U.S. Gun Deaths are Mostly Suicides, not Homicides
It does differ by state, though
Looking at the last few decades, while it fluctuates a bit, suicides still maintain their pride of place, as it were:
The “other” category includes accidental gun deaths (hunting accidents, kids goofing around, etc.), legal interventions, and gun deaths where intention was unclear. This totals 5% or less of total gun deaths in the U.S.
That is, 95% or more of gun deaths have been either suicides or homicides over this period.
On average, 58% of gun deaths have been suicides from 1999-to 2021. On average, 38% have been homicides.
Differences across the country
That said, that’s for the entire country. The United States is large, and has some very big differences in gun death patterns by state.
I grabbed 2019, 2020, and 2021 for comparisons, using the percentage of gun deaths that were suicides to show the differences:
In this 2019 map, we see the states where suicides are less than the majority of gun deaths: Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, DC, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
To the other extreme, where suicides are a high percentage of gun deaths tends to be northwards.
Once we get to the pandemic year of 2020, we see things take a shift.
Part of this is due to a dip in suicide rates in general, as well as a large increase in homicide rates simultaneously.
The relative pattern is similar.
2021 looks a lot like 2020, but it’s getting darker again. This may indicate a drop in homicide rates…. or an increase in suicide rates. That’s the trouble with this sort of metric.
As it is, the 2021 numbers are still provisional, as the homicide and suicide numbers are definitely suppressed for November and December 2021 still, and a few of the states may not have full 2021 reportage yet on death certificates.
What’s the point?
The point here is to provide some correct, baseline statistics.
Many people make assumptions about mortality because of what their “gut” tells them, without any experience whatsoever. “It just makes sense”, they think — media covers gun homicides, especially mass homicides, more frequently than the gun suicides that go on in many communities, often quietly. So they figure that homicide by gun must be much higher than suicide.
No, suicides by gun have been higher than homicides for a very long time.
There are age disparities in who dies by homicide and suicide, too, which I’ve addressed in other posts (scroll down for links). The homicide victim ages probably accord with what you think. I’m betting suicides do not (unless you’ve been reading my posts for a while).
It’s fine not to want to argue statistics about gun deaths, but if you are going to use statistics, please use correct ones.
All data were gathered from CDC Wonder as of 2022 May 16, using underlying cause of death with Injury Mechanism & All Other Leading Causes: Firearm. Results were aggregated at the national and state level, and by year. In general, CDC Wonder suppresses results where there are fewer than 10 deaths.
The death data for 1999-2020 are complete, but the data for 2021 are provisional. For gun deaths, the deaths for November and December 2021 will still be censored as of May 2022 due to standard practice. That said, the prior ten-month results are probably a pretty good indication for the full year. Some states do lag more than others in reporting their death certificate statistics to the CDC, but I don’t think they differ too much with respect to gun deaths.
Suicide and Homicide stat links
Mortality Nuggets: Videos on Suicide Rate Trends, Society of Actuaries Report, and Fixing Their Graph — there are a variety of mortality trends covered in video form here, and suicide rate trends are in the first video.