Gun deaths in the US are at an all-time high, but it’s not because more people are shooting each other, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Instead, they’re turning the weapons on themselves.
Firearms killed a record high of 39,773 people in 2017, according to the CDC’s WONDER database, which has only tracked gun deaths since 1979.
While mass shootings get most of the media attention, 60 percent of those deaths by firearm were suicides. Here, too, the numbers are on an upswing, with almost 24,000 people killing themselves with a gun in 2017, the highest figure in 18 years.
That doesn’t mean 2017 wasn’t also a banner year for gun homicides. The deadliest mass shooting in US history saw 58 people gunned down at the Mandalay Hotel in Las Vegas, and a total of 14,452 people were killed in gun homicides during the year, compared to 11,000 in 2010.
Access to a gun in the home increases the odds of suicide more than threefold, according to Dakota Jablon, policy analyst for the Education Fund to Stop Gun Violence. The group’s analysis of the CDC statistics showed the highest rates of gun suicides were found in three states that have the highest rates of gun ownership: Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming. While correlation does not imply causation, the impulsive nature of suicide attempts – studies have shown the decision is often made within minutes – means easily-accessible guns can make a difference between a successful attempt and a passing urge.
While white men are the most likely to use a firearm to commit suicide, dying at a rate of 14 per 100,000 compared with black men at 6.1, they are nearly ten times less likely to die in a firearm homicide.
This year is on track to give 2017 a run for its money, according to a study by the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security that found 94 incidents of gun violence in American schools alone so far. Their database defined a “gun violence incident” as one where a firearm is “brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason.” This year has already outstripped the previous record-holder, 2006, by 60 percent, largely driven by February’s Parkland school shooting.