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Gun death rate rises for second year in a row

The U.S. rate for gun deaths has increased for the second straight year, following 15 years of no real change, a government report shows.

Roughly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides and those have been increasing for about 10 years. Until recently, that has been offset by a decline in people shot dead by others. But there's been a recent upswing in those gun-related homicides, too, some experts said.

Overall, the firearm death rate rose to 12 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016, up from 11 in 2015, according to the report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before that, the rate had hovered just above 10 — a level it had fallen to in the late 1990s.

In the early 90s, it was as high as 15 per 100,000 people.

In the past two years, sharp homicide increases in Chicago and other places that have been large enough to elevate the national statistics. According to the FBI's raw numbers, the tally of U.S. homicides involving guns rose to nearly 11,000 last year, from about 9,600 the year before.

Chigaco's gun violence epidemic 02:46

Overall, there were more than 38,000 gun deaths last year, according to the CDC. That's up from about 36,000 in 2015, and around 33,500 each year between 2011 and 2014.

The latest CDC report means the nation is approaching two decades since there's been any substantial improvement in the rate of gun deaths, said Dr. Garen Wintemute, a prominent gun violence researcher at the University of California, Davis.

The rate for the first three months of this year was about what it was for the same period last year. Hopefully, it's a sign it will level off again, Wintemute said.

Most gun deaths tend to happen in warm weather so it's too early to know what is happening this year, said Bob Anderson, the CDC's chief of mortality statistics.

The report was released not long after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, when 58 people were killed and hundreds injured at a Las Vegas music festival Oct. 1, followed 35 days later by the mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Nov. 5 that left at least 26 dead.

The American College of Physicians calls mass shootings "a critical public health issue" and says Congress needs to take action.

"We need to acknowledge that lack of a U.S. policy to address gun violence is the reason we have much higher rates of injuries and deaths from firearms violence than other countries," said the group, which represents 143,000 doctors and medical students nationwide.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also issued a statement on gun deaths following the Texas shooting, saying: "Every day on average, 93 people die from gun-related injuries in this country, including mass shootings, homicides, suicides and unintentional firearm injuries. Gun violence has taken root as an intractable, deadly epidemic in our nation. ... It is not too soon to discuss meaningful, comprehensive public policies that will keep children safe from guns. For too many, it's already too late."

The CDC report on 2016 death rates also reported a continued increase in the death rate from drug overdoses, which hit 20 per 100,000 last year, up from 16 the year before. Heroin and other opioids are driving the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history.

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