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Fifty people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Many details are currently unknown about the incident, and you can read the Tampa Bay Times’ coverage of developments here. But as the full story unfolds, we wanted to note several recurring points made in the gun debate in recent years.
Here are seven facts and figures you need to know.
1. Over 32,000 people from gun violence die each year.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 33,636 gun deaths in 2013, the latest year for which data is available, or about 90 people per day. From 2009 to 2013, an average of 32,100 people died from gun-related causes each year. But not all of these deaths are the result of homicides. In fact, more than 60 percent of the deaths in 2013 were suicides.
2. That’s more than the number of casualties in all wars in American history and far more than killed by terrorist attacks.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof offered this data point after the August 2015 on-air slaying of two journalists in Virginia: "More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history."
That’s True. About 1.4 million were killed in major conflicts starting from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq war, while there have been 1.5 million gun-related deaths since 1968.
A few months later, after the Oregon community college shooting in October 2015, President Barack Obama challenged the media to tally up the number of gun-related deaths and the number of terrorist-related deaths in the last decade.
That’s about 302,000 gun-related deaths versus 71 terrorism casualties, using numbers from 2005 to 2013 and preliminary counts from 2014 and 2015 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3. The number of mass shooting is hard to pin down.
After the Oregon shooting, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz tweeted, "380 Americans have been killed in in 294 mass shootings in 2015 alone."
But definitions for mass shooting vary. The federal government, for example, only counts incidents with deaths. The Mass Shooting Tracker, a popular crowd-sourced site used by the Washington Post, considers any incident in which four or more people are killed or injured a mass shooting.
There were 296 mass shootings by the time of Wasserman Schultz’s tweet according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, but 122 of those incidents resulted in no casualties. We rated Wasserman Schultz’ claim Half True.
4. The gun death rate in the United States is higher than that of other developed countries, but gun violence isn’t unique to the United States.
Addressing the nation after the Charleston shooting in June 2015, President Obama said, "This type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries."
We rated his claim Mostly False. There have been at least 23 incidents of mass shootings in 10 other countries. In the same time period, however, there were 133 incidents in United States alone.
Obama was more on target when he tweeted, "Here are the stats: Per population, we kill each other with guns at a rate 297x more than Japan, 49x more than France, 33x more than Israel."
Obama’s figures are accurate, but the data is a bit old and not standardized, and at least one other data set shows lower numbers. We rated his claim Mostly True.
5. The overwhelming majority of Americans support background checks for gun purchases.
Polls consistently show 80 to 90 percent of Americans are in favor of criminal background checks for gun sales. A 2013 poll found that 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support universal background checks.
National law requires background checks in sales by federally licensed gun dealers, but many states (including Florida) do not require checks for private sales.
6. The terrorist watch list isn’t an obstacle to buying guns, and violent felons determined to buy guns can circumvent the background check requirement by purchasing guns online.
More than 2,000 people on the FBI’s list have legally purchased weapons since 2004, according to a 2015 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. That’s about 91 percent of suspected terrorists who attempted to buy guns. (It’s worth noting that a 2009 Justice Department audit found that 35 percent of people on the list shouldn’t be on it.)
Unlike suspected terrorists, felons are prohibited from purchasing guns but it is possible online. Because private sellers are not required to run background checks, felons are able to purchase guns over the Internet if he orshe is in the same state as the seller.
7. The connection between gun laws and crime is still debated.
Gun rights advocates argue that more guns in the hand of law-abiding citizens means less crime. That idea can be traced to an influential and controversial study that showed a 25 percent decrease in violent crime and a 178 percent rise in the number of concealed-carry permits from 2007 to 2014. Correlation, however, doesn’t mean causation and many have refuted the study’s findings.
Similarly, there is research showing that the more gun laws a state has, the fewer gun deaths there are. But this doesn’t prove a universal cause-and-effect relationship and could just be a correlation. It could be that low numbers of gun owners in a state mean less opposition to gun laws, and the low rate of gun ownership mean less gun violence. Experts say that there needs to be more research on gun violence and its causes.
See individual fact-checks for sources