Massive media publicity over mass shootings in the last year have brought gun control back to the forefront in the U.S. Banning so-called "assault weapons" and "high capacity" magazines are all the rage. Calls have been made for an honest national dialogue that puts every option on the table.
An honest conversation ought to look at as complete of a picture as possible so we can correctly assess "just how big of an issue is it?"
To adequately evaluate this question, we should examine how many homicides there are in the U.S. overall, compared to homicides from firearms (handguns, rifles, shotguns), compared to homicides from rifles only (in which so-called "assault rifles" would fall), and homicides that occur in mass shootings. We ought to further compare homicides to other causes of death to get a comparative indication of the magnitude of each compared to other public health risks that cause death in the U.S. This will help us understand the relative significance of the issue.
Total U.S. homicides: The total number of homicides in the U.S., reported by the FBI, is about 12,000-13,000 annually. Generally, this has trended downward since the early 1990s and 1980s, which saw several years with homicides ranging from 21,000-24,000 homicides. In 2010, the last year available, the number was 12,996. In 2009, it was 13,752.
Firearm homicides: Out of the total homicides, about 2/3 are committed with firearms, 1/3 from other causes. We'll look at both. In 2010, firearm homicides were 8,775, or 67.5% of all homicides. In 2009, the number was 9,199, or 66.8% of all homicides.
Rifle homicides: The FBI reports the total number of rifle homicides is about 350 annually the last couple of years. This includes bolt-action rifles, as well as semi-automatic rifles and so-called "assault rifles." There is a separate category for shotguns, so they are not included in this number. In 2010, the number of rifle homicides was 358, or 2.75% of all homicides. In 2009, the number was 351, or 2.55% of all homicides.
Mass shooting homicides: Pop-media classification of "mass murder" varies. For instance, CNN's Piers Morgan and The Nation cite shootings in which only 1 or 2 homicides occur. However, the FBI defines mass murder as 4 or more killed.
In 2012, there were either 81 or 88 murdered in mass shootings, depending on your source. Less than 100 no matter, which source, is used. So if we assume high at 100 homicides from mass murder and assume low at 12,000 annual homicides that means that mass murders account for 0.0083 of all homicides, or a fraction of 1%.
Personal weapon homicides: FBI data shows that "personal" weapon homicides, which is defined by hands/feet (beating someone to death) are 7-800 annually. In 2010, it was 745; in 2009, 817. This is more than double all rifle homicides. It is more than 7 or 8 times the number of mass murder homicides.
Compared to other causes of death — public health & safety issues:
Motor vehicle deaths: There are between 32-42,000 deaths from vehicle collisions every year. This dwarfs both homicides firearm homicides easily. When compared just to rifle homicides at ~ 350, motor vehicle deaths is massive & rifle homicides is minuscule.
Unintentional injury deaths: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 118,021 accidental deaths in 2009, the last year reported. Compared to this mass murder again appears relatively insignificant in terms of loss of life and public health concern.
Accidental fall deaths: 2009 saw 24,792 accidental fall deaths. This accounts for 247 times the number of mass murder deaths.
Others reported by CDC:
Drug-induced deaths - 39,147
Choking: There are approximately 4,600 choking deaths every year. That's 46 times the number of mass murder deaths. Children's choking deaths number 1825, or more than 18 times the total number of mass murder deaths.
Bambi: According to the Insurance Journal, 200 people were killed by hitting deer with their cars. That's more than double the number of mass murder deaths.
These cited statistics provide a mountain of data from credible sources that clearly provides a good comparison by which we can evaluate mass murder homicides within a complete picture of U.S. homicides as well as provide a means to compare homicides and mass murder to other causes of death that affect public health and safety concerns.
When you evaluate the broader picture of public health causes of death, and even within homicides as its own category, mass murder looks pretty insignificant.