Why the Gun Control Debate Overlooks Two-Thirds of Gun Deaths

Murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Dec. 12 2013 11:31 PM

The Missing 20,000 Gun Deaths

Homicide is only part of the gun violence issue—the smaller part.

Since the massacre at Newtown, Conn., Slate has scoured the Web for information on gun-related deaths and adding them to this interactive. As the months unfolded, it became clear that even though thousands of people were being added to our database, we were missing thousands more. Now that we’re hitting the one-year mark, the full extent of that deviation is clear: The CDC counts about 32,000 people killed with guns each year, while Slate’s database only has one-third of that. Why the huge discrepancy?

Earlier this month Slate launched an effort to categorize the gun deaths in our system. That effort verified the source of the discrepancy: suicides. We’ve missed nearly all gun-related suicides, because our information is based on media reports, and the media typically avoid reporting on suicides.

Our interactive reflects the picture the media paints of gun violence in America: One in which guns mostly kill homicide victims, with the occasional accidental death thrown in. But that’s immensely different than the reality of gun violence. In reality, two out of three gun deaths are suicides, not the one out of 10 our interactive suggests. This visual comparison highlights this huge difference:

The Media's Picture of Gun Violence

Deaths in Slate's Gun Deaths project. Apparent suicides are red.

The CDC's Picture of Gun Violence

Preliminary 2011 CDC data. Suicides are in red.

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The gun control debate in America often centers on homicide. But if the phrase “gun violence in America” brings to your mind pictures of mall shootings and school massacres and gang warfare, please remember the uncounted, unreported victims of guns in this country. 

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