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Guns in America: The weapon of choice for criminals, but also a deterrent?

Mel Evans / AP

Officers from the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office work at a two-day gun buyback event in Trenton, N.J., on Jan. 26. People were allowed to drop off weapons with no questions asked.

On average, about 86 people a day are killed by firearms in America, or 31,672 per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control tally for 2010, the latest year available.

A special weeklong examination of gun violence, gun ownership and gun legislation. NBC News journalists will report across "NBC Nightly News," "TODAY," MSNBC, CNBC, NBCNews.com, and more. The conversation will also extend across NBC News and MSNBC's social media platforms using the hashtag #GunsInUSA.

That year, the CDC counted 19,392 gun deaths by suicide, 11,078 homicides with firearms, 606 deaths by accidental shootings and 596 with other or undetermined cause. (Read the full report.)

A child aged 5 through 14 in America is about 13 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than children in Japan, Italy or other industrial countries, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. (Watch the Harvard forum on gun violence.)

Larry W. Smith / EPA

Guns lie in a chair at the First Presbyterian Church parking garage in Dallas during a gun buyback program on Jan. 19, 2013. Across the street, gun-rights advocates were offering to auction off guns at higher prices.

Guns are used in about seven out of 10 murders in the U.S., according to FBI statistics. The weapons of choice are guns, 68 percent; knives, 13 percent; fists or feet, 6 percent; other, 6 percent; and unknown, 7 percent. (See other statistics in a chart from The Dallas Morning News.)


The crime rate has been declining steadily for firearm crimes. In 1993 and 1994, for example, the rate was above seven firearm crimes for every 1,000 people age 12 or older. It has fallen pretty consistently to 1.8 in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics have been tallied, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Even in Chicago, which has a strict gun control law and received a lot of publicity in recent months for a spike in homicides, the number of killings has declined sharply over the past 20 years. The number was consistently above 800 in the early 1990s, but fell to the 700s, to the 600s in the early 2000s, and near 500 or below for every year since 2004, according to a report by the Chicago Police Department.

There is considerable disagreement among researchers, however, on whether the high-rate of U.S. gun ownership has a direct correlation to violent crimes and, if so, what it's impact might be. Here's a recent analysis by FactCheck.org that does a good job covering that terrain.

Related story

A look at some nations' gun ownership rates.

Death takes no holiday: Tracking gun violence over one long January weekend

Thirty-three percent of American households have a gun. That rate varies from Georgia's 41 percent down to New Jersey's 11 percent, according to a 2002 federal survey.

Here are some civilian firearm ownership percentages for selected countries, according to The Small Arms Survey: Germany, 30 per 100 residents; Iceland, 30; Austria, 30; Canada, 31; Iraq, 34; Saudi Arabia, 35; Switzerland, 46; Yemen, 55; United States, 89.

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