Background

Gun violence is a public health epidemic in the United States. Every year more than 37,000 Americans are killed by guns, including nearly 23,000 who die by firearm suicide, more than 13,000 who die by firearm homicide, more than 500 who die by legal intervention,12 nearly 500 who die by unintentional firearm injuries, and more than 300 who die by undetermined intent.12 This equates to more than 100 gun deaths every single day. In addition, every day nearly 200 Americans visit the emergency department for nonfatal firearm injuries.13

In 2018, the most recent year of data available, there were nearly 40,000 gun deaths – 109 every single day.14 Three in every five gun deaths are suicides and more than one-third are homicides, while the remainder are unintentional, of unknown intent, or law enforcement intervention.

Among high-income countries, the United States is an outlier in terms of gun violence. It has been well-documented that firearm ownership rates? are associated with increased firearm-related death rates. The U.S. has the highest firearm ownership and highest firearm death rates of 27 high-income countries.15 The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is nearly 25 times higher than other high-income countries and the firearm suicide rate is nearly 10 times that of other high-income countries.16

It is a common misconception that individuals living with mental illness are responsible for gun violence. When compared to other countries, the United States has similar rates of mental illness, yet we have much higher rates of gun violence.17,18 To be clear, mental illness does not cause gun violence – the problem is access to firearms.

While gun death data are the most reliable type of gun violence data currently available, it is important to recognize that gun deaths are only the tip of the iceberg of the gun violence epidemic. In addition to gun deaths, many more people are shot and survive their injuries, are shot at but not hit, or witness gun violence. Many experience gun violence in other ways, for example by living in impacted communities, losing loved ones to gun violence, or being threatened with a gun.

The CDC Plays a Vital Role in Providing Public Health Data to Researchers

Researchers need robust and reliable data to study and develop solutions to address the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the federal agency responsible for protecting the health of Americans by ensuring that data is properly collected to develop solutions to our nation’s public health crises, including gun violence. The CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) plays an instrumental role for gun violence prevention advocates and researchers. The NVDRS uses death certificates, police reports, and hospital records to report information about the victim, the cause of death, and the circumstances surrounding their death.19 The CDC makes this data publicly available and easily accessible through their Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS).

To learn more, visit our page on nonfatal firearm injuries.

The following data presented on this page focuses on the impact to those who were killed by gun violence.

Gun Ownership

Many Americans celebrate guns in our culture and disregard the inherent public safety issues that a gun-friendly culture creates. U.S. firearm ownership rates exceed those of other high-income countries20 and Americans own 46% of the world’s civilian-owned firearms.21 Thirty percent of Americans report owning a gun,22 with estimates of the total number of privately-owned guns in the U.S. ranging from 265 million to nearly 400 million.23,24,25 The majority of gun owners (66%) report owning multiple guns,26 and it is estimated that half of all guns are in the hands of just 3% of the U.S. population.27

Gun Ownership by State

Gun ownership varies significantly by state. For example, one study found that gun ownership varies from 61.7% in Alaska to 5.2% in Delaware.28 Higher levels of gun ownership are correlated with higher rates of suicide,29,30,31,32,33 homicide,34,35,36,37 unintentional firearm deaths,38,39 law enforcement killings,40 and violent crime.41

Reasons for Gun Ownership – “Protection”

More than 6 in 10 Americans believe that a gun in the home makes the family safer – a figure that has nearly doubled since 2000.42 This increase in perceived safety is reflected in shifting reasons for gun ownership. In a 2017 Pew Research survey, two-thirds (67%) of gun owners cited protection as a major reason for gun ownership.43 This represents a notable increase from the mid-1990s, when the majority of American gun owners cited recreation as their primary reason for gun ownership and fewer than half owned guns primarily for protection.44

However, the evidence is clear: guns don’t make you safer. Contrary to the gun lobby’s talking points, overwhelming research shows that gun ownership and easy access to guns inherently puts individuals and their families at higher risk of death and injury.22, 23 With a recent study estimating that there are more guns than people in the United States45 and with a rate of gun violence continually increasing, it is imperative to know the facts about guns and gun violence.

“We must remember that stopping gun violence isn’t only about preventing high-profile mass shootings. It is about stopping gun violence in all its forms. We must acknowledge that gun violence comes in many different forms — from gun suicide to police brutality to domestic violence to unintentional shootings to daily gun violence in neighborhoods across the country.”

- Bryan Barks, Director of Strategic Communications

How does gun ownership and access to firearms affect gun deaths?

Every year, more than 37,000 Americans are killed by guns, including:46

  • Nearly 23,000 who die by firearm suicide
  • More than 13,000 who die by firearm homicide
  • More than 500 who die by legal intervention?
  • Nearly 500 who die by unintentional firearm injuries
  • More than 300 who die by undetermined intent

This equates to more than 100 gun deaths every single day.

Suicide

More than 60% of all gun deaths are suicides.58 Evidence consistently shows that access to firearms increases the risk of suicide.48,49,50,51,52,53,54 Access to a gun in the home increases the odds of suicide more than three-fold.55 Firearms are so dangerous when someone is at risk for suicide because they are the most lethal suicide attempt method.

Though research shows that few individuals substitute means for suicide if their preferred method is not available, if firearms are not available, the person at risk for suicide is much more likely to survive even if they attempt using another method.56 Delaying a suicide attempt can also allow suicidal crises to pass and lead to fewer suicides. Ninety percent of individuals who attempt suicide do not go on to die by suicide.57 The use of a firearm in a suicide attempt often means there is no second chance.

To learn more, visit PreventFirearmSuicide.com or visit our page on firearm suicide.

Homicide

Over 35% of all gun deaths are homicides.58 Access to firearms – such as the presence of a gun in the home – is correlated with an increased risk for homicide victimization.58,59 States with high rates of gun ownership consistently have higher firearm homicide rates.60,61,62 Studies show that access to firearms doubles the risk of homicide.63 Nearly 75% of all U.S. homicides are by firearm.64 Firearm homicide is a complex issue that includes different types of gun violence – domestic violence, interpersonal community violence, and mass shootings – and requires an array of different policies, programs, and practices if we want to see meaningful change.

Gun ownership also has implications for the number of mass shootings in a state. A 2019 study found that the permissiveness of state gun laws and an increase in a state’s gun ownership were associated with higher rates of mass shootings. Specifically, every 10 unit increase in the permissiveness of a state’s gun laws is associated with a 9% higher rate of mass shootings. For every 10% increase in gun ownership, states have a 35.1% higher rate of mass shootings.65 The authors wrote, “This means that a state like California, which has approximately two mass shootings per year, will have an extra mass shooting for every 10 unit increase in permissiveness over five years. It will also have three to five more mass shootings per five years for every 10 unit increase in gun ownership.”66

To learn more, visit our pages on firearm homicide or mass shootings.

Unintentional Shootings

About 1% of all gun deaths are unintentional.67 “Unintentional” is the description used for a death that was not caused purposely. In gun violence, examples include fatal injuries that occur when a weapon misfires or is mishandled by a child and results in the victim being shot (in contrast with homicide and suicide, both of which involve an intent to pull the trigger and cause harm). Easy access to firearms, particularly unsecured firearms and the presence of firearms in risky situations, increases risk of unintentional injury and death by firearm. Mitigating access with safer storage practices and through evidence-based policy prevents unintentional gun violence.

To learn more, visit our page on unintentional shootings.

An In-Depth Look at Gun Violence in the United States

Gun violence in America - An Analysis of 2018 CDC Data

A report from the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, Gun Violence In America: An Analysis of 2018 CDC Data, draws on the most recent gun death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to illustrate the fatal toll of the gun violence epidemic in the U.S. The report outlines gun death data from 2018, including demographic details, state-by-state breakdowns, and trends over 10 years.

Gun Deaths in the United States,
2009-2018

Number of deaths

Suicide
Homicide
Other

Source: CDC WONDER.

Gun Death Rates in the United States,
2009-2018

Age-adjusted rate per 100,000

Homicide
Suicide
Total

Source: CDC WONDER.

All rates listed are age-adjusted in order to allow for accurate comparisons between populations with differing age distributions.

Gun Death Rates by State

Gun violence is an epidemic that reaches communities large and small, but it is more common in some places than others. Among the states in 2018, Mississippi had the highest gun death rate (22.94 per 100,000 people), followed by Alabama, Wyoming, and Missouri (21.84, 21.50, and 21.47 per 100,000, respectively). Conversely, Rhode Island had the lowest gun death rate (3.26 per 100,000 people), followed by Massachusetts, Hawaii, and New York (3.47, 4.04, and 4.07 per 100,000, respectively).72

  • 3.26 to 8.16
  • 8.17 to 13.07
  • 13.08 to 17.98
  • 17.99 to 22.94

Source: CDC WONDER.

All rates listed are age-adjusted in order to allow for accurate comparisons between populations with differing age distributions.

Gun Deaths by Demographics

By Sex

For all forms of gun violence, males die at much higher rates than females.72 In 2018:

  • 86% of firearm suicide decedents were male
  • 83% of firearm homicide decedents were male
  • 90% of unintentional firearm decedents were male
  • 96% of police-involved shooting decedents were male

Firearm Suicide Deaths by Sex, 2018

  1. Male 86%
  2. Female 14%

Source: CDC WONDER.

Firearm Homicide Deaths by Sex, 2018

  1. Male 83%
  2. Female 17%

Source: CDC WONDER.

Unintentional Firearm Deaths by Sex, 2018

  1. Male 90%
  2. Female 10%

Source: CDC WONDER.

Police-Involved Shooting Firearm Deaths by Sex, 2015-2020

  1. Male 96%
  2. Female 4%

Source: Washington Post.

By Race, Ethnicity, and Age

Overall:73

  • Firearm suicide rates are highest among White people, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native people. Firearm suicide risk is highest among people age 75 and older across the population as a whole, but that is primarily due to the very high rate of suicide among White males in that age group. Firearm suicide rates peak at younger ages (ages 20-34) for American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, and Black males and females.
  • Firearm homicide rates are highest among Black people as compared to people of other racial and ethnic identities and firearm homicide risk is highest among people ages 20-34 across the entire population.
  • Unintentional firearm death rates are highest among American Indian/Alaska Native and Black Americans, followed by White Americans. Nearly one-quarter of all unintentional firearm decedents are 0-19 years old.
  • Police-involved shootings disproportionately affect Black Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans. Black Americans are killed in police-involved shootings at more than twice the rate of White Americans. Hispanic/Latino Americans are killed by police-involved shootings at nearly twice the rate of White Americans.74

Recommendations

Stop gun violence in all its forms through a multifaceted public health approach.

Gun violence is a complex issue requiring many approaches to its prevention. We are committed to evidence-based policies, programs, and practices and ensuring that all of these preventative measures are designed and implemented equitably. To stop gun violence in all its forms:

  • Apply the public health approach for effective gun violence prevention. See Public Health Approach for more information.
  • Fund and conduct gun violence research, which is fundamental for effective gun violence prevention. See Gun Violence Research for more information.
  • Enact and implement policies, programs, and practices that create time and space between individuals who may be at risk of suicide and firearms. See Firearm Suicide for more information.
  • Enact and implement policies, programs, and practices that reduce easy access to firearms by people at risk of interpersonal violence and invest in interventions that address the root causes of gun violence in structurally disadvantaged communities. See Firearm Homicide, Community Violence, and Nonfatal Injuries for more information.
  • Expand both federal and state domestic violence firearm prohibitions to reduce abusers’ access to firearms and improve collection and reporting of domestic violence related data. See Domestic Violence for more information.
  • Enact and implement policies that reduce easy access to firearms by people at elevated risk of interpersonal violence and ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines that increase lethality in mass shootings. See Mass Shootings for more information.
  • Implement programs and practices that promote safer firearm storage and handling. See Unintentional Shootings for more information.
  • Train healthcare professionals on lethal means safety counseling so they are prepared to ask patients about firearm access and provide effective and respectful counseling when appropriate. See Lethal Means Safety Counseling for more information.
  • Enact and implement a true universal background check law that requires background checks on all gun sales and transfers, including private and online sales, and eliminate “default proceed” sales. See Universal Background Checks for more information.
  • Enact and implement state extreme risk laws to prevent tragedy before it occurs and support robust implementation through federal funding. See Extreme Risk Laws for more information.
  • Reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. In the absence of federal action, states should continue to enact and implement assault weapons and large capacity magazine bans. See Assault Weapons and Large Capacity Magazines for more information.
  • Focus gun violence prevention policies on evidence-based risk factors — not mental illness. Use appropriate language and avoid harmful stereotypes. See Mental Illness for more information.

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Last updated July 2020