Study: “Better medical care has kept gun deaths constant, but total number of people shot has risen dramatically in the United States”

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Browning GP 35 handgun. Photo from Wikipedia.

A study just out compiling data up to the year 2008 shows that the number of Americans killed by firearms has held stead or gone up slightly in recent years, but the total number shot has increased.

The overall change in numbers is not especially dramatic, but the statistical effect is important. If this trend continues, it could begin to appear that gun violence has dropped off while in fact it increases, depending on what statistic is use; What is dramatic is that it is a large number and little is being done about it. Here’s the data:

Number of people in the US shot, subset killed, by firearms (in thousands).

Year Shot Died
2000 104 29
2001 92 30
2002 89 30
2003 96 30
2004 94 30
2005 100 31
2006 102 31
2007 101 31
2008 110 32

So there are two trends here: There are more people being shot, and of those, more survive. A pragmatic outcome of this is that gun deaths, as a statistics, may artificially and inaccurately show diminished levels of gun-related violence. The reason for this “survival gap” is not fully studied but anecdotal evidence strongly suggests an explanation. According to the report, there have been significant advances in medical treatment of gunshot victims over the last 25 years, so a higher percentage survive. That’s nice, of course, but since many of these newly-survivable wounds are very serious, surviving victims are often disabled or otherwise chronically damaged.

Source; Violence Policy Center. 1012. More Guns, More Shootings: Better medical care has kept gun deaths constant, but total number of people shot has risen dramatically in the United States.

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12 thoughts on “Study: “Better medical care has kept gun deaths constant, but total number of people shot has risen dramatically in the United States”

  1. Sorry, but the title is sensationalism. It is difficult to tell if this is a one year blip or an actual trend that continues to today. With only an 8 year set of data, and the peak coming only at the end, drawing conclusions at this point is not proper.

    The number of people being shot as a percentage of total population from 2000 to 2008 started at 0.037% in 2000, dropped down to about 0.033% and held steady there (0.032 to 0.034) until 2007 with the jump to 0.036% in 2008. This is hardly “dramatic”.

    The survival percentages are actually similarly bland. They are, in order, 72, 67, 66, 69, 68, 69, 70, 69, 71 percent…which really doesn’t lend credence to the notion that people are surviving gun shots a whole lot better; and, outside of 2001 and 2002, actually remarkably steady.

    I’m actually all for appropriate gun control (much to my father’s chagrin), but these statistics are fairly weak and really require at least the 2009 data before anyone can tell if there is a new trend starting here.

  2. Norman, that is correct, and as far as I can tell, appropriate. The basic question is “how many people are killed with a gun” and “how has this number changed owing to intervention after the shooting”

    It is interesting to break it down, though. For instance, here is the number of deaths due to suicide:unintentinoal over the period 2000 – 2007, (suicide rounded off to the nearest thousand, unintentional in raw numbers):


    showing that suicide is stable, important (that’s a lot of people dying every year) but only a small percentage, while accidental deaths (hunting accidents, shooting self or other while cleaning gun, etc.) is relatively low.

    The thing about that number of unintended deaths is that they are so preventable. Well, the suicides too, of course, but the unintentional deaths could be significantly reduced with the most basic regulatory intervention.

  3. the trend is obvious. in 2000 the percentage killed was 72% and in 2002 it was 66%. that is a 6% improvement in 2 years. extrapolating the 6% decrease per two years means in 22 more years the percentage of deaths will decrease to 0%. we should try to shorten this time span. if we arm everyone when they go to kindergarten, medical professionals will get even *more* practice treating gun shot wounds. a 0% gun death rate could be attained in only two decades or less.

    if you don’t care about the thousands of lives this plan would save, think about the economic boon: more jobs in small arms production and medical science will bolster our economy.

  4. No.

    “There are more people being shot, and of those, more survive.”

    Evidently shooters are getting less accurate over time. Although at this rate it will take an age before there are no deaths.

  5. good point Greg. kindergartners would probably start out as very poor shots, which would help reduce the death rate. but as they entered middle and high school, their accuracy would improve and perhaps reverse the trend.

    i gotta rethink this.

  6. I’m with unbound. The data are way to erratic to claim any kind of trend here. Otherwise you have to ask what happened between 2000 and 2002 to cause doctors to temporarily become so much worse at treating gunshot wounds.

  7. Too small a sample. If claims are going to be made about people getting better at treating gunshot wounds over the past 25 years, we need a 25 year sample. The evidence must match the claim.

  8. I remember a radio interview with a senior (as in AARP member age) Peoria emergency room doctor who said he was seeing an increase in the calibre and power of handgun wounds over the years. When he started, lots of people shot with a .22 and now a lot more 9mm.

    Which is to say, if shooting numbers are going up and fatalities are holding steady, then trauma care has gotten really good.

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