A Perspective on Death in the USA
by Major Zed
We are all going to die. This is certain. What is uncertain is when and how. The Centers for Disease Control tabulated over two and a half million deaths in the USA in 2010 (the latest year available for detailed mortality statistics). The FBI tabulated more details in certain categories. This article summarizes some of these findings, with a focus on deaths involving firearms. It is not intended to promote particular policies or positions, but rather to provide a factual context for such discussions.
Table 1 below and Figure 1 display deaths by cause and age group. There are several takeaways. Death is mostly for older people. Once you get out of the teenage years, the death rate approximately doubles for each decade of life (not shown in these tables – take my word for it). The biggest causes of death are the usual culprits we all know about – heart disease and cancer. There are two notable exceptions to the “death is for older people” cliche. Infant mortality is reflected in the last category “perinatal and congenital.” And then there are “external causes.” This is the second largest category for the under-18 demographic and the largest category for the 18-54 group.
Table 1: Deaths by Cause and Age Group, USA, 2010
External causes are accidents and intentional harm. These are broken out in Table 2 and Figure 2. Accidents predominate, with motor vehicle accidents being the most common, just ahead of poisoning. Older people are more likely to die from a fall than from a motor vehicle accident, but that is much less likely for younger people. Firearms deaths occur in accidents, suicides, and homicides, but more often in suicides. Deaths from firearms accidents are about one sixtieth of motor vehicle deaths. Firearms suicides are slightly more frequent than all other suicides combined because of the older age group. Firearms homicides are more than double all other homicides because of the middle age group. Total deaths from firearms comes just behind motor vehicle deaths and poisonings.
Table 2: “External Cause” Deaths by Cause and Age Group, USA, 2010
The FBI’s tabulations of homicides, while of the same magnitude, do not exactly tally with the CDC count. So I used the FBI proportions and applied them to the CDC numbers. Also, some of the “unknown” counts were allocated back to the knowns.
Table 3 and Figure 3 break out the implements of homicide. Table 2 already showed that firearms are preferred, but here we see that handguns are by far the most common with shotguns and rifles trailing far behind.
Table 3: Homicides by Means, USA, 2010
|Hands & feet||909|
Table 4 and Figure 4 tabulate the circumstances surrounding homicides. Most common are arguments and brawls (some with alcohol or drug involvement). A significant number occur during the commission of (other) felonies. Gang shootings also contribute.
Table 4: Homicides by Circumstances, USA, 2010
|Brawls & arguments||6,962|
|Gangland/juvenile gang killings||1,653|