Reliable gun violence statistics

Newtown kid victimsFebruary 12, 2013 By Steven E. Greer, MD

In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre of 20 first graders and six brave adults, the debate over gun control is the main topic of the news. Consequently, both sides of the debate are using statistics to support their arguments. However, gun violence statistics are quite often inappropriately cited by untrained “pundits” or lobbyists.

A summary of some of the most important evidence and data:

  • The 1994 Crime Bill and ban on assault weapons was so full of loopholes as to render it a non-law
  • Deaths from guns is on the rise. Since 2007 and the economic depression, mass shootings by a lone gunman have skyrocketed.
  • For every one person killed by a gun, at least 5 more are hospitalized and linger with serious ailments related to paralysis, etc. (see stats below)
  • The cost to America from gun violence exceeded $20 Billion, back in 1996 (see stats below).
  • It is almost impossible to obtain a gun for personal use in England, other European countries, Japan, Indonesia, and Australia. The death rate from guns in those countries is far less than the United States, more than 20 times lower.
  • More guns are associated with more homicides
  • Guns in the home triple the risk of another family member being killed by a gun (10)
  • Images of violence unquestionably lead to increased aggressive behavior
  • Violent video games increase aggression and rude behavior (12) (13)
  • The CDC is prohibited from collecting data and doing research on gun violence due to laws passed by the NRA that restrict the CDC budget (11)
  • After Australia banned high-power guns in 1996, suicides have dropped by 74%, and there have been no further mass shootings.
  • States with stronger gun laws have lower gun violence rates (14)

To assist journalists and researchers, we are compiling a list of pertinent facts and reliable sources. The American College of Physicians published a lengthy position paper on gun violence in 1996, before evidence of the efficacy of the 1994 crime bill could be gathered. In it, the paper lists (all of the below are directly from the ACP’s 1996 position paper, used with permission from the ACP):

Background:  An Epidemic of Gun Violence

  • From 1968 through 1991, the number of firearm-related deaths increased by 60% (from 23,875 to 38,317). 1
  • In 1994, 39,720 Americans were killed with firearms.8
  • Handguns were used to murder 13,593 people
  • 20,540 Americans committed suicide using firearms, and 1,610 people were killed accidentally with guns.
  • For each fatality involving firearms, there are twice as many people with firearm-related injuries who require hospitalization and five times as many requiring outpatient care. 2
  • One study estimates that there were 151,373 persons treated in hospital emergency rooms in the United States in a one-year period for non-fatal gun-related injuries. 4
  • Handgun homicides increased 25% from 1990 to 1994.
  • Almost half of all murders of those under the age of 18 in 1994 involved handguns; a decade earlier, handguns were involved in one-quarter of such murders. 3
  • Firearms were involved in 65% of the suicides in 1992 among those under the age of 25. Suicides among this age group have been increasing and the acquisition of guns make suicide attempts more successful.
  • From 1980 to 1992, the suicide rate for 15-19-year-olds increased 28%
  • A study in Oregon from 1988 to 1993 found that 78% of suicide attempts with firearms were fatal, compared to a 0.4% fatality rate in suicide attempts by drug overdose. 4
  • The financial costs of both fatal and non-fatal firearm-related injuries in 1990 were estimated to be $20.4 billion. 5 This included $1.4 billion for direct medical care for non-fatal injuries and $19 billion for indirect costs associated with morbidity and mortality (including lost future earnings).  The direct costs alone were estimated to be $4.0 billion in 1995. 6
  • A recent one-year study showed that the average hospitalization for non-fatal firearm injuries in California lasted six days in 1991.
  • Per-patient charges averaged $17,888.
  • Publicly sponsored programs paid for the care of 56% of these patients; 25% were uninsured.
  • Males accounted for 90% of the hospitalizations, and 72% of the males were aged 15 to 24 years.
  • Black males were eight times more likely than white males to be hospitalized with a firearm-related injury, and black males aged 15-24 were 14 times more likely. 7

But, the statistics mask the magnitude of the human pain and suffering involved and the tremendous amount of human and health care resources consumed by the epidemic of firearm violence.  In the movies and on TV, gunshot victims usually die instantly or quickly recover.  Reality is quite different.

  • Recovery can be very limited and may involve lifelong disability.
  • At George Washington Medical Center, a typical gunshot patient spends 16 days in the intensive care unit. 8
  • Each day in the intensive care unit can cost $1,500.  Hospital medications cost another $13,580; x-rays add $2,738; and miscellaneous supplies such as bandages and tubing add $16,280 more.  Nursing care, physical therapy and other services cost thousands more.  The hospital bill alone easily can exceed $100,000.  18
  • More than half of gunshot victims require expensive emergency surgery, such as laparotomies (average cost $41,000) and thoracotomies (average cost $26,000); about a fifth require subsequent surgery. 18
  • Victims with spinal-cord injuries typically become paraplegics; those shot in the neck can become quadriplegics.  These victims must have constant assistance in all of the activities of daily living:  eating, bathing, dressing, caring for their bodily functions and movement.  Someone must change their catheters, tracheotomy tubes and bladder bags.  Someone must suction their lungs several times a day to prevent pneumonia.  They are prone to infections and their muscles must be exercised to prevent atrophy.
  • The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center estimates that average medical costs for a high quadriplegic are $417,067 (in 1992 dollars) in the first-year and $74,707 for each year thereafter.  For a paraplegic, the first-year costs are $152,396 and $15,507 for each subsequent year.  Lifetime medical costs for a 25-year old quadriplegic would amount to $1.3 million (in 1992 dollars); for a 25-year old paraplegic the lifetime costs would be $427,700. (9)

(end of excerpts from the ACP paper)


The Healthcare Channel and CurrentMedicine.TV are working on gathering reliable gun facts since the above referenced 1996 paper from the American College of Physicians. The impact, or lack thereof, of the 1994 assault weapons bill has been a hot topic in the news. It is important to know all of the limitations of that law which rendered it impotent at truly banning assault weapons. We will have more on that later.

The impact of stricter gun laws on murder rates in Europeans and Australian societies is also mentioned in the news. We are working on gathering the best sources of statistics for those facts as well.


[1] Fingerhut LA, Jones C, Makue DM.  Firearm and motor vehicle injury mortality: variations by state, race and ethnicity: United States 1990-91. In: Advance Data From Vital and Health Statistics of the National Center for Health Statistics.  Rockville, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Health Resources Administration, 1994;242:1-12.

[2] Rice DR, MacKenzie EJ.  Cost of Injury in the United States: A Report to Congress. San Francisco: Institute for Health and Aging, University of California; Baltimore, MD: Injury Prevention Center, Johns Hopkins University;1989.

[3] Lawrence GA.  Child Victimizers: Violent Offenders And Their Victims, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 1996.

[4] From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Fatal and non-fatal suicide attempts among adolescents — Oregon, 1988-1993.  JAMA.  1995;274:452-3.

[5] Max W, Rice DP.  Shooting in the dark: estimating the costs of firearm injuries.  Health Affairs (Millwood). 1993;12:171-85.

[6] Kizer KW, Vassar MJ, Harry RL, Layton KD.  Hospitalization charges, costs and income for firearm-related injuries at a university trauma center.  JAMA. 1995;273:1768-73.

[7] Vassar MJ, Kizer KW.  Hospitalizations for firearm-related injuries.  JAMA.  1996;275:1734-39.

[8] Headden S.  Guns, money and medicine.  U.S. News & World Report.  1 July 1996.

[9] National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center

[1o ] Kellermann AL, et al Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. NEJM 1993 Oct 7;329(15):1084-91.

[11 ] Kellermann AL, et al Silencing the Science on Gun Research. JAMA 2012; 2012 Dec 21:1-2. doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.208207. [Epub ahead of print] No abstract available.

[12] Barlett CP, et al Effects of realism on extended violent and nonviolent video game play on aggressive thoughts, feelings, and physiological arousal. Aggress Behav. 2009 May-Jun;35(3):213-24.

[13] Willoughby T et al A longitudinal study of the association between violent video game play and aggression among adolescents. Dev Psychol. 2012 Jul;48(4):1044-57. doi: 10.1037/a0026046. Epub 2011 Oct 31.

[14] Fleegler E, et al “Firearm legislation and firearm-related fatalities in the United States” JAMA Intern Med 2013; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1286.

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