Survey | Politics | Health

APM survey: AMERICANS’ views on KEY GUN POLICIES

Part 2: Knowledge of gun-related deaths

 
African Americans, women, and those from lower-income households are less likely to know that suicides are the leading cause of gun-related deaths.

African Americans, women, and those from lower-income households are less likely to know that suicides are the leading cause of gun-related deaths.

Oct. 2, 2019

Our nonpartisan, nationally representative survey provides new information about the American public’s opinions about gun policies and behaviors among those who own guns (or live with those who do). The survey was conducted July 16 to 21, 2019, just two weeks prior to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. It covered several topics which will be released in waves. This is the second release; the first release on “red flag” laws and characteristics of gun owners can be found here.


What Americans know about gun-related deaths

Although suicides account for the majority of gun deaths in the United States—60% in the latest data—by and large American adults are unaware of this. In our survey, only one-fourth of Americans correctly answered that gun deaths by suicide outnumber deaths resulting from mass shootings, murders other than mass shootings, and accidental gun discharges. This is no better than guessing at random from among the four choices given.

The most common answer to the question, “As far as you know, which of the following is responsible for the most gun deaths in the United States?” is “murders other than mass shootings,” with one-third of American adults believing this is the leading cause of gun death. One-quarter think “mass shootings” are the leading cause of gun-related deaths. Fourteen percent believe that “accidental discharges” of guns account for more gun deaths than the three other categories offered in the question.

Although suicides account for the majority of all gun deaths in the United States, most Americans believe mass shootings or other homicides are more common

suicides-lead-gun-deaths-graph.jpg

Awareness of suicide’s toll, by group

None of the groups we are able to examine in this survey showed a high awareness that suicide is the leading cause of gun-related deaths. There are, however, some differences in levels of knowledge about gun-related deaths:

  • Men are somewhat more aware than women that suicide is the leading cause of gun deaths; 28% of men compared to 18% of women answered the question correctly.

  • Parents with children living at home are somewhat more aware that suicide is the leading cause of gun deaths than those who are not parents of children living at home (30% compared with 21%).

  • Whites and Latinos are considerably more aware that suicides are the leading cause of gun deaths than is the case for African Americans. Only 4% of African Americans correctly identify suicides as the leading cause of gun-related deaths in the U.S.; 53% believe that “murders other than mass shootings” are the leading cause of gun deaths.

  • Although Republicans and Democrats differ markedly in their preference for various gun-related policies, and Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to own a gun, constituents of the two major parties do not differ markedly in their knowledge of gun-related deaths.

  • Gun owners are more likely than those who do not own a gun or those who live with someone who owns a gun to know that suicides are the leading cause of death (29% compared to 20%). Those without a gun in their household are most likely to think that mass shootings are the leading cause of gun deaths.

African Americans, women, and those from lower-income households are less likely to know that suicides are the leading cause of gun-related deaths

knowledge-of-gun-deaths-characteristics-graph.jpg

The facts about gun-related deaths

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Leading Cause of Death Reports, there were 343,834 suicides by firearm during the years 2000-2017; an average of over 19,000 per year. The CDC also lists 11,090 unintentional firearm deaths, or just over 600 per year during that same time period.

Although the CDC does not distinguish between “mass shootings” and “other murders,” they do list 216,889 homicides by firearm during 2000-2017, just over 12,000 per year. There is no single, agreed-upon definition of “mass shooting,” however, the Gun Violence Archive has cataloged an average of 378 deaths from mass shootings per year from 2014 through 2018.

In the latest (2017) CDC data, suicides accounted for 60% of all gun deaths—more than all other gun-related deaths combined.

Causes of gun related deaths in the United States from 2000–2018

Number of deaths
Year

Because African Americans answered the knowledge-related question in our survey so differently than either Whites or Latinos it is worth noting that among African Americans only, the leading cause of gun-related deaths is homicide. According to the CDC, among African Americans during the years 2000 to 2017 there were 120,275 homicides by firearm, compared to 19,940 suicides by firearm and 2,103 unintentional deaths by firearm. In other words, African Americans were 6 times more likely to die by homicide than suicide. However, among all Americans, suicide is 1.6 times more common than homicide.


PARTNERS FOR THIS SURVEY

The APM Research Lab conducted this survey jointly with two partners: Guns & America, a reporting collaboration of 10 public radio stations covering the role of guns in American life; and Call to Mind, American Public Media's initiative to foster new conversations about mental health. Data collection was conducted by SSRS of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.


If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1-800-273-8255 (or en Español 1-888-628-9454).
Or
visit their website for more resources or to start an online chat session.
Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at no cost.