The gun debate: 10 important facts to know about guns

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, 2,590 people have been killed by guns, 45 of them children. Photo: Flag at half-staff flies over Newtown, Conn. AP

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2013 — This week the Senate returns to once again tackle gun control through a series of proposed bills. The atmosphere in America crackles with tension as the two sides of the gun debate argue the issue before state legislatures and with their friends and neighbors over dinner. Because passions run high, there hasn’t been much room for compromise.

Part of the problem is that the country is at the mercy of conspiracy theories, misconceptions and fear. That means too often facts get lost in the heated rhetoric. It’s time to look at the cold, hard facts, not some talking points, but numbers and stats based on what we know from the research of the past twenty plus years. Some of it may surprise people on both sides of the debate.

1. How many people have been killed by guns since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.? How many children?

As of today, March 11, 2013, 2590 people have been reported killed by guns since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, almost three months to the day of the shooting rampage. Of that number, 45 are children, 25 more than the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook. 

2. Is it true that murders by guns are down?

Yes, the rate of murders by guns is declining in the U.S. As of 2011, the last year of such data, 4.7 per 100,000 people were shot to death. That means 8,583 homicides were caused by firearms out a total of 12,664 murders that year.

However, non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased in 2011 for the third straight year, and that rate is the highest since 2008 at 17.8 per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, the suicide rate with guns has increased to its highest number since 1998 with 50 percent of the suicides involving some sort of gun.

3. How many guns are manufactured in the U.S.?

In 2007, 3,717,831 guns were made. Today it is 6,107,512.

4. How many people own guns?

Gallup has been tracking gun ownership since 1991 and found that as of the fall of 2011, 34 out of 100  people own some sort of gun while 47 percent of households have guns, meaning another member(s) of the family has a gun. Of course, some of those people also own multiple guns.

Gun ownership is now tracking up for the first time in 1994.

Gun ownership is highest among Republicans, with 41 percent owning guns while 28 percent of Democrats own guns. Yet 43 percent of Republicans do not own guns nor have them in their homes, while 60 percent of Democrats do not have guns in their homes.

More men than women own guns, 46 percent to 23 percent.

As of 2011, Southerners are the biggest gun owners at 38 percent, then Midwesterners at 36 percent, next Westerners at 31 percent, and last Easterners at 29 percent.

5. How many people are hunters?

Surprisingly very few Americans are hunters, only 5 percent, or five out of every 100 people.

6. How many people support gun control?

Generally, the majority of Americans support gun control, but the level of support shifts, depending on what aspect of gun control is asked about.

Background checks for private and gun show sales: 83 percent support it and 15 percent oppose it.

Ban on assault-style weapons: 56 percent support a ban and 41 percent oppose it.

Ban on high-capacity ammunition clips: 53 percent support the ban and 44 percent oppose it.  

7. How many people belong to the NRA and how many of them support gun control?

Around 4.25 million people belong to the NRA, which represents about 5 percent of all gun owners.  

The most recent poll of NRA members, done last year, found that 74 percent of them support background checks.

8. How often are guns used in self-defense?

Not too often, according to the Harvard Research Center, which examined hospital and court records for criminals who had been shot by people defending themselves. While people say they want a gun for self-defense and there are millions of claims of such self-defense, research shows it is a rare event. More often than not, another type of weapon was used in defense rather than a gun. 

9. Do states with the toughest gun control laws have the lowest gun deaths by guns?

In one word, yes. The Journal of the American Medical Association this week released its report on gun deaths and gun laws, state by state, finding that a state like Louisiana that has one of most lax gun laws in the country has a gun fatality rate of 17.9 per 100,000 people, while the one with the fewest gun deaths was Hawaii, which with relatively high gun control restrictions only had 2.9 per 100,000.

“Critics of gun laws have said that gun laws don’t work, but our research indicates the opposite,” said study leader Dr. Eric Fleegler. “In states with the most laws, we found a dramatic decreased rate in firearm fatalities, though we can’t say for certain that these laws have led to fewer deaths.”

10. What country has the highest homicide rate by the use of guns? The lowest?

In the developed countries, U.S. almost holds that dubious distinction with a murder rate of 5.1 per 100,000 people. Estonia is highest at 6.3. After the U.S. comes Finland at 2.5 per 100,000, or half our murder rate.

You are twenty times more likely to be killed in the U.S. by a gun than in the other 31 developed countries.

Read more from Catherine Poe at Ad Lib

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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