Facts about guns

I’ve recently come across some pretty surprising statistics regarding guns and violence, so I’ve decided to compile some of them here. I might update this if I run across more interesting things in the future.

  • Guns probably save many more lives than they end. Source (CDC and the National Research Council) and source (1995 criminology paper).
    • There are an estimated 500,000 to 3,000,000 defensive gun uses per year, and only about 300,000 violent gun crimes per year.
    • Defensive uses of guns in the US save around 162,000 lives per year (based off self-report), while overall non-suicide gun deaths only result in 11,000 deaths per year. Estimates of lives saved don’t include any military service, police work, or work as a security guard.
    • Defensive gun use reliably reduces injury rates among gun-using crime victims.


  • 1994 imposition of five-day waiting periods for firearms didn’t reduce the overall suicide rate. Source (paper in AMA journal).


  • Homicides have been on the decline for years, and guns aren’t nearly as dangerous as we think. Source (Freakonomics podcast).
    • There have been an average of 2 mass shootings and 16.5 fatalities a year from mass shootings (excluding gang shootings and armed robberies).
    • Any particular handgun in the US will kill somebody about once every 10,000 years.
    • A given swimming pool is 100 times more likely to lead to the death of a child than a particular gun is to lead to the death of a child.
    • Gun buyback programs are horribly ineffective – typically saving an estimated .0001 lives.


  • The “more likely to have your gun used against you” meme is super misleading; it refers to the increased chance of suicide in the home for men with guns, not intruders wielding your gun against you. Source for one of the original findings.


Side note: Upon reflection, I’m super suspicious of the 162,000 lives/year saved number. Obviously measuring the counterfactual “would you have died if not for X?” is hard, but the number seems impossibly large when you think about the current murder rate… it corresponds to almost an extra 50 per 100,000 where the current homicide rate is 4.9 per 100,000. The cited study looks at self-reported potential fatality, which seems quite plausibly skewed upwards (if people tend to exaggerate the lethality of their encounters).

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