Gun Violence in the United States
Gun Violence in the United States

Newsfeed display by CaRP Gun violence represents a major threat to the health and safety of all Americans. Every day in the United States, 93 people die from gunshot wounds, and an additional 240 sustain gunshot injuries. The fatality rate is roughly equivalent to that associated with HIV infection -- a disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized as an epidemic. In addition to the human suffering caused by these injuries and fatalities, gunshot wounds account for approximately $40 billion in medical, public service, and work-loss costs each year. In short, gun violence is a significant criminal justice problem and a public health problem.

In 1996 the most recent year for which data is available, 34,040 people died from gunfire in the United States. Of these deaths, approximately 54 percent resulted from suicide, 41 percent resulted from homicide, and 3 percent were unintentional. Firearm injuries are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. In addition, for every fatal shooting, there are roughly three nonfatal shootings.

Gun-related crime peaked in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Since that time, the United States has made steady improvement in reducing gun-related violence. Gun-related homicides have declined by 33 percent since 1993, including a 35-percent drop in handgun homicides. Meanwhile, from 1992 to 1996, murder rates declined by 20 percent, aggravated assaults by 12 percent, and the overall violent crime rate by 16 percent. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Uniform Crime Report data for 1997 show that these trends are continuing, with murder and robbery totals declining by 7 percent over the previous year and the total of all violent crimes declining by 3 percent. Nonetheless, gun violence remains a serious national problem.

The impact of gun violence is especially pronounced among juveniles and adolescents. The firearm homicide rate for children under 15 years of age is 16 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized countries combined. Among those ages 15 to 24, the U.S. firearm homicide rate is 5times higher than in neighboring Canada and 30times higher than in Japan, and the firearm homicide rate for the 15- to 24-year-old age group increased 158 percent during the 10-year period from 1984 to 1993. This contrasts with a 19-percent decline in gun-related homicides for those 25 and older. A teenager in the United States today is more likely to die of a gunshot wound than from all the "natural" causes of death combined.

Young African-American males have the most elevated homicide victimization rate of any race or gender group. Homicides involving firearms have been the leading cause of death for African-American males ages 15 to 19 since 1969.

There are approximately 44 million gun owners in the United States. This means that 25 percent of all adults, and 40 percent of American households, own at least one firearm. These owners possess 192 million firearms, of which 65 million are handguns. Among legal gun owners, the reasons given for owning or carrying a weapon include hunting, sports-related activities, and home protection. Among those who own handguns, 75 percent reported in a national survey that self-protection is the primary reason for owning a firearm.

Approximately 37,500 gun sales, including 17,800 handgun sales, are completed every day in the United States. The increasing number of gun owners has elevated the danger of guns being acquired illegally through robberies and burglaries. In 1994, more than a quarter-million households experienced the theft of one or more firearms; nearly 600,000 guns were stolen during these burglaries.

The number of youth who report that they carry weapons is significant. In 1997, 14 percent, or 1 in 7 male juveniles, reported carrying a gun outside the home in the previous 30-day period. In the inner city, the problem is more severe. One study involving 800 inner-city high school students reported that 22 percent said they carried weapons. An even greater number of convicted juvenile offenders reported carrying guns -- 88 percent, according to another study.

Firearms are readily available on the illegal gun market, and those who are most likely to possess guns are drug sellers and gang members -- overwhelmingly young and male. More than two-thirds of the respondents in one study of urban arrestees stated that the primary reason for owning and carrying a weapon is self-protection --a small number also reported using the weapon for drug trafficking or other illegal activities. Among arrestees overall, 23 percent of those who owned a gun said they had used one to commit a crime. Among juvenile drug sellers who owned a firearm, 42 percent reported using a gun in a crime; among gang members, 50 percent reported using a gun.

Although no national database contains detailed information about all the guns used in crimes, police records and surveys of offenders provide some insights on the types of firearms used in criminal offenses. In 1994, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms received more than 85,000 requests from police departments for traces of guns used in crime. More than three-fourths of the guns traced were handguns, and almost one-third were less than 3 years old. In 1994, the most frequent types of guns used in homicides were large caliber revolvers, but the number of large caliber semiautomatic guns is increasing.

In an early survey of incarcerated felons, 32 percent reported that they had acquired their most recent handgun by theft. A more recent survey reported that 13 percent of all arrestees, 25 percent of all juvenile arrestees, 29 percent of the gang members, and 30 percent of the drug sellers had stolen guns.

During the 1997-98 school year, the public was riveted by extensive media coverage of school shootings in Jonesboro, AR; West Paducah, KY; Pearl, MS; Springfield, OR; and Edinboro, PA. This spate of multiple shootings increased parental concerns about school safety. However, the 40 school shooting deaths in the 1997-98 school year fall within the midrange of total annual incidents since 1992. According to the National School Safety Center, violent deaths in school settings (suicides and homicides) declined 27.3 percent between the 1992-93 school year and the 1997-98 school year.

The high profile multiple shootings also have fueled public perceptions that children are in danger while attending school. In fact, youth in particular those who live in high-crime neighborhoods are safest while in school. A 2-year study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of school-associated violent death was less than one in a million.

Even if actual shootings at school are rare, the presence of guns in schools is not. One leading survey reveals that between 1994 and 1996, the percentage of 12th grade males that reported carrying a gun to school in the previous 4 weeks increased from 4.8 to 6.3, or roughly 1 in 17. Another survey tells us that 12.7 percent of student’s ages 12 to 19 reported knowing a student who brought a gun to school.

The drug market is a major contributor to the Nation's homicide rate. Indeed, the peak in homicides during the mid-1980's was directly related to the saturation of urban areas with the crack cocaine drug trade. Methamphetamine -- more powerful, more addictive, and easier to produce than crack cocaine -- is becoming a major drug of choice in urban, suburban, and rural communities. If the methamphetamine trade results in drug wars on the same scale as those of the 1980's, it is possible that homicide rates will begin to climb once more, as drug dealers are among those most likely to carry weapons.

Gangs have proliferated rapidly since 1980, when there were about 2,000 gangs with 100,000 members in 286 cities. By 1996, there were 31,000 gangs with 846,000 members in 4,800 cities and towns.

Gangs are more likely to recruit adolescents who own firearms, and gang members who are twice as likely to own guns for protection than non-gang members are more likely to carry guns outside their homes. The risk of being killed is 60 times greater among young gang members than in the general population and in some cities, far higher. For example, the St. Louis youth gang homicide rate is 1,000 times higher than the U.S. homicide rate.

Although not all gangs are drug organizations, gang membership appears to increase individual participation in drug use and trafficking, gun carrying, violence, and prolonged involvement in drug sales. Furthermore, gang activity is no longer a problem that is unique to urban communities. From 1989 to 1995, the percentage of students who reported that street gangs were present at school increased by 186 percent in suburban schools and 250 percent in rural schools. Gangs reportedly operate in 41 percent of urban schools, 26 percent of suburban schools, and 20 percent of rural schools. Long-term solutions to address the problem of gun violence must include a comprehensive approach to reducing the number of youth involved in gangs.

During the past decade, the epidemic of gun violence has led residents and law enforcement agencies in each of the communities to form a collaborative to find new solutions to this problem. In some cases, neighborhood residents determined to address the problem of gun violence and to take back their streets have driven these efforts.

In other communities, police, prosecutors, the courts, schools, health departments, public and private social service organizations, or members of the faith and business communities have spearheaded crime reduction efforts.

Regardless of who initiated the various crime prevention efforts, however, these communities have learned that each of these institutions contributes to the collaborative's ability to mobilize resources and implement strategies that produce desired outcomes. In particular, citizen participation in crime prevention efforts has been critical to their success and sustainability. Police can do their job more effectively when the community's priorities shape their actions. The subsequent development of trust enhances this partnership and results in greater police-community cooperation and mutual support.

These communities have also learned that their efforts must be long-term in order to be effective, and that capacity building in different sectors of the community is needed.
The comprehensive gun violence reduction programs is to incorporate multiple suppression and prevention strategies to address risk factors that are associated with violent criminal behavior, including aggressive behaviors at an early age, conflicts with authority, gun possession and carrying, gang membership, substance abuse, depression, exposure to violence, poor parental supervision, low academic achievement, truancy, delinquent peers, drug trafficking, and unemployment.

Rather than targeting one or two risk factors associated with gun violence, these collaboratives recognize that their efforts are likely to be more successful if they incorporate strategies that address both the supply and demand side of the illegal firearm market. They have therefore developed comprehensive, multiple-component programs that address the identified risk factors in multiple ways. Such program strategies include targeted police responses, surveillance of probationers, situational crime prevention using problem-solving strategies, parental supervision, peer mediation and conflict resolution, school-based interventions, community mobilization, legislation restricting youth access to guns, and tough sentences for crimes involving firearms.

Because gang membership is associated with violent behaviors, many of these comprehensive programs also include intervention strategies to reduce gang-related violence, including the development of geographically coded information systems to track gang violence, restricting gang members' access to firearms, enhancing prosecution of gang crimes, and punishing and monitoring offenders.

While these programs may vary in the degree to which the community is an integral part of their collaboratives, each of them has involved the community in assessing its gun violence problems or in implementing effective violence reduction strategies.


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Submitted: 06/21/06

Description: Gun violence represents a major threat to the health and safety of all Americans. Every day in the United States, 93 people die from gunshot wounds, and an additional 240 sustain gunshot injuries. The fatality rate is roughly equivalent to that associated with HIV infection -- a disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized as an epidemic.

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