U.S. Gun Deaths Reached a Record High in 2017

A student holds up a sign during a gun control rally at the U.S. Capitol last March, held after the Parkland school shooting
A student holds up a sign during a gun control rally at the U.S. Capitol last March, held after the Parkland school shooting
Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

The number of Americans who were killed by firearms in 2017 reached a record high, according to a recent CNN analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were almost 40,000 gun-related deaths last year. The majority of these deaths were suicides.


CNN looked at the CDC’s WONDER database, which pools together data on annual deaths, births, and the prevalence of certain illnesses within the U.S. collected from state and local health agencies. Their analysis was actually a replication of one conducted by the nonprofit advocacy group Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (EFSGV) earlier in December.

Both CNN and EFSGV’s analysis found that 39,773 people had reportedly died by guns in 2017. It’s the highest number of gun deaths ever recorded in the U.S. going back to 1979, when the CDC began keeping track of these deaths under the current system.

“In 2017, nearly 109 people died every single day from gun violence,” the EFSGV said in a statement following the release of its analysis. “Gun violence is a public health epidemic that requires a public health solution, which is why we must immediately enact and implement evidence-based interventions—like permit-to-purchase policies and extreme risk laws.”

Tragic mass shootings have certainly become more common in recent years. But in reality, the greatest risk of dying from a firearm remains self-inflicted. More than half—23,854—of the gun deaths in 2017 were suicides, while 14,542 people were killed in a homicide (the remaining deaths were categorized as accidents, undetermined, or deaths caused by law enforcement officials while on duty).

The higher toll in 2017 might be partly the result of a larger population, but it’s also the case that people are now more likely to die from guns than they were in the recent past. The annual age-adjusted rate of gun deaths per every 100,000 people jumped from 10.3 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 12 deaths per 100,000 in 2017, CNN reported. The trend seems to be reversing a long-running decrease in gun violence seen starting in the 1990s.

Lawmakers have tried to pass harsher gun regulations in recent years, particularly following mass shootings, but have mostly failed, thanks largely to Republican opposition buoyed by the lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Predictably, in response to the analysis, the NRA was quick to counter with a statement that avoided taking any responsibility.


“Gun control laws are not the answer,” the organization tweeted last week, ignoring a wealth of evidence showing that gun control laws can have a positive impact on gun deaths, especially those caused by suicide. “If we want to prevent more horrific acts of violence our leaders need to stop demonizing the men and women of the @NRA and find solutions that will save lives.”

Meanwhile, at least 12 people were injured in mass shootings in the U.S. this past weekend, with one person dying as a result, according to the Gun Violence Archive.





I suspect this will be a minority opinion. I don’t think gun control is the answer either, though for different reasons than “normal”. I don’t think making more laws is going to dissuade people from taking their own lives or from acquiring guns to use for crime.

I don’t have a “but if we do this...” answer. I think we need to work on changing society. We need to take the stigma away from seeking and getting help if you’re having thoughts of suicide. We need to make it very easy and widely known how to get that help.

We need prison reform. Stop disproportionately incarcerating black men over white. Get rid of privatized prison systems or change their incentives such that “more asses in beds” doesn’t mean more profits for them.

End the drug war.

This isn’t a simple problem and exclaiming we need gun control is a simple answer that won’t work.