1.4 Million Known American Firearms Casualties Since 1933

Total Battle Deaths in All Wars Since 1775: 650,858

Total Gun Deaths, 1979-1997


Total Firearm Suicides


Total Firearm Homicides


Total Accidental Firearm Deaths


Total Unknown Firearm Deaths



(Washington, DC) Although the exact number of Americans killed by gun violence in the 20th century will never be known, it is now all but certain that it will, by any measure, vastly exceed the number of Americans shot and killed on battlefields since 1900. In fact, more Americans were killed with guns in the 18-year period between 1979 and 1997 (651,697), than were killed in battle in all wars since 1775 (650,858). And while a sharp drop in gun homicides has contributed to a decline in overall gun deaths since 1993, the 90's will likely exceed the death toll of the 1980s (327,173) and end up being the deadliest decade of the century. By the end of the 1990s, an estimated 350,000 Americans will have been killed in non-military-related firearm incidents during the decade.*

Statistics on total U.S. gun deaths (including suicides and unintentional shootings), as compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, have only been collected since 1979. But between 1979 and 1997, 651,697 Americans lost their lives to gun violence, including 334,870 suicides, 278,865 homicides, 28,964 unintentional shootings, and 8,998 from unknown causes.

National statistics on gun homicides have been collected since 1933. Between 1933 and 1997, 591,528 Americans were murdered with firearms. Even the number of gun homicides since 1933, taken by itself, exceeds the total number of Americans killed on the battlefield during this century. In 1933, the first year for which national statistics are available, 7,863 Americans were murdered with guns. While we will never know the exact number of people murdered with firearms in this century, the total would likely approach 1.5 million.

National statistics on unintentional shootings are available for every year from 1965 through 1998 and for selected years going back to 1933. The number of people unintentionally shot and killed every year has declined sharply over the past several decades. According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (and its predecessor agencies) there were 3,014 fatal gun "accidents" in 1933, compared to 1,225 in 1995. Some experts caution, however, that the decline in "accidents" may not be as sharp as it appears, as earlier in this century many suicides were reported as "accidents."**

Totaling together the number for which national statistics are available, at least 1,417,902 Americans were killed from gun homicides, suicides, unintentional shootings and unknown causes in the last 67 years. The actual total for the century, however, given the large number of years for which no or limited information was reported, may be more than triple the number of Americans killed in battle.

"The 20th Century was truly the American Century," noted Sarah Brady, "and our nation has much to be proud of as it looks back at that past 100 years. But the level of gun violence was and remains at horribly unacceptable levels. As we look to a new century and a new millennium, we should renew our fight against this deadly epidemic. Too many Americans have paid the ultimate price for our failure to enact sensible gun laws and educate Americans about the dangers of firearms."

"Throughout our nation's history, Congress has sent American men and women abroad to fight wars - and die - to uphold American principles and to end world injustices. But this Congress has refused to fight another important battle here at home: the fight against gun violence in America. Instead of 'declaring war' on gun violence and passing stronger laws to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children, Congress has surrendered to the special interests of the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby," said Mrs. Brady.

"Since Congress refuses to pass tougher gun control laws to better protect American families, sadly, many Americans face more danger in the streets of their communities than our now-volunteer armed forces face on an average day," said Mrs. Brady. "Events just in the last two years demonstrate that schoolchildren, online brokers, Xerox repair workers and even small toddlers at day care centers can face the same threat our soldiers are trained to defeat."

* Because gun death rates are only available through 1997, the figure for the number gun deaths in the 1990s (350,000) was calculated by assuming a consistent 6% decrease in the gun death rate and assuming a 1% increase in population each year. The data for the years 1998 and 1999 were estimated to be 30,527 deaths in 1998 and 28,976 in 1999. So far in the 1990s, over 290,000 Americans were killed with firearms.

** Source: Kleck, Gary. Targeting Guns - Firearms and their Control. Aldine De Gruyter, Inc. New York, 1997.








Deaths in War vs. Gun Deaths


TABLE 1 Wars of the United Statesi


War Yearii Battle Deathsiii


Revolutionary War 1775-1783 4,435

War of 1812 1812-1915 2,260

Mexican War 1846-1848 1,733

Civil War 1861-1865 140,414 (Union Forces)

74,524 (Confederate Forces) iv

Spanish-American War 1898 385

World War I 1917-1918 53,513

World War II 1941-1946 292,131

Korean War 1950-1953 33,651

Vietnam War 1961-1977 47,369

Lebanon 1982-1984 264

Grenada 1983 18

Panama 1989-1990 23

Persian Gulf War 1991 148


Total 650,858




TABLE 2 Gun Deaths from 1979 to 1997v


Year Deathsvi


1979 32,689

1980 33,477

1981 33,778

1982 32,682

1983 30,842

1984 31,078

1985 31,324

1986 33,126

1987 32,638

1988 33,757

1989 34,471

1990 36,866

1991 38,077

1992 37,474

1993 39,358

1994 38,187

1995 35,957

1996 33,750

1997 32,166


Total 651,697



i The 1994 World Almanac's table for casualties in "principle wars" of the U.S. The source is the Department of Defense and the United States Statistical Abstract.

ii The dates assigned to the wars are the years for which the deaths are counted.

iii "Battle deaths" figures indicate service personnel killed in action. This does not include non-hostile deaths and wounded.

iv Authoritative statistics for the Confederate forces are not available.

v The National Center for Health Statistics has an annual count for gun deaths for the years 1979-1997. In addition, the NCHS (and it's predecessor agencies from 1988 and earlier) and the National Safety Council have an annual count for gun homicides and gun suicides for the years 1933-1978. They also have gun accidents (unintentional) for select years from '33-'78.

vi The gun death tolls are for homicide, suicide, unintentional and intent unknown.



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Handgun Control, chaired by Sarah Brady, was founded in 1974 by Dr. Mark Borinsky and N.T. "Pete" Shields, two victims of gun violence. Based in Washington, D.C., HCI works with law enforcement, public health, religious, and community groups across the country to strengthen and protect federal, state and local gun control laws, but does not seek to ban all guns. HCI has more than 400,000 members nationwide, making it the nationÍs largest citizensÍ gun control lobbying organization. More information about HCI and its sister organization, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, can be found on our website at

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