Murder by Numbers: Digging Into the Data of America's Gun Culture

AR-15 Rifle Sandy Hook Shootings
A Rock River Arms AR-15 rifle, with ammunition: The weapon is similar in style to the Bushmaster XM-15 rifle that was used during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.
When it comes to talking about shooting deaths in the U.S., discussions usually start with numbers. Whether it's 26 dead in Connecticut, 32 dead in Virginia, or four dead in Ohio, the statistics lead the argument, the number of victims providing a sense of magnitude to the latest tragedy.

There's no lack of numbers to bring to bear in a discussion of the role of guns in American life, but here's the big one: According to the truth squad at PolitiFact, 281,757 people in this country died of gunshot wounds between 2001 and 2011. Over that same period, the nation endured 48 fatal school shootings.

There have been seven more this year.

Bullets are at the center of two-thirds of U.S. murders, making assault by firearm the ninth most common cause of death in America, accounting for 1 out of every 300 deaths. By comparison, drowning comes in twelfth (1 out of every 1,072 deaths) and airplane accidents come in a distant fifteenth, responsible for just 1 in 5,862 deaths. Unintentional firearms discharge comes just behind airplane crashes at sixteenth (1 in 5,981 deaths).

And if firearms are the tools of choice in most homicides, they are even more of a factor in suicides. The majority of gun-related deaths -- 59 percent -- are self-inflicted. When it comes to suicide, guns are especially effective: While only 2 percent to 5 percent of suicide attempts involve a gun, attempts using firearms account for half of all "completed" suicides.

Easier to Buy Firearms Than Fireworks

Although each tragic shooting leads to renewed calls for gun control, gun ownership rates have actually risen. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of gun-buyer background checks increased by almost 20 percent. It isn't hard to see why: Gun lobbyists, notably National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, have continuously asserted that President Obama plans to severely restrict gun sales. Earlier this year,, an online ammunition store, referred to the president as "the greatest gun salesman in America."

Yet for all the talk of Obama's plans for a gun crackdown, it is easier now to buy firearms than firecrackers: While 31 states place limits on the types of fireworks that one may buy without a permit, only seven require gun owners to register their arsenals.

Currently, there are an estimated 310 million privately held guns in the U.S., and 47 percent of Americans claim to own at least one firearm. There are 8.8 guns for every 10 people in the U.S. -- a higher level than in any other country in the world. The next closest is Yemen, which has 5.5 guns for every 10 people; then again, large swaths of Yemen are controlled by armed rebel groups, a factor that makes gun ownership especially necessary.

The NRA and its corporate partners have more at stake in their fight for looser gun laws than a the mere protection of a constitutional right. With an estimated $4 billion in annual sales, firearms are very big business.

That big business, of course, means big money: Through its lobbying and campaign efforts, the NRA is generous with its largesse. In addition to its 4 million members -- a sizable voting bloc -- the NRA also has a lot of money to offer friendly candidates. In the 2012 election cycle, it contributed almost $19 million to political campaigns.

The Costs of America's Gun Obsession

While the death toll from shootings is the most widely discussed downside to America's gun obsession, there are other, less obvious costs. The Violence Policy Center estimates that the country spends $6 million a day for the treatment of firearm-related injuries. Then there are the parents -- like those of Sandy Hook victim Emilie Parker -- who spend untold hours trying to raise the money to bury their loved ones.

But what of the companies that make and sell the guns? It's certainly a profitable business. Over the last decade, Cerberus Capital Management, a private-equity firm, has quietly taken control of many of America's top gun manufacturers, including Remington, Dakota Arms, Marlin Firearms and Bushmaster. Bushmaster, which focuses on weapons designed to be used in military combat, has been a particular lightning rod for controversy: In 2002, Beltway snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo used a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle to shoot 13 people in the Washington, D.C., area. At the time, the company accepted no responsibility for the shootings, but paid $568,000 to the victims and their families.

A few years later, Aurora, Colo., gunman James Holmes used a Bushmaster AR-15 to kill 12 moviegoers and wound 58.

When Cerberus bought Bushmaster in 2006, the Aurora massacre was in the future and the Mohammad and Malvo shootings were out of the headlines. This Monday, however, the private equity firm announced plans to sell the weapons manufacturing company. The reason? Adam Lanza, the assailant at Sandy Hook Elementary, used a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle in his assault last week.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

Timing Your Spending

How to pay less by changing when you purchase.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

It was interesting to see that the commanders,leaders of the militia would be government employees who could exclude citizens from gun ownership.Even so the concept of local gun clubs responsible for training members and some control over who possesses these weapons is not unreasonable.The insane and the criminals should be denied the right to bear arms.Use of firearms for criminal enterprise should be made severely unpallatable.

January 21 2013 at 7:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If Gun laws work, why is there such a high incidence of gun related crime in Chicago with it's stringent gun laws, and an 89 percent drop in crime in Kennesaw Georgia, where a city ordinance requires the citizens to own and have a firearm in each residence. "Kennesaw Historical Society president Robert Jones said following the law's passage, the crime rate dropped 89 percent in the city, compared to the modest 10 percent drop statewide."

January 20 2013 at 11:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The article alludes to $6 million per day on medical costs for gunshot wounds. Why not break that down to numbers a person can really understand. The cost per victim treating a gunshot victim in the hospital ER, and that cost not from someone who likely has insurance. So it really becomes a cost picked up by taxpayers, and also in increased premium costs to businesses and individuals, since someone has to pay for it.

For Chicago, 2010 figures: According to the Chicago Fire Department, a gunshot wound requires either what is called an Advanced Life Support 1 run or an ALS 2 run.

An ALS 1 run is $775; an ALS 2 run, which is reserved for more severe wounds, is $950.

The Fire Department bills the people they transport, but one official said the chance of the bill being paid is slim.

Mount Sinai Hospital on Chicago’s Southwest side admitted 1,779 patients to its trauma center in 2009. Thirty-five percent of those had been shot or stabbed. On average, each gunshot victim that Mount Sinai treats, according to the hospital, costs an average of $12,000 to care for, with a majority of these patients uninsured or on Medicaid.

Costs in 1999 were estimated at $2.3 Billion dollars. It is much higher now. More recent cost data seems not to be available. Probably due to NRA lobbying stopping the collection of such data by the government.

January 17 2013 at 10:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Do the numbers of people shot include the number shot by police !

January 17 2013 at 7:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey, and 12,000,000 were killed through abortions in the same time frame. Both guns and abortion are legal, so which one is the worst. Abortion only killed 11,700,000 more than guns over the same period. The lying Communists(Democrats) only want to install a totalitarian regime on the United States and taking guns away from law abiding citizens is the first step.

January 16 2013 at 6:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ringo Lapua

Correction: Anybody who voted for and or supports President Obama and his gun ban ideas should not be allowed to own a gun by LAW. This would eliminate the crime infested side of the public from owning dangerous weapons. GOOD IDEA!

January 16 2013 at 10:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ringo Lapua

We all know that the government can do it better, RIGHT? If so, I have a suggestion! Since most of President Obama's supporters are lower income, lower educated folks (about 51% of the voting public), I suggest that we make gun control mandatory for all Obama supporters. We all know that most crime results from the lower income side of America (check police, crime and prison statistics), which are incidentally, Obama supporters, so this would make good sense. Obama & co. will promise to protect you now that you are unarmed. Since most concealed weapons holders and NRA members are also the most educated and civilized people in the USA, you would have nothing to be worried about from them and since your dangerous brethren are now unarmed, you can rest in peace. Pass this on to President Obama and his genius VP , vocal Joe Biden since they always welcome good ideas! I WOULD VOTE FOR THIS!

January 16 2013 at 10:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rick Laviolette

281,757 subtracting minus 59% are suicides so - 166,232, that leaves 115,525 shootings of others.
How many were accidental shootings?
In the U.S. for 2010, there were 31,513 deaths from firearms, distributed as ... Accidental shooting deaths so 115,525 minus 31,513 accidental for 2010=
These are the people who shoot people which are not accidental: 84,012 shootings.
It is a lot but still not your highwater mark.

December 23 2012 at 10:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rick Laviolette's comment
Rick Laviolette

Since the number I used was for 2010 and the median average is 10,000 for each year of the decade, that would reduce accidental shootings from the equation and leave 15,000 for the decade that were possible homicides or homicides. I hate numbers.

December 23 2012 at 10:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Over these many years, we have been told by the highly educated that each of these people were mentally ill therefore, why are so many mentally ill allowed to walk the streets and many live on the streets. When Geraldo Ravera, exposed what was going on at "Willowbrook", he did a wonderful thing however what followed was not so wonderful, many mental hospitals were closed and laws changed & do not call for these sick people to have to take their medications, which sounds good however then they actout and beaufitul little children and adults wind up DEAD! Since we have been told that all these people who have killed our school children have been sick, it is time to have them hospitalized before more of our children are dead at their hands!!!

December 21 2012 at 7:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
concerned citizen

Here's some better articles... This one is for the Obama crowd that think taxing the rich will solve world hunger.....

Both of these written by "liberal gun owners"

December 21 2012 at 10:02 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply