Shooting tragedies such as the one in a small town outside of Portland this week, or last week’s in Seattle, spur raging debates on what to do about gun violence.
The latest highly debated claim is that there have been 74 school shootings since the Newtown massacre. While those numbers may be questionable, there’s little question that the U.S. is exceptional when it comes to the number of shootings, and shooting deaths, as Humanosphere reported earlier.
Amid the heated rhetoric and emotional conversations that happen in the wake of these horrific events, it’s important to start with what we do know for sure.
Many of the highly publicized shootings, such as those at UC Santa Barbara, Seattle Pacific University, and Reynolds High School in Oregon, were perpetrated by young men.
In fact, most of the victims of firearm murders in the US are men as well. Here’s a graph showing the breakdown of gun homicides in the US by sex in 2010.
Number of firearm homicides in the US by sex, 2010
While mass shootings attract a great deal of attention from the media here in America, is the problem overblown? The evidence suggests it is not. Gun violence is a leading cause of death among young men in the U.S.
Below is a square pie chart of deaths among men ages 15 to 19 in the US in 2010. Along with car accidents and suicide, gun deaths were one of top 3 causes of death in men in this age group.
Causes of death among 15-19 year-old men in the US, 2010
While gun violence and road traffic deaths are both major causes of death in young men, the US has made much more progress in reducing the latter than the former. Male death rates from road injury declined from 28 deaths per 100,000 people in 1990 to 20 per 100,000 in 2010. In comparison, firearm assault deaths in males fell from 11 deaths per 100,000 people in 1990 to 8 deaths per 100,000 in 2010.
In the US, action to reduce road traffic deaths has been much more aggressive than efforts to stem the tide of deaths from gun violence. The regulations put in place to prevent car accident deaths, such as vehicle safety standards and testing, licensing requirements, seatbelt and drunk driving laws, speed limits, and traffic law enforcement, contrast starkly with the regulations surrounding guns. In many places in the US, guns can be purchased without background checks through private sales.
Also, as noted in a recent talk given by Dr. Mark Rosenberg at the University of Washington, public health research on road traffic death prevention in the US is much more advanced than gun violence prevention research due to federal funding bans on research on gun violence. Dr. Rosenberg was the first permanent director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and is currently CEO of The Task Force for Global Health.
In the US, guns contribute to the excessive toll of violent deaths in men. The screen grab below compares rates of violent death from different causes (knives, firearms, and other forms of violence) in the US, Western European countries, Canada, and Australia.
Violent death rates in males, 2010
Dr. Charles Wellford, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, was editor of a 2004 report published by the National Research Council of the National Academies, and a gun owner himself. Wellford drove home this point in an interview with FactCheck.org: “If there were no guns, the lethality of crimes would be less,” says Wellford. “You can’t have a drive-by knifing.”
Gun violence accounts for a much larger percentage of deaths in young men in the US than it does in a country like the United Kingdom. Watch the video below to see the contrast between the two countries.
Note: Use the online data visualization tool to compare trends in the US to other countries: http://ihmeuw.org/20nh
Our failure to find solutions to the problem of gun violence in the US costs us nearly 14,000 lives a year. That number doesn’t even capture the number of accidental firearm deaths or suicides using guns. As Rosenberg noted in his UW lecture, research to find solutions to gun violence that respect the Second Amendment rights of American citizens is urgently needed.
Katie Leach-Kemon, a weekly contributor of global health visual information posts for Humanosphere, is a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.