The number of gun deaths in America held steady in 2018, following three straight years of significant increases, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 39,740 people were killed by firearms in 2018. The age-adjusted death rate also remained virtually unchanged, at 11.9 deaths per 100,000 people.
The new figures, published today on the CDC’s interactive WONDER database, establish gun violence as the 14th leading cause of death for Americans, killing slightly more people than falls or motor vehicle accidents. The CDC’s mortality data is derived from death certificates collected at the state level.
The plateau follows three consecutive years in which the number of people killed by guns increased. The 2017 figures marked the highest firearm mortality rate recorded since 1996, and the largest number of gun deaths ever tallied by the CDC. The slight downtick in 2018 came amid an overall increase in life expectancy, which reversed three years of decline.
As in each year of the past two decades, suicides made up the majority of firearm deaths: 61 percent in 2018. (Nearly all of the remaining deaths were homicides, with only 3 percent attributed to accidents, law enforcement shootings, or undetermined causes.) Victims of firearm suicide are overwhelmingly white and male. Recent studies of gun suicide have linked the growing phenomenon to the prevalence of gun stores and regional poverty.
The states with the highest rates of gun mortality were Mississippi, Alabama, and Wyoming. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Hawaii had the lowest rates.
Provisional data collected by the Gun Violence Archive suggests that gun deaths rose again in 2019, although those figures do not include suicides. In December, Congress approved $25 million in funding for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health to study gun violence, the first time since 1996 that federal dollars were earmarked for that cause. The budget proposal released this week by the Trump administration does not include that funding.