Americans may be divided on how to tackle firearm injuries and deaths, but there's no denying that our country has a problem unlike any other.
Students across the country will walk out of their classrooms today around 10 a.m. local time, in an effort to demand action from Congress on gun control. Women's March Youth Empower, the advocacy group behind the event, is fighting for regulations including universal background checks for all gun sales, gun-violence restraining-order laws, and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
The walkout is being held on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and will last for 17 minutes—one minute for every person killed in the tragedy. No matter how you feel about Second Amendment rights and gun control, it’s hard to argue that that number—17 lives taken, with many more injured—is anything but a stark reminder that gun violence is a serious public health concern.
That’s not the only sobering statistic to come out of the gun-control debate. Federal research on gun violence has been hindered by decades-old restrictions and lapsed funding, but state governments, universities, and private organizations have picked up some of the slack, compiling numbers and conducting their own studies in recent years. Here are just a few of their frightening findings.
Of the 30 leading causes of death in the United States, gun violence is the least researched
A 2017 research letter published in JAMA examined federal funding and publication frequency for research into the 30 leading causes of death in the U.S. from 2004 to 2015. In relation to the number of people killed, gun violence was the least researched cause of death and second-to-last (after falls) in the amount of allocated funding. In fact, gun violence received only 1.6% of the funding it should have, compared to other causes of death with similar mortality rates.
That came as no surprise to advocates for more gun research. Two years earlier, House Democrats released a statement decrying the fact that “we dedicate $240 million a year on traffic safety research, more than $233 million a year on food safety, and $331 million a year on the effects of tobacco, but almost nothing on firearms that kill 33,000 Americans annually.”
99.85% of Americans will know a victim of gun violence
Nearly all of us will know someone in our social network who is injured by a gun in our lifetimes, according to a 2016 study in Preventive Medicine, and 84.3% will know someone who dies.
Black people in the U.S. have the highest likelihood of knowing someone who dies from gun violence, at 95.5%. White people have an 85.3% chance, followed by Hispanic people (62.4%) and other racial groups (46.7%).
54% of U.S. gun owners admit that they do not store their guns safely
“Safely,” in this case, is defined as “in a locked gun safe, cabinet, or case, locked into a gun rack, or stored with a trigger lock or other lock.” Those are the findings of a February study in the American Journal of Public Health based on survey responses from 1,444 U.S. gun owners—believed to be the first nationally representative sample of its kind in 15 years.
Gun owners with children under 18 living at home tended to be more careful with their guns, but 45% still reported not using safe storage techniques. "Household gun ownership can increase the risk of homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings in the home,” said lead study author Cassandra Crifasi, PhD, an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, in a press release, “but practicing safe storage for all guns reduces these risks."
Universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods are linked to a decrease in suicides
States that have laws requiring universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods for buying a gun saw a decrease of 0.76 suicides per 100,000 people from 2013 to 2014, according to a 2017 study in the American Journal of Public Health. That may not sound like a lot, but nationwide, the suicide rate has increased every year since 2005. And in the same study, states that have neither law on the books saw an increase of 1.04 suicides per 100,000.
Those results remained unchanged even after controlling for rates of gun ownership, depression, poverty, and other factors. The researchers found no difference in suicide rates in states with and without laws regarding handgun storage or carrying practices, suggesting that “legislation is likely most useful when its focus is on preventing gun ownership rather than regulating use and storage of guns already acquired,” they wrote.
Nearly 1,300 children in the United States die from gun-related injuries every year
That makes guns the third leading cause of death for U.S. children, according to a 2017 study in Pediatrics, surpassing the number of childhood deaths from congenital abnormalities, heart disease, flu or pneumonia, respiratory disease, and cerebrovascular causes.
“The shooter playing with a gun was the most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children,” the authors wrote in their study. In addition to the number of children killed, nearly 6,000 are treated for gunshot injuries each year.
About 50 women a month are shot to death by intimate partners in the U.S.
Everytown for Gun Safety reports this horrific stat, compiled from FBI reports from 2009 to 2013. According to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, more than half—54%—of women killed by their partners in the United States are killed with guns.
More restrictive gun laws might help reduce these numbers, suggests a 2017 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology: In an analysis of 45 states and 34 years of data, states with gun restrictions covering emergency restraining orders in domestic violence cases had 12% fewer intimate partner murders. Also, laws that require gun permits to be issued by a law-enforcement agency, and laws that prohibit people with domestic-violence restraining orders to own guns, were linked to 11% and 22% reductions in gun-related intimate partner murders, respectively.
Gun homicides kill about 13,000 people every year in the United States
That makes America’s gun homicide rate 25 times higher than the average of other global economic leaders, according to a 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine that compared 2010 data from 23 populous, high-income countries. For 15- to 24-year-olds, the U.S. gun homicide rate was 49 times higher than in other countries.
Another finding from that study puts things into even greater perspective: While the U.S. accounts for 46% of the population of these countries, it has 82% of the gun deaths overall—and more than 90% of women, children, and young adult gun deaths. Before this research, the authors note in their paper, the most recent study on this topic was more than a decade old.
Gun deaths and injuries jump 70% in the weeks following (some) nearby gun shows.
More than 4,000 gun shows are held annually in the United States, and gun shows account for 4% to 9% of annual firearm sales. But a 2017 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that when gun shows are held in Nevada, gun-related deaths and injuries increase by 70% in nearby California communities for at least the next two weeks.
No increase was seen following gun shows in California, which may be because, unlike Nevada, California places strict restrictions on gun shows. For example, California required background checks on all gun sales and transfers during the study period—including private ones—while Nevada did not. The study authors say that more research is needed to understand the true public health effects of gun shows, as well as their state-by-state policies.
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Australia enacted gun reform in 1996, and there have been zero mass shootings since
After a 1996 mass shooting in Tasmania that killed 35 people, Australia adopted comprehensive gun laws that included gun registration, mandatory locked storage, a ban on mail-order sales, and the banning of semi-automatic rifles and “pump action” shotguns from civilian ownership. Since then, there have been no shooting events in which five or more people have died.
Critics of gun-control regulations say there’s no way to know that these laws are actually responsible for the eradication of mass shootings, and that other factors—or a statistical anomaly—could have played a role. But a study published this week in the Annals of Medicine came to a different conclusion: The odds of this result being due to chance are 1 in 200,000, researchers say.
"This was no accident," co-author Philip Alpers, associate professor at the University of Sydney, said in a press release. "Australia followed standard public health procedures to reduce the risk of multiple shooting events, and we can see the evidence. It worked.”