Skip to main content

Originally published December 14, 2012 at 10:15 PM | Page modified December 15, 2012 at 8:47 AM

  • Comments ()
  • Print

11 facts about guns, violence in America

No matter where people stand on the issue of firearms, the facts below about guns and violence may challenge their preconceptions and complicate a search for easy answers.


No matter where people stand on the issue of firearms, the facts below about guns and violence may challenge their preconceptions and complicate a search for easy answers.

Each listing contains a link so you can explore pertinent documents, articles or data on the Web. (The links are case-sensitive.)

1. Shooting sprees are not rare in the United States.

Mother Jones has tracked and mapped every shooting spree in the last three decades. "Since 1982, there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii," researchers found.

And in most cases, the killers had obtained their weapons legally.

2. Eleven of the 20 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years took place in the United States.

In second place is Finland, with two entries. In July, Time posted the full list (via Associated Press):

3. Of the 12 deadliest shootings in the United States, six have happened from 2007 onward.

That includes the Newtown, Conn., shooting. The preliminary death toll of 27 would make it the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

4. America is an unusually violent country. But we're not as violent as we used to be.

Kieran Healy, a sociologist at Duke University, in July made a graph of "deaths due to assault" in the United States and other developed countries. The United States is a clear outlier, with rates well above other countries.

As Healy writes, "The most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S. is than other countries (except possibly Estonia and Mexico), and (2) the degree of change — and recently, decline — there has been in the U.S." The South is the most violent region in the United States.

In a subsequent post, Healy drilled further into the numbers and looked at deaths due to assault in different regions of the country. Just as the United States is a clear outlier in the international context, the South is a clear outlier in the national context.

6. Gun ownership in the United States is declining overall.

"For all the attention given to America's culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows," political scientist Patrick Egan, of New York University, wrote in July. The decline is most evident on the General Social Survey, though it also shows up on polling from Gallup.

The bottom line, Egan writes, is that "long-term trends suggest that we are in fact currently experiencing a waning culture of guns and violence in the United States." More guns tend to mean more homicide.

The Harvard Injury Control Research Center assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there's substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders. This holds true whether you're looking at different countries or different states.

8. States with stricter gun-control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.

Last year, economist Richard Florida dived deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence.

But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun-control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive.

"The map overlays the map of firearm deaths above with gun-control restrictions by state," explains Florida. "It highlights states which have one of three gun-control restrictions in place — assault-weapon bans, trigger locks or safe-storage requirements. Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun-control legislation. Though the sample sizes are small, we find substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42) and mandate safe-storage requirements for guns (-.48)." Gun control, in general, has not been politically popular.

Since 1990, Gallup has been asking Americans whether they think gun-control laws should be stricter. The answer, increasingly, is that they don't.

"The percentage in favor of making the laws governing the sale of firearms 'more strict' fell from 78 percent in 1990 to 62 percent in 1995, and 51 percent in 2007," Gallup reported after the Tucson, Ariz., shooting in 2011. "In the most recent reading, Gallup in 2010 found 44 percent in favor of stricter laws. In fact, in 2009 and again last year, the slight majority said gun laws should either remain the same or be made less strict."

10. But particular policies to control guns often are.

An August CNN/ORC poll asked respondents whether they favor or oppose a number of specific policies to restrict gun ownership. And when you drill down to that level, many policies, including banning the manufacture and possession of semi-automatic rifles, are popular. About 90 percent support background checks and no guns for felons or the mentally ill.

11. Shootings don't tend to substantially affect views on gun control.

In a poll taken after the Colorado movie-theater shooting that killed 12 on July 20, Pew Research Center reported "47 percent say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 46 percent say it is more important to protect American" rights to own guns — virtually unchanged from a survey in April, when 45 percent prioritized gun control and 49 percent gun rights."