- On Saturday, a gunman opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people. Less than 24 hours later, a man shot and killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio.
- Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 39,773 people in the US die from firearms every year.
- Despite some restrictions on gun control research, scientists have evaluated how certain policies affect gun deaths.
- Strict background checks, limiting access to assault weapons, and prohibiting domestic abusers from owning weapons are all policies associated with reduced rates of gun violence.
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On Saturday, a gunman opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring dozens of others before being arrested. The incident is being investigated as an act of domestic terror.
Less than 24 hours later, a man in Dayton, Ohio killed nine people, including his own sister, and wounded 27 others before he was killed by police.
Last weekend, a 19-year-old killed three people (including two children) and injured 13 before fatally shooting himself at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California.
Already in 2019, the US has seen 255 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit organization that tracks these incidents. Thus far, 8,787 people have died and 17,463 people have been injured by firearms this year across the country.
President Donald Trump has suggested that poor mental health and violent video games could be to blame for the actions of the two gunmen this weekend, but scientific research doesn’t support those claims. Experts have repeatedly shown that mental-health issues are not predictive of violence, and while some evidence does link video games with aggression, that’s not the same as violence.
What science has demonstrated, however, is that the number of gun deaths in the US is much higher than in other nations with similar rates of gun ownership (like Switzerland), and that certain policies can help prevent these fatalities. Studies have linked stricter background checks, rules prohibiting domestic abusers from owning weapons, and secure locks on firearms in the home with decreased rates of gun-related deaths.
Here’s what the data shows.
In 2017 — the most recent year for which data is available — 39,773 people in the US died from firearms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Most of these firearm deaths are not from mass shootings, but from suicides and homicides, according to the CDC.
There are close to as many guns in the US as there are people. There may be more, or there may be less, depending on which study you look at — there’s no exact count, since there isn’t a national database of gun purchases or firearm owners. Federal law does not require gun owners to get a license or permit.
That’s one of the many obstacles researchers face when trying to evaluate why so many people die from guns in the US and what might prevent those deaths.
Gun violence is one the most poorly researched causes of death in America, according to a 2017 study.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
"In relation to mortality rates, gun-violence research was the least-researched cause of death and the second-least-funded cause of death," the authors of that study wrote.
The study ascribed this paucity of research to a 1996 congressional appropriations bill called the Dickey Amendment, which stipulated that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."
President Trump signed a bill in 2018 that weakened the Dickey Amendment — the new legal provision gives the CDC permission to research the causes of gun violence. But the amendment still maintains a ban on "using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control."
Researchers do know, however, that the annual number of people who died from firearm injuries worldwide rose from 209,000 to 251,000 between 1990 and 2016.
Christian Chavez/Associated Press
According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, six countries — Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, and the US — accounted for 50.5% of the 251,000 global firearm deaths in 2016.
More than 60% of worldwide firearm deaths that year were homicides, while 27% were firearm suicide deaths, and 9% were unintentional firearm deaths.
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