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What you need to know about gun violence after the Orlando nightclub massacre

Posted: 3:09 PM, Jun 12, 2016
Updated: 2016-06-12 18:09:49-04

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, but as the full story unfolds, PolitiFact 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 each year.

According to the Centers 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. 

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.

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 shootings 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 there isn't an exact definition. The federal government, for example, only counts incidents with deaths as mass shootings. The Mass Shooting Tracker, a popular crowd-sourced site used by the Washington Post, considers it as any incident in which four or more people are killed or injured.

There were 296 mass shootings by the time of her 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.

Unlike suspected terrorists, felons are prohibited from purchasing guns but it is possible online

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. But 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. Experts say that there needs to be more research on gun violence and its causes.