Gun deaths in the United States dropped more than 25 percent during the mid-1990s to the lowest level since 1966, the government said Thursday.
Analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credited stricter sentencing in some areas, new laws that make it more difficult for criminals to get guns, the waning crack trade and low unemployment because of the booming economy.
The CDC reported 30,708 gun-related deaths -- 11.4 per 100,000 people -- in 1998, the latest year for which statistics are available. The rate is down 26 percent from 1993, when there were 15.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
Gun-related injuries fell by nearly half during the same five-year period, dropping to 64,484 in 1998, or 23.9 per 100,000 people.
Guns remain the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States, trailing only auto accidents.
The drop during the 1990s coincides with a fall in homicides to levels not seen in three decades. The new figures, however, show that gun injuries declined across all three categories of intent assault, accidental and intentional self-infliction.
The National Rifle Association said the lower death rates are evidence that gun-safety programs are reaching Americans and that gun laws are working.
"This is obviously good news," said Patricia Gregory, an NRA spokeswoman.
"There are tens of thousands of firearms laws on the books. Strict enforcement of existing law could reduce these numbers even further."
Gun-control advocates called for tighter restrictions on firearm sales and more money for law enforcement.
"When we have 30,000 deaths a year, that's too many," said Soledad Roybal, a spokeswoman for the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence. "There need to be real, comprehensive laws, not just laws that are there as a show."
Of particular concern, the CDC said, is the striking rate of gun suicides among elderly men -- an average of 27.7 per 100,000 people during the five-year period. The rate was just 1.8 per 100,000 for women over age 65.
The problem is likely to get worse as the population ages, analysts said.
"It was just something that kind of popped out," said J. Lee Annest, a CDC statistician. "There's a lot of action going on to prevent youth violence. This really is a problem that needs more attention."
Men were victims of five of every six gun deaths and seven of every eight gun-related injuries during the five-year period.
The CDC report excluded air-powered pellet guns. The numbers were collected from emergency rooms and death certificates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. State-by-state numbers were not released.
By ERIN McCLAM
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