Just two months into 2018, a 19-year-old walked into a Florida high school and murdered 17 of his former classmates. The incident — the year’s deadliest mass shooting — would catapult guns into the national conversation. And the shooting’s survivors would keep it there.
And while the events surrounding Parkland have certainly defined 2018, the last 12 months have presented a wealth of new knowledge about guns in America. At The Trace, we’re always looking for the data that can help us understand our beat better — and when we find something that informs our thinking, we want to share it with you.
Read on for the statistics that capture gun violence in America.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest gun deaths tally produced two grim milestones: At nearly 40,000 deaths, America recorded the highest absolute number of gun deaths in nearly 50 years. More significantly, the country’s rate of deaths — 12 fatal shootings per 100,000 residents — also ballooned to its highest point since the mid-’90s. The increase in the firearm death rate, at least in 2017, was driven by suicides. Sixty percent of gun deaths last year were self-inflicted. While the rate of gun homicides has fluctuated over the last decade, the rate of gun suicides has steadily increased.
The National Rifle Association spent $9.7 million this year to defend Republicans’ complete control of Washington — far less than it marshalled in the last midterm cycle, when it spent $27 million. The group has been in difficult financial straits: it ended 2017 more than $31 million in the red. That means it was less able to throw its weight around in elections. Without more substantial aide from the NRA, pro-gun politicians fared worse this year than in many past election cycles, while gun violence prevention groups like Giffords and Everytown for Gun Safety (a donor to The Trace) spent $11 million and racked up wins, even in red states.
When the Harvard Institute of Politics surveyed Americans 18- to 29-years old on the concerns driving them to cast a ballot, its pollsters were surprised to find that campus gun rampages scored the highest, with gun violence overall not far behind. Separate data shows the Parkland effect was not merely theoretical: Turnout among young voters was up 10 percentage points in the 2018 midterms, a campaign season during which the March for Our Lives activists reported registering 50,000 new voters. Young voters’ passion for gun reform may also be scrambling the partisan dynamics of the issue: 46 percent of young Republicans and 48 percent of young gun owners now support tougher gun laws.
In December, the federal government issued a long-awaited ruling banning the sale and possession of bump stocks. The rapid-fire devices, which previously could be purchased without a background check, played a key role in the Las Vegas mass shooting, the deadliest in the nation’s history. Tucked away in the Department of Justice’s ruling was a startling statistic: as many as half a million bump stocks are in civilian hands. Will they destroy them? The government appears to think so. But a look at states that have passed assault weapons bans suggests compliance may be a more difficult task than anticipated.
Before the Parkland shooting, “red flag” laws were little-known measures meant to keep deadly weapons away from volatile people. Only five states had some type of red flag law. But after it emerged that the Florida gunman had displayed clear warning signs before killing 17 of his classmates, activists and policymakers singled out red flag laws as the most logical way to prevent a similar massacre. Over the next few months, state lawmakers across the nation proposed dozens of red-flag bills. Eight got the political support necessary to become law.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is widely regarded as an authoritative source of public health data. But The Trace found that the agency’s estimates of nonfatal injuries are seriously flawed. Thanks to a data source that’s ill-suited to tracking gun injuries, those figures are so bad that the agency describes them as “unstable and potentially unreliable.” While the CDC’s figures on gunshot wounds have been on a steady upward trajectory since the early 2000s, other public health and criminal justice databases indicate that injuries could actually be on the decline.
So far this year, there have been 576 murder-suicides by gun in the United States, according to Gun Violence Archive. That works out to more than one a day. At least 1,300 people have died in such incidents in 2018. In the vast majority of cases, the killer is a man. When we covered the phenomenon in February, Sonia Salari, a gerontologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, told us that a need for control can be a driving factor in this type of crime, particularly when the relationship between the gunman and the victim is a romantic one. “For some perpetrators, it’s an enmeshment. They don’t see the woman as an autonomous being, who can exist outside of their life span.”
According to a new analysis the University of Michigan Injury Prevention Center, the United States’ rate of gun death among children is 36.5 times the overall rate observed in other high-income countries. A deeper dive into the American figures shows us that guns claim more children’s lives annually than cancer. Car crashes remain the top cause of death among children, but the gap is shrinking. While the rate of vehicular fatalities has dropped dramatically in recent years, the gun death rate is on the rise.
Chicago entered 2017 reeling from a record year of gun violence: More than 750 people had been killed in more than 3,000 shootings, numbers not seen in more than two decades. Much of the violence was concentrated in Englewood, a neighborhood in the city’s southwest. But two years later, Englewood has made a remarkable turnaround: Shootings overall plummeted 48 percent. Murders fell 41 percent. Experts attribute much of the decline to new, strategic command posts operated by the Chicago Police Department, which coordinate resources across the city and streamline investigations.
When a person is shot, severe blood loss is one of the biggest threats to life. Once a victim arrives at a trauma center, he or she may need a transfusion to survive. But until recently, little research had been conducted on just how much blood gunshot victims require. Earlier this year, a new study found that gunshot victims need 10 times more blood, on average, than other victims of trauma. That volume of blood comes at a price. Researchers calculated the average cost of transfusing a gunshot patient was more than $11,000 — almost twice the cost for victims of other types of traumatic injuries. In extreme cases, the cost reached as high as $126,000. The findings are a stark reminder of the vast amount of resources these injuries consume.
The federal database collects images of shell casings from shootings across the country, allowing police to figure out which crimes are connected. And though it’s been proven to help police solve numerous gun crimes, many departments say they lack the money and manpower they need to use it well, or at all. Only New Jersey and Delaware require it.