Charting the Gun Violence Epidemic

BRR member Edward (Ned) Hill, dean of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, has turned his shock at the Newtown tragedy into three new papers on gun violence in America.  Once a resident of nearby Oxford, CT, and whose family owned a store in Newtown for many years, Hill wanted to give back in some way.  He turned to research. 

The first report looks at gun violence as a public health issue. The second examines the cost of putting armed officers in every school building in the nation in response to the NRA’s proposal. The third tries to answer the question of how many guns are in America.

As the press release notes, Hill finds that nearly 1 million Americans were killed or wounded by firearms from 2001 to 2010–the equivalent to nearly five times the total U.S. casualties during the Vietnam War and 92%  of total U.S. casualties during World War II.. Gun violence directly impacts the lives of one in every 314 Americans.

Despite the National Rifle Association’s claims that record-high levels of gun ownership do not correspond with increased gun violence, the number of deaths caused by firearms – including not only murders, but also suicides, accidental deaths and deaths due to law enforcement action – has gradually increased since the late 1990s, he finds.

“Because of the politically charged rhetoric related to gun ownership and the fog of spin that comes from the gun industry, the facts about gun violence are not obvious to the public,” Hill said. “We need to stem the epidemic of gun violence. People’s lives depend on it.”

Hill analyzed data on gunshot deaths, gunshot wounds, gunshot violence rates and related statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the other key findings of the study:

  • 32,000 people are killed by firearms annually in the United States.
  • The leading cause of gunshot death is suicide. There are substantial differences in suicide rates across states for which data are available. Suicide rates are much higher in the West and in the South, where a gun-owning culture is prevalent.
  • 73,000 people are wounded by firearms annually in the United States.
  • Of the nearly 1 million Americans who were killed or wounded by firearms from 2001 to 2010, nearly half of those injured were wounded in an armed assault, 18% committed suicide, 12% were murdered, and 4% suffered self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

“While the National Rifle Association has been attempting to focus the public debate on murders by firearms and on accidental firearms deaths, there are significant public health concerns over suicides and wounds from gunshot attacks,” Hill said.

“Extremists, government conspiracy theorists and gun manufacturers should not own this debate. Gun violence is a public health epidemic that cannot be reduced to zero, but it is an epidemic that can be lessened.”

It is also an urban issue. Too often, gun deaths go unnoticed by the news media, and far too often, guns and homicides are such a regular part of life that gun violence become almost normal in certain city neighborhoods. According to the Center for American Progress in “Top Ten Reasons Communities of Color Should Care About Stricter Gun-Violence Prevention Laws“:

  • “In 2006 and 2007, the 62 center cities of America’s 50 largest metro areas accounted for only 15 percent of the population but 39 percent of gun-related murders. This ratio is only growing: In 2011 there were record highs of gun violence in cities such as Chicago and Detroit.
  • The gun-homicide rate for black males is 2.4 times as high as that of Latino males, and it is 15.3 times as high as the rate for non-Hispanic white males.
  • For black families, the chance of a male child dying from a gunshot wound is 62 percent higher than the chance of him dying in a motor-vehicle crash.

Although it seems that gun control is losing steam in Congress, the Center for American Progress finds that Newtown was a turning point in Americans’ views on the issue.

Hill’s three reports can be found here:

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