While gun ownership has increased steadily between 1994 and 2014, the rate of gun homicides fell during that same period.
But where gun violence is prevalent, the deciding factor is poverty, said Allen Youngman, a retired Army major general and special deputy for the Daviess County Sheriff's Department.
Youngman, who does firearms training and is an instructor on mass shooting response, prepared a study on gun violence as it pertains to public health for Healthy Horizons, an Owensboro organization. Youngman's presentation shows that the rate of gun ownership increased 56 percent between 1994 and 2014, while gun homicides fell 49 percent during that same period.
There was an increase in gun homicides in 2017 compared to 2016. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, the firearms-related homicide rate was 12.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, compared to a rate of 12.0 in 2016.
Youngman said in a recent interview that it's important to note where gun violence is largely taking place. Of the 3,000 counties in the United States, 75 percent of gun homicides occur in 3 percent of those counties.
"It's very important not to draw the conclusion that race is a factor," Youngman said. "When you look at where most homicides occur, it tends to be poor neighborhoods.
"People say, 'it's a racial thing,' and it's not," Youngman said. "It's all about poverty."
Reducing the number of firearms in the United States would not solve the problem of gun homicides, because guns themselves are not the root cause, Youngman said.
"There's no reason to think (attempting to reduce the number of guns) would be successful," he said. "You have to look at what's different" in the areas where most of the gun violence takes place. "It's poverty," he said.
Attempting to make firearms safer, such as through fingerprint recognition or proximity devices, are opposed by the military and law enforcement.
"The real obstacle is ... if you're talking about homicides and you compare it to how we made drastic reductions in automobile deaths, we made the product safer" and "changed the way people drive," Youngman said.
"Where the model doesn't fit is nobody goes out driving intending to have an accident," Youngman said. Guns, however, are intentionally designed to cause damage and harm.
"It's hard to design around that," Youngman said.
Biometrics like fingerprint recognition sensors do not always work on devices like cell phones, so they could not be guaranteed to work every time with firearms, Youngman said. Proximity devices, which only allow a gun to fire when the owner is holding the weapon, wouldn't work for law enforcement, because in a struggle between an officer and a suspect over an officer's firearm, "all four hands are on the gun," Youngman said.
Some legislation geared toward reducing gun violence, such as "red flag" laws that allow courts to temporarily remove firearms from people with mental health issues or with criminal or domestic violence orders against them, has passed in states with little opposition from gun advocates, Youngman said.
But fear that gun laws will open the door to a widespread banning of gun ownership stymies work on passing laws, he said.
"If that (fear) were taken off the table, you might find there is agreement" for specific proposals, Youngman said.