Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
The pre-Christmas slaughter of 20 elementary school children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school has renewed public debate over how to prevent future mass killings with guns.
On Jan. 14, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, now chaired by Warrensville Heights Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, weighed in on that question by delivering a series of speeches on the House of Representatives floor that decried a U.S. "culture of violence."
Newly elected Columbus Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty used the opportunity to deliver her first oration on the House of Representatives floor. In it, she lamented that "mass killings have gone from being an extremely rare occurrence to a common occurrence," and suggested the U.S re-examine its funding for mental health services, place adequate controls on ammunition and "ensure proper and tighter access to firearms."
"According to Harvard Health Policy Review, each year approximately 30,000 people in the United States die as a result of gunfire, and about 80,000 people are wounded," the former Ohio state legislator noted, applauding President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for "proactively taking the necessary steps to address this critical issue."
We wondered whether Beatty’s statistics were accurate, so we decided to track them down.
We soon found an article in the Fall 2001 issue of Harvard Health Policy Review, titled The Costs and Benefits of Reducing Gun Violence, that begins with the exact wording used by Beatty - "Each year, approximately 30,000 people in the United States die as a result of gunfire and about 80,000 are wounded." But the date of that article gave us pause. The numbers it cited were more than a decade old. We wanted to find more recent numbers.
We turned to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics to verify the information. The latest available version of its data says there were 31,672 firearms deaths in the United States during 2010, a ratio of 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people. That number is a bit higher than the number Harvard Health Policy Review cited in 2001, although it is certainly in the ballpark.
The second set of CDC data we examined tracks non-fatal gun injuries. By the CDC’s reckoning, there were 73,883 non-fatal firearm injuries in 2011, a rate of 23.7 injuries per 100,000 people. That number is a bit lower than the number Beatty cited from the Harvard Health Policy Review, although it isn’t too far off. If the number of non fatal injuries from BB or pellet guns were added into the mix, the number of injuries from 2011 would exceed Harvard’s estimate of 80,000 yearly wounds from gunfire. According to CDC, 16,451 people in the United States were hurt by pellet guns - about 5.3 incidents per 100,000 people.
Beatty accurately represented the statistics printed in Harvard Health Policy Review, even though its tally was more than a decade old. More recent data indicates those numbers haven’t changed much over the years. We rate her statement Mostly True.
The Congressional Record, CBC Hour: A Culture of Violence, Jan. 14, 2013
USA Today, Mass killings occur in USA once every two weeks, Dec. 19, 2012
The Washington Times, DUWE: Seven mass shootings in 2012 most since 1999, Jan. 3, 2013
PolitiFact, "Nearly 100,000 people get shot every year. That's 270 people a day and 87 dead," July 23, 2012
Harvard Health Policy Review, The Costs and Benefits of Reducing Gun Violence, Fall 2001; Volume 2, Number 2
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FastStats on All Injuries, accessed Jan. 31,2013
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WISQARS Nonfatal Injury Reports (main search page), accessed Jan. 31, 2013
Interview with Rep. Joyce Beatty’s spokesman Greg Beswick, Feb. 1 and Feb. 6, 2013
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.