A recent report on firearm homicides in the US by the Department of Justice has been widely reported in the news. The main finding of the study was an overall 39% decrease in firearm homicides in the US between 1993 and 2011 (U.S. Department of Justice. Special Report: Firearm Violence, 1993 - 2011; May, 2013 - http://bjs.gov/...). Any reported decrease in US homicides is welcome news. Gun enthusiasts were quick to point out that this finding is important and significant because it shows a reduction in gun violence, and suggests there is a concomitant reduced need for further restrictions and regulations of guns sales and gun use.
Today, I will provide some historical data on fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries to show what I think are some interesting trends. The data on fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries, and fatal and non-fatal bicycle injuries comes from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the nation's premier institute of public health and epidemiology (www.cdc.gov). The data on gun sales in the US comes from the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (FBI-NICS).
Year - Fatal GS - Nonfatal GS - Fatal Bi - Nonfatal Bi - FBI - NICSOf Note:
2011 - 32,163 73,883 536,884 - 16.45 mil
2010 - 31,672 73,505 551 516,912 - 14.41 mil
2009 - 31,347 66,769 785 519,736 - 14.03 mil
2008 - 31,593 78,662 893 494,003 - 12.71 mil
2007 - 31,224 69,863 820 495,500 - 11.18 mil
2006 - 30,896 71,417 926 466,712 - 10.04 mil
2005 - 30,694 69,825 927 481,205 - 8.95 mil
2004 - 29,569 64,389 843 490,864 - 8.69 mil
2003 - 30,136 65,834 762 492,900 - 8.48 mil
2002 - 30,242 58,841 767 505,233 - 8.45 mil
2001 - 29,573 63,012 792 519,424 - 8.91 mil
2000 - 28,663 - - 740 - - 8.54 mil
1999 - 28,874 - - 800 - - 9.14 mil
1998 - 30,708 - - 825 -
1997 - 32,436 - - 898 -
1996 - 34,040 - - 809 -
1995 - 35,957 - - 906 -
1994 - 38,505 - - 825 -
1993 - 39,595 - - 905 -
1992 - 37,776 - - 790 -
1991 - 38,317 - - 917 -
1990 - 37,155 - - 928 -
1989 - 34,776 - - 875 -
1988 - 33,989 - - 953 -
1987 - 32,895 - - 1031 -
1986 - 33,373 - - 994 -
1985 - 31,566 - - 936 -
1984 - 31,331 - - 898 -
1983 - 31,099 - - 890 -
1982 - 32,957 - - 887 -
1981 - 34,050 - - 961 -
Legend: Fatal GS = Fatal Gunshot Injury; Non-fatal GS = Non-fatal gunshot injury; Fatal Bi = Fatal Bicycle Injury; Non-Fatal BI = Non-fatal Bicycle Injury; FBI-NICS = FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System
First I must apologize for the appearance of the data chart above. I do not know how to properly format a data table for this web-site. I will be much obliged if anyone can tell me how to make such a table in a dkos diary.
Trends in Fatal and Non-fatal Gunshot Injuries.
The data on fatal gunshot injuries goes back to 1981 and was most recently updated for the year 2011. The CDC has not yet made 2012 data on fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries available on its web-site. This data here includes ALL causes of gunshot injury: intentional, accidental, homicide, suicide, and police-related, for both sexes and all ages. A brief review of the column under fatal gunshot reveals that fatal gunshot injuries in the US have previously been much greater than they are today, reaching a peak of over 39,000 in 1993. In the following years, fatal gunshot injuries fell to a low of just over 28,000 in the year 2000. Since then, fatal gunshot injuries have risen steadily to where they are today at over 32,000.
Data on non-fatal gunshot injuries is only available for the years 2001- 2011. During that period of time, non-fatal gunshot injuries have risen steadily, in parallel with fatal gunshot injuries over the same epoch.
Interestingly, a similar trend was seen in the data recently reported by the Department of Justice on firearm homicide. From the DOJ report:
“There were 11,101 firearm homicides in 2011, down by 39% from a high of 18,253 in 1993. The majority of the decline in firearm-related homicides occurred between 1993 and 1998. Since 1999, the number of firearm homicides increased from 10,828 to 12,791 in 2006 before declining to 11,101 in 2011.”So after an initial drop in firearm homicides, from 18,000 in 1993 to over 10,000 in 1999, firearm homicides rose slightly until 2006 and then fell back to approximately where they were in 1999. Because the DOJ report used the same CDC data, it should be possible to extend the data on firearm homicides backwards from 1993 to 1981. If firearm homicides follow the trend of gunshot injuries (i.e. lower in the years before 1993), it is likely the overall decrease in firearm homicides is not as great as reported by the DOJ. The large over-time drop in firearm homicides reported by the DOJ might be the result of cherry-picking of the data.
Trends in Fatal and Non-fatal Bicycle Injuries.
For comparative purposes, I included the CDC data on fatal and non-fatal bicycle injuries. I choose bicycles because I figured bicycles were approximately as ubiquitous in the US as are guns, but unlike guns, bicycles are not purpose-built to cause injury. Reviewing the columns for fatal and non-fatal bicycle injuries, it is difficult to discern any overall trend, except to note that fatal bicycle injuries were lower in 2010 than at any time previously. Both fatal and non-fatal bicycle injuries jump around a good deal, but do not show any overall trend upwards or downwards.
FBI-NICS data and Gun Sales.
I wanted to see if there were trends over time in guns sales. Getting good reputable data on gun sales is difficult. I choose the FBI-NICS data as a surrogate marker for guns sales. Since the background check law was instituted in 1999, anytime someone wishes to purchase a firearm from a federally-licensed firearm dealer, that dealer must make a background check through the FBI to see if the would-be gun consumer is eligible to purchase a gun or explosives. The FBI-NICS numbers tell us how many of these background checks were made every year. It is important to note that the FBI-NICS data does NOT tell us how many guns were actually sold, only how many background checks were made. In addition, the FBI-NICS data only reflects gun purchases at federally-licensed gun dealers; background checks are not made during private guns sales, and sales made at gun shows and non-licensed dealers. The advantages of using the FBI-NICS data is that the data covers the entire nation, the data is available back to the year 1999, the FBI is generally viewed as an accurate and unbiased source. The FBI-NCIS data is also advantageous because it provides a very conservative estimate of gun sales: it underestimates actual gun sales because the FBI-NICS data only covers some, not all dealers. Additionally, I choose to use the FBI-NICS data because I could find no better data: I will happily use a more direct measure of national gun sales, if anyone knows of a better source for such data. If we accept the FBI-NICS data as a surrogate marker of guns sales, we see an unmistakable upward trend in gun sales since 1999.
I had previously looked at statistical parallels of the gunshot injury and gun sales data (here; http://www.dailykos.com/...). Both fatal gunshot injuries and non-fatal gunshot injuries were found to be highly positively correlated with gun sales as measured by the FBI-NICS data: (fatal gunshot injuries and FBI-NICS data Pearson's r = 0.741, p = 0.0009; non-fatal gunshot injuries and FBI-NICS data Pearson's r = 0.645, p = 0.0012). A positive correlation means the data moves together (on average): as one number goes up, the other number is also observed to go up, and as one number goes down, the other number goes down. So, on average, as gun sales in the US have increased, both fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries have also increased. It follows that should there be a decrease in gun sales in the US, we would also see a decline in both fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries. This correlation does not explain why gunshot injuries rise or fall, it only tells us that there exists a strong association between gun sales and gunshot injuries.
- Firearm homicides have fallen since 1993. Almost all of the reported decrease in firearm homicides since 1993 occurred during the years 1993 – 1998. Since 1999, firearm homicides have been essentially flat, or exhibited a small (perhaps statistically insignificant) increase.
- The headline news that firearm homicides have declined 39% since 1993 is somewhat misleading because it masks the trends in firearm homicides observed during the years 1993 – 1998 and 1999 – 2011. Moreover, the reported overall decline in firearm homicides is likely to be smaller if one includes the available data back to 1981
- Fatal gunshot injuries have similarly declined since 1993. Like firearm homicides, there was a large decrease in fatal gunshot injuries during the years 1993 – 1998. However, since 1999, there has been a statistically significant increase in both fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries.
- Bicycle injuries, both fatal and non-fatal, have not exhibited any trends upwards or downwards over the same time period.
- The increase in both fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries is highly correlated with gun sales as measured by the FBI-NICS data..
- While firearm homicides have decreased since 1993, today we experience over 100,000 gunshot injuries, of which over 32,000 are fatal. We can expect on average over 1 in 1000 Americans to be killed in a gunshot injury. Examining firearm homicides alone is a poor way to assess gun policy in the US.