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Just released Centers for Disease Control statistics show 32,351 Americans died from firearms in 2011, an increase of nearly 700 over 2010. Like decades of real statistics on who dies from guns, the latest numbers demolish the assumptions of the traditional gun debate.

More than half (53%) of America’s gun fatalities victimize those 40 and older. Four in 10 gun deaths are middle-aged suicides and accidents — by far the largest category. These types of self-inflicted shootings by parents and older relatives are both tragedies in themselves and leave families and children devastated. But they’re uncomfortable for leaders to discuss… so, silence.

What about the only kinds of gun violence that President Obama, the news media, and interest groups from the National Rifle Association to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America will talk about? School shootings, mass shootings, street shootings by youngsters and other children killing children,” kids stealing a gun from their parents’ storage and shooting themselves or another kid? Add these up, assume maximum numbers, and you arrive at the fact that fewer than 10% of all American gun killings fit the categories leaders and major interests want to talk about.

American gun deaths, 2011, by who died



Suicides/​accidents age 40+



Homicides, age 20 – 39



Suicides/​accidents age 20 – 39



Homicides, age 40+



Homicides age <20



All other gun deaths age <20



Source: Centers for Disease Control, WISQARS (2014) (includes 5 unknown age).

The highest rates of gun homicide are in the areas with highest rates of concentrated poverty: District of Columbia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. While some might point out that these are also states (DC excepted) with very lax gun control laws, there is no clear-cut pattern of gun murder rates related to strength of gun laws. Of the six largest states, Illinois (which has stricter than average gun control laws) has the highest gun murder rate (4.9 per 100,000 population), followed by gun-rights Florida (4.4), gun-control Pennsylvania (4.1), gun-control California (3.7), gun-rights Texas (3.3), and gun-control New York (2.5). Part of the problem is that guns used in a state’s murders often don’t originate in that state.

However, there does seem to be a correlation between strictness of gun laws and gun suicide rates. All 10 states with the highest gun suicide rates have weaker than average gun regulations, while all 10 of the states with the lowest gun suicide rates have stronger than average gun controls. But gun suicide, which is largely a middle-aged and older-adult behavior, is not what gun policy debaters want to debate.

Overall, the older age than expected age of most firearms victims and the difficulties in correlating gun homicide rates to gun regulations has created a reality that is not easily addressed through popular politics and advocacy. So, gun policy debaters have tacitly agreed to manufacture their own fictional world that better fits the ideologies and policies they want to front. We then wonder why, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America gets better so slowly.”