The red line is the number of private firearms in the United States, in units of 100,000. At the end of 2013, the estimate was 363.3 million.
The green line is the number of fatal firearm accidents, or unintentional firearm fatalities, in the United States. The number in 2013 was the lowest recorded, 505.
The number of fatal firearm accidents, or unintentional firearm fatalities, have been falling for more than 50 years. At the same time, the number of firearms in the United States has been steadily rising. The cause of fatal firearm accidents is not correlated to the number of firearms in society.
The absolute numbers are important, but the rate of unintended firearm fatalities per 100,000 population is a better measure of safety.
Chart courtesy of Extranosalley.com
Since this chart was produced, we have a few more years of data. Here is a blow up of the last 15 years, including the tail end of the above chart.
A large number of factors have been proposed for the falling fatal firearm accident rates,
Here are a few of the more prominent ones:
Training in basic firearms safety. The NRA has been pushing firearms safety training for decades.
Safer firearms. Modern firearms, which make up a majority of the private firearms in the United States (half the stock has been manufactured since 1984, three quarters since 1965), have more safety features. It is almost impossible for pistols manufactured after 1973 to fire when dropped, due to liability concerns. Safety triggers have become common on rifles in the last decade.
Blaze orange hunting gear. A significant drop in hunting fatalities occurred after many states required hunters to wear blaze orange during crowded hunting seasons, such as deer hunting in Wisconsin.
Requirements for hunter safety training to obtain a hunting license. Most states now require a hunter safety course for new hunters.
Better emergency medical response. People who might have died from a gunshot wound are saved by better emergency medical care.
Rise of concealed carry permits. Most concealed carry permits require some safety training.
Rise of private tactical training academies, which teach gun fighting as a martial art, such as Gunsite in Arizona, Rogers Shooting School, InSights Training Center, Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, and a host of other private, for profit, firearm training schools.
The rise of the gun culture magazines from the 1960’s on, such as Guns and Ammo, Shooting Times, Garden and Gun, Special Weapons, Handguns, Guns, and numerous others. While the print versions are being supplanted by online versions and blogs, all preach gun safety, and have had significant impact on the gun culture for the last 50 years.
Substitution of pistols for home defense from shotguns and rifles. A wound from a pistol is less likely to be fatal than from a high powered rifle or a shotgun at close range.
Heightened awareness of gun safety due to the push for more legal restrictions on guns by the media and elite politicians. As the population has been inundated with “guns are bad” and “guns are dangerous” messages, one consequence may be a heightened concern for following the safety rules.
All of these factors probably contributed, but the total drop is astonishing, a 95% reduction in the rate of fatal firearm accidents since 1904. This occurred as the per capital number of firearms has increased from .35 in 1945, to 1.14 in 2013, a tripling of the number of guns per person in the United States. The per capita numbers are not available before 1945.
Here are the data sources:
Number of Private firearms in the United States from a previous article at Gun Watch. The 2013 number used the same methodology and ATF sources.
1965-1987 available from Kleck, Point Blank Page 306 Table 7.1
1981-2000 unintentional firearm fatalities from An Analysis of Firearm-Related Accidents in the United States(pdf; rates from Kleck or calculated using Census figures.
1999-2013 unintentional firearm fatalities and per capita rates available in WISQARS.
1904-2008 U.S. Accidental Firearm Death Rate chart courtesy of Extranosalley.com.
©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.