over the last 12 years, we have had 380 homicides in Hartford. Three hundred eighty. That’s not even talking about the thousands of people that have been shot." Brown said that the social issue of gun violence is "bigger than all of us" and needs everyone at the table.

Slate has been tracking deaths by gunshot since the shooting. Reporters there estimate about 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides, but because those are rarely reported, it's hard to track the real data.

Connecticut saw 99 gun deaths between December 14, 2012 and November 25, 2013, according to available data.
Credit Alvin Chang / The Connecticut Mirror

Alvin Chang of The Connecticut Mirror assembled the Slate data for an interactive close look at gun deaths in Connecticut, animated over time, in the past year. Chang elaborated on the numbers in the video below:

Chang wrote:

The Connecticut Criminal Justice Information System is an ongoing project that aims to connect every criminal justice database in the state so a wide spectrum of agencies can get access to the information. This means that, at the very basic level, there could be an up-to-date count of homicides; it also means there would be data for researchers and analysts, enabling the state to make smarter policy decisions.

Getting a Handle on Mass Shootings

USA Today published an interactive graphic on mass killings earlier this fall. In the process, reporters learned that gathering data on death tolls was hampered by a voluntary reporting system overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Researchers found that many mass killings were reported as unrelated single homicides, and that at least a dozen crimes were mischaracterized as mass killings.

Comparing FBI data to media reports, USA Today often could find no record of a murder when the FBI showed (in some cases) several people killed. That was sometimes because the FBI was following up on years-old cases. So getting a handle on current, relevant data must involve multiple sources of information.

The Daily Beast reported this week on school shootings across the U.S. in the last year. Reporter Brandy Zadrozny found that at least 24 shootings at schools killed at least 17 people since the Newtown shootings took place. 

The Daily Beast's Brandy Zadrozny found that of 24 school shootings in the last year, two-thirds were at high schools and college campuses.
Credit The Daily Beast

Data, while likely incomplete, was gathered from media reports as well as the gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Two-thirds of the shootings took place on high school and college campuses. A Daily Beast graphic shows other details about these shootings, including type of school, the outcome, and whether the shooter targeted himself or others.