Although our nation is making great strides on leading issues such as access to affordable health care, marriage equality, and fair wages, progress on reducing gun violence has been woefully inadequate. Firearm-related deaths and injuries continue at an intolerably high level. 33,000 Americans die from guns every year, a burden that has remained relatively unchanged for over a decade; that’s more than 90 people a day killed in homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings.1
A closer examination of the causes of these deaths reveals some important trends. Over the past decade, the rate of firearm homicide has continued a steady decline. At the same time, the firearm suicide rate has begun rising, increasing more than 14 percent between 2006 and 2014. The combination of these two trends is keeping the overall gun death rate essentially stagnant.2
The number of suicides by firearm has exceeded the number of firearm homicides for at least the past 30 years. However, as illustrated in Figure 1, the gap is now widening. In 2006, 55 percent of firearm-related deaths were suicides; by 2013, suicides accounted for about two of every three gun deaths, the highest share since at least 1981.3
Despite suicide being the leading cause of firearm-related death in the United States,4 the subject has been largely absent from the national conversation on gun violence. This is hardly surprising given that high profile tragedies like mass killings and school shootings tend to fuel public perceptions of gun violence. However, if we want to dramatically reduce the number of deaths caused by guns, we need to put as much focus on preventing firearm suicides as we do on firearm homicides.
*2014 is the most recent year for which data are available. Data were obtained from the CDC Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, which lags two years behind the current year.