On a subject as horrible and important as the number of people who are murdered by guns each year, it might be assumed that the definition of murder, and how it is measured, would be straightforward. It is not. However, one of the most widely regarded research firms that gather gun violence statistics shows that 16,213 people have been the victims of gun murder, gun homicide, unintentional homicide gun death or defensive gun use (which are estimated to be only a small part of the total). It is as solid a number as any other.
The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) has kept gun violence data since 2013. It puts gun deaths into two primary categories. There have been 20,724 suicides so far in 2020, in addition to those 16,213 “murders.”
The GVA uses both an automated system and human research to come by its figures. It looks at 7,500 sources, which include local and state police reports, media, data aggregated by other sources and government information. It records each death by street address (when possible), city and state. It also gives the age and gender of the victim and the source of the information. The GVA claims there can be as many as 120 variables for each incident.
The debate about the GVA definition pivots on the definitions of murder and homicide. The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps such records as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting Program. That data is collected from law enforcement agencies only. Murder is added to “nonnegligent manslaughter” to come up with a total, and the figure covers all causes and not just incidents that involve guns. Last year, the FBI count of murders was 15,020.
The GVA also categorizes gun deaths by “mass shootings,” which it counts at 522 so far this year. Its definition, which it makes clear is different from the FBI’s, is “based ONLY on the numeric value of 4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter.” The FBI labels incidents as “mass killings,” and these can involve weapons other than guns.
The GVA murder figure will rise this year over last, when the figure for the entire year was 15,424.