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Setting the Record Straight: Debunking the NSSF on Gun Deaths

The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s recent comments about gun deaths require additional context

Earlier this month, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s trade association, published an article reviewing a National Safety Council report that shows unintentional shooting deaths dropped to near all-time lows in 2022. The NSSF uses this data point to suggest that the firearm industry has improved public safety through “secure firearm storage and safe firearm handling” campaigns. But the NSSF summary contains a number of statistical claims about gun violence that lack necessary context.

To learn more about the NSSF and its dangerous agenda, click here.

In this post, we use the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to debunk four of the NSSF’s most misleading statistics and emphasize the persistent issue of gun violence in the United States.

misleading statements

Claim #1: “Firearm related fatalities were at the third lowest on record in 2022.”

The NSSF article’s title provides the first misleading statistic. It states — incorrectly — that firearm-related fatalities were at near-record lows. While it is true that unintentional shooting deaths in 2022 were at their third lowest since at least 2003, those deaths make up less than 1% of overall shooting deaths. Analyses of firearm related fatalities should also include firearm homicides and suicides, which make up the vast majority of gun deaths.

Fact: Firearm deaths declined in 2022 compared to 2021 but were still at near-record highs.

According to the CDC, there were 48,204 firearm-related deaths in 2022, a 21% increase from 2018. Of those deaths, 56% were suicides, 40% were homicides, 1% were legal interventions, less than 1% were unintentional, and less than 1% had an undetermined intent.

Claim #2: “A person is 138 times more likely to be involved in an unintentional fatality with a motor vehicle than with a firearm.”

Nearly all motor vehicle deaths in the CDC’s Cause of Death database are categorized as unintentional deaths, but less than 1% of all firearm deaths are considered unintentional. Comparing the total number of motor vehicle traffic deaths to a small subset of firearm-related deaths is misleading.

Fact: In the United States, guns kill more people than traffic accidents do.

In 2022, 46,124 people died in motor vehicle traffic or other land transport incidents while there were 48,204 gun deaths in the United States. Firearm deaths have been higher than motor vehicle traffic deaths for at least the last five years.

Claim #3: Unintentional firearm deaths are declining, including “a decrease of 15.5 percent from 10 years ago and a 39.2 percent drop from 20 years ago.”

While these percentage declines are correct, they ignore the fact that half of the intervening years actually saw increases. In fact, in 2021 there were almost exactly as many unintentional shooting deaths as in 2012.

Fact: Unintentional shooting deaths have remained roughly flat over the last 10 years, and unintentional shootings by children are on the rise.

Unintentional firearm deaths in 2022 were 9% lower than in 2013, but the line between those years is anything but straight. In fact, two of the last three years — 2020 and 2021 — represented the highest levels of unintentional shootings since 2013.

A chart showing unintentional shooting deaths over time

Everytown Research’s #NotAnAccident database further shows that unintentional shootings by children are actually on the rise. From 2019 to 2023, the number of unintentional shootings by children increased by 35%, from 305 to 411.

Claim #4: Counting 18- and 19-year-olds as children overstates youth firearm deaths relative to motor vehicle deaths, and “when those statistics are corrected to include only youth ages 17 and under, motor vehicles still far surpass firearms as the leading cause of death.”

The NSSF claims that 18- and 19-year-olds, who experience high rates of gun violence, should be excluded from counts of gun deaths among children and teens, despite their still being teenagers. This definition not only runs counter to the World Health Organization’s standard, which considers anyone from the age of 10 to 19 an adolescent, but also ignores the fact that older teens are still in their youth. They are attending their senior proms, still on their parents’ health insurance, and just got their driver’s licenses.

Fact: Guns continue to be the leading cause of death for both children aged 1 to 17 and children and teens aged 1 to 19.

Even if we exclude 18- and 19-year-olds from shooting death totals, guns remain the leading cause of death for children and teens aged 1 to 17. But excluding 18- and 19-year-olds ignores the fact that far too many young people’s lives are being cut short by gun violence. Over the past decade, youth gun death rates have been on the rise, with child and teen firearm suicides in particular increasing by 43%.1CDC, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A percent change was developed using 2013-2022 crude rates for children and teens aged 0 to 19.

The NSSF uses misleading statements to minimize the harm of gun violence in our communities. The gun industry’s trade group attempts to persuade readers and the general public that gun violence is not an issue. But the facts tell a different story. They tell us that 120 people are shot and killed and another 200 are shot and wounded every day in the United States. The facts show that gun violence is a major issue across the country, and the majority of Americans believe it is time to adopt stronger gun safety laws to protect our communities.

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