Firearms industry benefits from America’s gun violence

America is a violent place by any standard. The national firearm-related death rate has held steady at 10.5 per 100,000 people since 1999, well above the global average. Some of its cities exhibit epidemic rates of gun death on par with crime-affected urban centers in Latin America and the Caribbean. Hard as it might be to believe, levels of lethal violence are actually at historic lows.

Declines occurred after the passage of specific legislation designed to prevent gun-related deaths. Gun homicides dropped after the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993), the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act or so-called Assault Weapons Ban (1994), and the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (1998). In the absence of significant federal legislation over the past, further reductions in gun violence have stalled.

It is worth putting the United States’ exceptional gun violence problem into perspective. The country´s firearm homicide rate is over six times higher than neighboring Canada’s, and 45 times as high as England’s. With the highest rates of gun homicide, suicide and accidental death in the industrialized world, it is not surprising that Americans also feel afraid.

The percentage of Americans who fear walking alone at night has increased since 2001 to nearly 4 in 10 in 2011. And yet national authorities have consistently refused introducing measures to curb gun violence. Strangely, Congress has opted instead to undermine gun control legislation, curb gun safety awareness, and abandon violence prevention programs, including some that registered positive results.

Meanwhile, in many states, laws intended to promote the responsible use of guns are being repealed. Instead, legislation that reproduces irresponsible firearms use – including so-called “stand your ground” laws – are being pursued. So what explains America’s reversal on gun control?

(Facebook meme)
(Facebook meme)

Concerted efforts to roll back progressive gun regulation began by stealth. They started with quiet lobbying campaigns to reduce American citizens` capacity to diagnose firearm-related violence and thus fully apprehend the magnitude of the problem. In 1996 under considerable pressure from the pro-gun lobby, Congress de-funded firearms-related public health research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by 96 percent. To put this in perspective, resources devoted to firearms research constituted just 0.0018 percent of the CDC´s 2013 budget. Given that firearm deaths constitute around 1.3 percent of total national mortality, it could be reasonably argued that the CDC’s gun-related research program should have been roughly 722 times larger.

Meanwhile, the Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has been prohibited since 1978 from compiling meaningful data on firearms sales. Moreover, its field offices in states bordering Mexico where illegal arms trafficking is rife are underfunded and understaffed.

More recently, a 2013 Congressional rider stripped the ATF of the authority to compile data on the very gun stores it licenses – data that the authors have made use of to estimate US-Mexico arms trafficking. Making matters worse, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is prohibited since 2003 from gathering data for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that it is mandated by law to administer on behalf of gun stores.

Without such detailed data, it is easy to misdiagnose the causes and consequences of gun violence, and therefore mis-prescribe the interventions needed to prevent it. Indeed, many lawmakers have expressed reluctance to pass gun legislation, arguing that they are (purportedly) ineffective. For instance, some pundits have argued that the massive stockpile of firearms in Americans hands renders firearms sales legislation impotent.

The available evidence suggests otherwise. One major public health study found that the risk of homicide in neighborhoods located near a gun retailer was almost 13 times higher than in those situated far from one. Another assessment found that the lapse of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 was responsible for a surge in the homicide rate of more than 16.4 percent across the border in Mexico.

Photo is screen shot from Youtube video
Photo is screen shot from Youtube video

Still another scientific article found that homicide rates in Mexican municipalities near California, where a state-level assault weapons ban was still in effect after 2004, rose less than in municipalities near other U.S. border states. A forthcoming study links the lapse of Missouri’s background check law to an annual rise of 60 murders.

It is worth recalling that the stock of guns, like that of any other commodity, depreciates over time and must be replenished to remain at constant levels. The ATF was responsible for overseeing the release of more than 100 million firearms into the market between 1986 and 2011, and will likely be responsible for many more than that in the next 25 years.

Some pundits claim that the true cause of gun violence in the United States has nothing to do with firearms at all. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people, they say. Armed violence is thus traced to other latent factors in American communities and individual psychological dispositions. Among the many reasons mobilized for gun-related violence is the poor state of mental health care.

Observers claim that this was especially the case following the 1972 deinstitutionalization of long-stay psychiatric treatment. Other commonly cited “root causes” include the glorification of violence in popular film, television and video games.

Notwithstanding the undeniable importance of mental healthcare promotion in American public life, they do not offer as much explanatory power as the availability of lethal hardware. Even so, they are often evoked as a diversionary tactic by gun rights supporters and their industry backers. The simple fact is that the plague of gun violence is best tackled through policies addressing it specifically.

There are signs that Americans are waking up to the importance of seriously engaging with national gun policy reform. Over half of Americans are now dissatisfied with gun laws and policies, the highest ratio in over a decade. Of those, Americans calling for tighter gun legislation outnumber those in favor of loosening regulation by 2 to 1. It is possible that these changes in attitude are linked to tragic media stories recounting weekly mass shootings.

There have been 28 such incidents since the Newtown shooting in 2012. Likewise, Americans are also alarmed about the ways in which firearms are being sold in the United States to traffickers who are fuelling violence Mexico and Central America. Although the Obama Administration has failed to convince Congress to pass new firearm legislation in its two terms, some limited progress is being made. For example, the President appointed Todd Jones as Director of ATF in 2013, a position that had remained vacant for six years.

The Memorial in Newtown, CT for the victims of the andy Hook mass shooting. (Photo via Wikipedia)
The Memorial in Newtown, CT for the victims of the andy Hook mass shooting.
(Photo via Wikipedia)

He also initiated a series of smaller targeted gun control initiatives. The National Institutes of Health have recently deployed new funding mechanisms for research on firearms as they relate to children’s health. What is more, President Obama’s pick for the next Surgeon General, Vivek Hallegere Murthy, has publicly advocated for greater attention to gun control, especially since the 2012 Newtown school shooting. But even Murthy has rejected the possibility of using the Surgeon General’s office as a “bully pulpit” for gun control.

The reluctance of politicians to tackle gun violence can be ascribed principally to the relentless lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Simply put, governors, senators and congressmen fear incurring the wrath of the NRA and firearms industry representatives. It is for good reason that the NRA is consistently named one of the most influential lobby groups in Washington, alongside powerhouses such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

In addition to swaying political votes, the NRA has also successfully turned public opinion dramatically over the past three decades. Discussions around gun ownership in the United States have gradually shifted from one associated with “responsibilities” of gun possession to one uniquely emphasizing the “rights” of firearms ownership. While 60 percent of Americans favored a handgun ban in 1959, just 26 percent were similarly inclined in 2011.

It is no secret that the NRA is heavily supported by contributions from a rejuvenated gun industry. With around 300 manufacturers representing $6 billion in revenue, America´s gun-makers have had every reason to contribute liberally to the lobby group´s coffers – over $76 million in 2009 alone. And they garner support from small and medium-sized gun sellers as well.

There are some 54,000 licensed dealers and the industry as a whole may employ as many as 100,000 Americans. The NRA has also successfully consolidated its base. Describing President Obama as the most significant threat to gun owners in generations, the NRA has reaped a veritable bonanza of financial support. The NRA’s revenues doubled in 2007 and allowed the organization to boost expenditures from 2006 to 2010 by 37 percent.

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association. (Photo is a screen shot from a Youtube video)
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association.
(Photo is a screen shot from a Youtube video)

By 2012, the NRA’s revenues swelled to $256 million and include three individuals giving $3 million or more and another 15 donors writing checks of between $100,000 and $1 million. And since the NRA is a non-profit, the entity is not required to name its donors.

While citizens bear the costs, it is ultimately the manufacturers, retailers, and marketers that profit from the country´s tsunami of gun violence. What do the numbers tell us? Some 32,163 Americans died of gunshot wounds in 2011. Another 70,000 more were non-fatally injured in the same year, and suffer debilitating physical and psychological scars. The economic cost of those losses has been estimated at $47 billion annually.

This grossly exceeds the industry’s economic benefit, as (generously) calculated by the National Shooting Sports Federation, by some $18 billion per year. Moreover, from 2006-2013, up to 120,000 Mexicans were murdered, roughly 50 percent of them by guns.

If we assume that the ATF’s sample of illegal firearms seized in Mexico, 68 percent of which were traced to sales in the United States, is representative of the country’s total holdings, we might say that roughly 3,700 Mexicans are intentionally killed by Americans guns annually. A back-of-the-envelope calculation using Mexico’s current per capita GDP of $11,000 implies an additional $1.5 billion in lifetime lost income in that country alone. While these are rough estimates they make a sharp point: the beneficiaries of the industry have a voice in Washington; the losers, for the most part, do not.

26 thoughts on “Firearms industry benefits from America’s gun violence

  • January 6, 2016 at 10:14 AM

    look at the so called “Epidemic”: Violent gun crime has dropped
    dramatically in the past two decades, but the majority of Americans
    think it’s more of a problem now than ever, according to a Pew Research
    Center study. According to the survey,
    done in March, 56% of Americans believe gun crime is worse today than it
    was 20 years ago. And 84% believe in recent years, gun crime has either
    gone up or stayed the same — when the reality is that it has dropped
    The rate of non-fatal violent gun crime
    victimization dropped 75% in the past 20 years; The gun homicide rate
    dropped 49% in the same period, according to numbers Pew researchers
    obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Centers for Disease
    Control and Prevention.

    So a 49% drop in the Gun homicide rate is an “Epidemic?”

    Lets look at the 2014 FBI Stats:
    There were 32,046 deaths firearm related deaths in 2014
    61% are Suicide that’s 19,955 (-they were checking out anyway.)
    3% are accidental that’s 960
    4% are justified that’s 1280
    33% are homicides that’s 10,560
    80% of homicides are Gang related, that’s 8448

    That leaves 1712 in a Society of 312 Million People.
    That is a a 0.00010256410256% chance of death by firearm.
    Or 0.000008564102564% if you don’t hang out in the hood, are not planning on committing suicide, and not planning a crime.

    Rifle” ban? There were 248 deaths attributed to Rifles..ANY Rifle.
    That’s 0.7% of ALL firearms related deaths..a statistically
    insignificant number, and does not pose an immediate or imminent danger.

    look at the Gun Show Loophole MYTH: The 40 percent “Gun Show” figure
    often cited so frequently comes from a 1994 Justice Department survey. A
    “Survey”. They based their conclusion on data from a survey of more
    than 2,500 households. But it’s important to note that of the 2,568
    households surveyed, only 251 people answered the question about the
    origin of their gun. So the 40% number comes from a 21 yr old “survey”
    with 251 respondents.

    The “gun-show loophole” is an
    exaggeration designed to foster the false impression that this is how
    the bad guys acquire firearms. A 2001 Justice Department survey found
    0.7 percent of state and federal prison inmates bought their weapons at a
    gun show.

    Gun shows aren’t the equivalent of the
    Wild West. The vast majority of vendors at the shows are fully licensed
    dealers who must run the FBI check at the time of sale. What the goal
    seems to be are are transactions between private individuals trading or
    selling their personal property.

    America does NOT
    have a gun problem! We have a Liberal Progressive and Media problem that
    is attempting to use fear as a weapon to gain more control and
    political power at the expense of individual rights.

  • March 18, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    This article is a straight bald face lie. The reason their are US guns in Mexico is ATF sends them there right to the drug cartels. The same people kill the Mexicans. How about the fact ATF is still compiling data on gun owners even though its illegal. ATF just confiscated customer list of Ares arm even though they were ordered by court not to. ATF is out of control and don’t follow laws or care about civil rights

  • March 11, 2014 at 8:13 PM

    It figures that a professor (or in this case, an associate professor) would have such screwy logic.

    • March 13, 2014 at 6:29 PM

      LOL is this another RWNJ argument that I’m supposed to take seriously, or can I at least ridicule this guy?

  • March 11, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    we might say that roughly 3,700 Mexicans are intentionally killed by
    Americans guns annually – See more at:
    If Mexico did not get guns from the US they would get them elsewhere. The ship cocaine to the entire world. Whats to stop them from shipping guns back. There are over 100 million fully automatic AK47’s in the world and they are not in the US. Im sure they would have no trouble getting them from the Middle East, Africa, Russia, China, etc…
    Mexico has very strict gun control so why do they have guns? I guess badguys will always get guns.
    “The investigation into the Gerardi operation demonstrates the degree to
    which Mexico has become a vital actor not merely in the U.S. cocaine
    supply chain, but in the global drug trade,” wrote Patrick Corcoran of
    the Latin American security website,

  • March 11, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    Yeah lets be like those European nations who banned guns. They didn’t lose anything…except sovereignty.
    Only the EU Parliament is elected by the people. All other organizations in the EU are not. EU law trumps all laws of its members.

    • March 13, 2014 at 6:33 PM

      “Only the EU Parliament is elected by the people. All other organizations in the EU are not.”

      You understand that democratic governance is *mandatory* for participation in the EU, right?

      • March 13, 2014 at 10:30 PM

        By “organizations’ I am referring to those that make up the EU. Not the governments of its members.

        The European Union is governed by seven institutions.

        The European Parliament is directly elected by the people.

        The European Council is compromised of the heads of state who are also elected by the people. Its president is appointed by the EU Council and is not elected by the people.

        Council of the European Union is compromised of different councils that are made up of ministers of the member states. Ministers are not elected by the people they are appointed by the elected legislatures.

        European Commission is appointed by the council. Its president is proposed by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament not by the people.

        Court of Justice of the European Union’s Judges and Advocates-General are appointed by common accord of the governments of the member states and are not directly elected by the people. However, federal judges are not elected in the US either.

        The other institutions are the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors. Not elected by the people but they wouldn’t be in any other country anyways.

        The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are similar in function to the Senate and the House of Representatives. The difference is the Senate and the House are both directly elected by the people. The Presidents of the EU Council and European Commission are not directly elected by the people. My point is if the United States were run like the EU we would only elect the House and not the Senate or the President.

        And how do the people feel about the EU?

        ‘Trust in the European Union is at its lowest level since records began in 1997, with less than one in three EU citizens expressing trust in the EU in 2013.’

  • March 11, 2014 at 2:07 AM

    Crime dropped before all three of the laws being wrongly credited for reducing crime rates. They never stopped falling for some 14 years, starting before the 1993 law.

    The reason for the “reversal” is that everyone, including the NRA with their early support for gun control realized that the methods espoused were only capable of making the situation worse, and that there would be no end to the series of ill-conceived and worthless increments of gun control, because, in the end, it’s not the guns that are the problem, but that is exactly how gun control is written.

    Instead of incessantly clamoring for more gun control, why don’t we start looking at crime control? Criminals commit crimes, not the law-abiding gun owners, so why are only the law-abiding being targeted by these laws?

    • March 11, 2014 at 2:18 PM

      Because of the scare factor. Its been scientifically proven that the more scared a person is of the weapon they are being shot with the more likely they will die of shock. Its the combination of fear and shock that kills them not the actual damage done by the bullet. Its science and you can’t argue with science.

    • March 13, 2014 at 7:07 PM

      “Criminals commit crimes, not the law-abiding gun owners, so why are only the law-abiding being targeted by these laws?”

      Because sometimes society decides to criminalize or regulate behavior that was previously legal?

      What a bizarre argument. It’s perfectly rational and acceptable to pass legislation that impacts people who are not currently designated criminals.

      Stick to policy and legal merits. Arguments like the one you just cited are just cynical metaphysical BS disseminated by lobbyists who don’t want a clear discussion on the issue.

  • March 11, 2014 at 1:18 AM

    If you want to blame Mexican deaths on America than at least acknowledge the real culprit. The WAR ON DRUGS.

  • March 11, 2014 at 1:16 AM

    “Another assessment found that the lapse of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 was
    responsible for a surge in the homicide rate of more than 16.4 percent
    across the border in Mexico.”

    The “Assault Weapons Ban” did not ban any firearms. It banned cosmetic features. Gun manufactures simply removed the cosmetic features such as telescopic/folding stocks, bayonet lugs, flashhider, pistol grip, and grenade launcher mount(grenades were not legal before or after the ban). These firearms were identical in function and were sold as post ban firearms.

    “the Violence Policy Center released a statement saying, in part, “Soon after its passage in 1994, the gun industry made a mockery of the federal assault weapons ban, manufacturing ‘post-ban’ assault weapons with only slight, cosmetic
    differences from their banned counterparts.”

    The same firearms were always available. Anyone who says the AWB was responsible for anything is delusional.

    Im sure I could go on and pick apart this article but I stopped reading after it made claims about the impact of the expiration of the assault weapons ban.

    • March 11, 2014 at 2:10 AM

      For any that would like to claim that “assault weapons” are somehow a problem, let me point out that an “assault weapon” works nearly exactly the same as a traditionally styled semi-automatic hunting rifle. A few parts may look the same, a few details may be slightly different, but the function is the same: one and only one round per single pull of the trigger.

      How, then, does a few pieces of plastic, completely unrelated to the mechanics of the firearm, and rearrangement of ergonomics turn a traditional hunting rifle into a “weapon of mass destruction?”

  • March 10, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    After the first three paragraphs of playing with statistics, I stopped reading.

    The “national firearm-related death rate” confuses the issue because it includes gun-related sucicides. In fact, the gun related homicide rate has dropped since 1999 and halved since 1993.

    Source: Pew Research:

    Also, the mention that “the country´s firearm homicide rate is … 45 times as high as England’s” is very disingenuous. The USA had 1.2 million violent crimes in 2011. In 2011-12 the UK gov’t reported 1.9 million violent crimes. Percentage wise, that .4% and 3%, respectively. A citizen in the UK is, on average, 7.5 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than in the USA.

    Soucre: FBI

    Soucre: UK Gov’t. (page 17)

    Look, reporter people, we can fact check ourselves now. Stop being so fast and loose with the truth in order to advance a political agenda.

      • March 11, 2014 at 11:02 PM

        I’ll freely agree that the UK has a much lower gun homicide rate than the USA, but when that stat is used to talk about gun control while the overall violent crime stats, which are much higher, are completely omitted, it cheapens and perverts the discussion and it’s sad when a supposedly objective newspaper omits statistics that don’t support their political views.

        • March 13, 2014 at 7:24 PM

          “It’s sad when a supposedly objective newspaper omits statistics that don’t support their political views.”

          Maybe, instead of deliberately omitting numbers that allegedly undermine his argument, the writers simply think your numbers are irrelevant to it.

          Why did you omit this possibility in your criticism? Is it possible that you’re just trying to advance a political agenda, and trying to foster paranoia and bad faith about your political opponents? Why don’t you try being objective about this?

      • March 12, 2014 at 4:47 AM

        England and Wales have always had low murder rates even before enacting gun control.

        Check out the graph.

        According to the graph homicides were rising since the sixties. Lets look at what happened.

        UK banned most long rifles and shotguns in 1988.

        Did homicides decrease? No. They continued to increase.

        UK banned most handguns in 1997.

        Did this lead to a decrease? No. Homicides continued to increase until 2002…five years after banning handguns and 14 years after banning “assault weapons” and rifles and shotguns. After the peak the rate decreased to levels seen in 1984.

        So what has been happening in the US? Homicide rate increasing since 60’s. Peaked in 1993. Has been decreasing ever since. Currently at levels not seen since the 60’s. Safest we have been in 50 years.

        Now explain to me how gun control lowered the UK homicide rate and why we need it here.

        The first step to finding a solution is acknowledging the ones that had no effect.

        • March 13, 2014 at 6:31 AM

          This is a good point — namely, that we have to take into account variation over time in order to really isolate the effects of specific types of regulation. Nor is it enough to just say, “Law X was passed, and then later, crime rates did Y.” Lots of factors bear on the performance of Y over time. Luckily, we have the statistical tools required to isolate causal factors. But in order to do those scientific studies, we need to have data… the very thing the NRA has been lobbying (successfully, it turns out) should not be made available.

          • March 13, 2014 at 10:45 PM

            I agree with you that no one should be standing in the way of scientific studies. The NRA is a lobbying group and I do not like lobbying groups even if they happen to push ideas that I support(the 2nd Amendment not stopping scientific studies). There are many factors that influence crime and homicides. There are many countries like Russia, Colombia, Brazil, South Africa etc that have strict gun control and high homicides rates. There are many countries that have strict gun control and low homicide rates. What I have not seen is a country that had high homicide rates prior to strict gun control and low homicide rates after gun control. If you know of one please let me know. Also any change must be greater than the change in the US homicide rate. Ours is the lowest in 50 years without strict gun control. Its dropped by 49% since its peak.

            Economic opportunities and education are far greater factors in reducing homicide rates than gun control. That is why in the US we have cities and states with low homicide rates and high homicide rates despite the same federal laws and for the most part similar state laws. The one thing that they all have in common is education and economic factors. That is what we should be addressing. No one can deny that low income communities have the highest homicide rates. No one can deny that both of our political parties seem to have no interest in improving these areas. One side just doesn’t seem to care and the other side needs to keep them on welfare so they can count on their votes. They both make me sick.

    • March 13, 2014 at 7:15 PM

      Nonsense. This is not about fact-checking.

      Their number on firearm-related deaths is factually accurate. Your complaint is that you disagree with their metric. You think they should distinguish between homicides and suicides.

      That is a methodological objection, not a factual objection. This is about your opinion that suicides should not count in measures of gun violence. No one is trying to trick you, and you are not somehow cleverly seeing through lies with your rigorous fact-checking skills.

      • March 13, 2014 at 9:09 PM

        Just sign up for Disqus so we can have a conversation and you could explain why many European countries have much higher percentage suicide rates than the USA despite strict gun control.

    • March 14, 2014 at 3:25 PM

      Great post, Moral ! But please don’t go easy on these guys. In spite of their academic credentials, they aren’t playing “fast and loose with the truth”. They are deliberate morally corrupt liars. They skewed all of the stats they used to promote their hoplophobia, which is really more of a hatred of firearms than a fear of them. I notice that they don’t seem to hate automobles quite so much or auto violence, which is far greater than “gun violence” ever has been. No, they let their mindless hatred skew their own thinking and corrupt their own moral integrity in order to promote their corrupt, skewed view of the universe. Fortunately for the rest of us, most Americans see through their misguided and warped agenda and the lies they try to use to promote it.

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