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Update:Unintentional Firearms Fatalities: Accident Rates in the USA 94% Reduction 1933 to 2017

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Unintentional Fatalities with Firearms, Accident Rates 1933-2019 USA

This article is an updated version of the article published in January of 2017. Since then, the CDC corrected the number of fatal firearm accidents for 2014, the error being found and pointed out by Dr. John Lott.

The reduction of fatal firearms accidents is one of the great, unnoticed success stories of the last 85 years. The rate has of unintended firearm fatalities has been reduced by 94% since 1933.

It is not simple to determine the rate of fatal firearm accidents in the United States over the long term.  In the chart above, three sources were used. The first precise numbers were collected in 1933.

Rates and numbers from 1933-1987 are  available from Kleck, Point Blank Page 306 Table 7.1.

The numbers for 1981-2000 were found in An Analysis of Firearm-Related Accidents in the United States(pdf). Rates were calculated using Census figures. 

From 1999-2017 numbers were available in WISQARS, population for per capital rates was taken from U.S. Census figures.

For the overlap cases, the later source was used.  The overlap from 1981 to 1987 only had one anomaly. In 1982, Kleck listed 1757 accidental firearm fatalities; the Analysis of Firearm-Related Accidents listed 1756.  The 1999 and 2000 numbers for the Analysis and WISQARS numbers were the same.

The 1967 data point stands out as slightly bucking the long term trend of lower and lower fatal firearm accident rates.  Curiously, it was the year before the Gun Control Act of 1968 went into effect. The slight uptick may have aided in passage of the law.

The numbers are sparse in the early years. Before 1933 the numbers were estimated. There are gaps in the data. The first precise number is from 1933, then 1935, 1940, 1945, 1950, 1955, 1960, and 1965.  After 1965 the data is available for each year.

Between 1945, (the earliest figure available for per capita firearms, Kleck) to 2017 ( the latest figure, using BATFE numbers and Kleck’s methodology), the number of per capita firearms has risen from .35 to 1.28. There are more than 3.6 times as many firearms per person in the United States today, than there were in 1945.

During the same period, the per capita rate of fatal firearm accidents has declined from 1.84 per 100,000 to .15 per 100,000, over a 91% drop.  Using the earliest number, form 1933, the drop has been 94%. 

In comparison, fatal vehicular accident rates have dropped from 23.687 per 100,000 in 1933 to 11.40 per 100,000 in 2017, or a drop of 52%. That is a substantial drop, but not as impressive as the drop in fatal firearm accidents.

We know that the number of miles driven has increased significantly; we do not have similar figures for the amount of ammunition consumed.

In 2014, the CDC record shows a coding error. The number was stated as 586, but John Lott, who detected the error and informed the CDC, said the number should be no more than 486. The actual number corrected by the CDC, has been determined to be 461. That is now the lowest number and the lowest rate on record for the United States. The rate is .14 per 100,000 population.

The rate of fatal firearms accidents in 2015, 2016 and 2017 was flat at .15 per 100,000.

For those who wish the individual numbers by year, to create your own graphics, the numbers for all three sources may be found at the link below.

Data for Rate of Fatal Firearm Accidents.

There is considerable misinformation about how many fatal firearms accidents occur per year, especially for children. For children (less than 18 years old), it is a very small number, less than 96 per year.

©2019 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.


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  • wheeties

    utah started the first hunter safety course i think it was 1952 after the deer season when like 100 people got shot when ww2 vets would shoot anything that moved like they did during the war–friendly fire in battle takes a huge toll- now its rare to have people get shot during hunting season—”safety first”!!!

    • wheeties

      utah started the first hunter safety in 1957 after 120 were shot with 20 fatals during hunting season!!!!




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