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Quite a while ago I stumbled upon a data set from an official US source (or at least a very credible one) listing the detailed accounts of deaths due to firearms per year in the United States. Now, there are many sources for such data sets...

The outstanding part was that

  • the data set had very clear distinction between homicide/suicide/accidental killings/killed in war/...
  • and the data set covered an amazing time span, reaching back to the time of the civil war.

The amazing fact the observing reader could extract was, that since the beginning of time (or rather since the beginning of the United States), more people died within the US due to firearms, than in all the wars the US ever fought combined. Which is quite incredible, with the Civil War, World War I and II, Vietnam and Korean War, etc. etc.

Sadly I can't seem to find this data source anymore, and thus the above claim remains somewhat arbitrary and ungrounded -- after all this was quite a while ago, and my memory could be tricking me. Or I might have made a mistake in the data analysis back then.

I'd like to substantiate the above claim (if possible) or refute it.

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    Here's a politifact article where it discusses this (or a very similar) claim. They use numbers from the CDC, FBI, and Congressional Research Service. Is that the one you mean? If so, it claims that more have died by firearms just since 1968, much less since the beginning of the US. – Is Begot Jun 24 '15 at 16:03
  • Thank you! Brilliant, this article pretty much sums it up. And the datasets linked might actually be what I was looking at back then... If you make your comment an answer I'll accept it. – fgysin reinstate Monica Jun 24 '15 at 22:38
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    I have to point this out. The total number of deaths from firearms in the US includes all battle casualties of the Civil War. – DJClayworth Jun 26 '15 at 17:43
  • @Geobits I would upvote that answer. – DJClayworth Jun 26 '15 at 17:51
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Obviously, I don't have your data set, either.

However, if you look at a couple different places, you can see an annual death rate of ~10 per 100,000 (or about 32,000 per year with our current population) over the past several years.

If this rate is consistent, which those sources seem to indicate, that means that per decade since the founding of the country (which I'll call 1790 for when the first census was done) has been about 2,600,000 (see table for math).

Census     Population    Avg/Yr of Decade    Firearm Death/Yr    Death Rate      Total deaths 
 1790       3,929,214       4,618,849            462               10/100k         2,543,936 
 1800       5,308,483       6,274,182            627        
 1810       7,239,881       8,439,167            844        
 1820       9,638,453      11,252,237          1,125        
 1830      12,866,020      14,967,737          1,497        
 1840      17,069,453      20,130,665          2,013        
 1850      23,191,876      27,317,599          2,732        
 1860      31,443,321      35,000,846          3,500        
 1870      38,558,371      44,373,790          4,437        
 1880      50,189,209      56,584,488          5,658        
 1890      62,979,766      69,595,967          6,960        
 1900      76,212,168      84,220,332          8,422        
 1910      92,228,496      99,125,017          9,913        
 1920     106,021,537     114,612,081         11,461        
 1930     123,202,624     127,683,597         12,768        
 1940     132,164,569     141,745,184         14,175        
 1950     151,325,798     165,324,487         16,532        
 1960     179,323,175     191,267,551         19,127        
 1970     203,211,926     214,878,866         21,488        
 1980     226,545,805     237,627,839         23,763        
 1990     248,709,873     265,065,890         26,507        
 2000     281,421,906     295,083,722         29,508        
 2010     308,745,538     308,745,538         30,875        

Total military deaths in the US Civil War were about 620,000 (some place this as high as 850,000).

Total military US deaths in WWII were about 405,000.

Total military US deaths in WWI were about 116,000.

Other conflicts rank below on that chart.

Just summing the top three wars we have been involved in, total military casualties come to about 1,141,000 (or maybe 1,371,000, if you use the larger guess).

Caveats

  • The conclusions above are based on reverse extrapolation from data available from the last couple decades - which probably are pretty poor when it comes to the first several decades (at least) of the United States' existence
  • None of the data I have found separate firearm deaths among the military from the general population in times of peace
  • None of the data I can find separate civilian deaths by firearm from military deaths by firearm during times of war
  • All of the data I can find puts the suicide rate at ~60% of the total death rate by firearm - IOW, of those about 2,600,000 firearm deaths, 1,560,000 have been suicides
  • To echo @DJClayworth, all the deaths in the Civil War happened in the United States - which will wildly skew the total data (since you'd need to remove those ~620,000 deaths from the total of 2,600,000, which brings the total down to really only about 1,980,000 - still larger than the deaths from all wars we've been involved with, but a much much lower ratio thereto)

Conclusion

Based on the generic claim, "since the beginning of ... the United States ... more people died within the US due to firearms, than in all the wars the US ever fought combined" is at least plausible, if not actually correct.

  • I question your 10/100k number--that's what the US experienced for a while, it doesn't look like the right long-term number: ourworldindata.org/data/violence-rights/homicides (Look at the Homicides in the United States graph.) – Loren Pechtel Jun 27 '15 at 3:47
  • @LorenPechtel - it's the only number I can find. I'd be happy to use a better ratio, if you can give me a source :) – warren Jun 27 '15 at 20:19
  • @warren I don't see why you say "you'd need to remove those ~620,000 deaths from the total of 2,600,000". 2/3 of the 620,000 deaths were from diseases. civilwar.org/education/pdfs/civil-was-curriculum-medicine.pdf – DavePhD Jun 30 '15 at 20:10
  • @DavePhD - that is data I had not seen when writing this answer – warren Jun 30 '15 at 23:13

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