In September 2019, a number of memes about “causes of death” per day or per year in the United States circulated, largely as discourse surrounding purported retailer “bans” (but really, discontinuation of sales) of rifles.
One iteration shared by some users on Facebook and other sites included white text against a blue background, listing off the purported number of rifle deaths per day before addressing supposed statistics of deaths from a number of other causes, also per day:
The list was not identical to — but not too different from — a controversial tweet from astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson:
In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.
On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…
500 to Medical errors
300 to the Flu
250 to Suicide
200 to Car Accidents
40 to Homicide via Handgun
Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) August 4, 2019
We have examined the claim that doctors are more “lethal” than guns in the past, finding it false. The origins for that claim were in a humorous email, but it has taken on a new life as a social media factoid.
At the time of Tyson’s tweet, the fact-checkers over at PolitiFact found that the suicide statistic of 250 per day was accurate, but that the “medical errors” one was disputed — with figures ranging from 268 to 684 deaths per day at the very highest end of estimates.
Underneath “Causes of Death Per Day,” a list read:
Rifles — 1 death per day
Teen texting and driving — 8 deaths per day
Underage drinking — 11 per day
Drunk driving — 28 per day
Opioids — 115 per day
Suicide — 128 per day
Flu — 150 per day
Diabetes — 228 per day
Alzheimer’s — 332 per day
Stroke — 401 per day
Medical error — 685 per day
Cancer — 1,641 per day
Heart Disease — 1,773 per day
Abortion — 2,408 per day
In transcribing the list above, we emphasized causes of death that are not primarily illness-related. Among illness-related deaths that were largely not preventable in the same sense as drug-linked or violence-linked deaths are: influenza, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, stroke, cancer, and heart disease. To varying degrees, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are occasionally preventable illnesses, but in many other cases they are not. Moreover, no one is discussing proposals to ban the flu or strokes as they relate to mortality in the United States.
Remaining on the list were causes of death that would more readily be considered preventable. They were: rifles, teen texting and driving, underage drinking, drunk driving, opioids, suicide, medical error, and abortion.
As established above, the suicide statistic was underrepresented, and the deaths due to medical error statistic remains in dispute. The meme also contained the claim that 115 people die each day in the United States due to opioids; that figure was actually more than 130.
On the list also was a baffling figure of 2,408 daily deaths by abortion. According to a study of a twelve-year period in the U.S. (1998 to 2010), 108 total deaths were recorded, or nine total deaths per year — 0.024, not 2,408 per day. If the meme meant there are 2,408 abortions daily, such statistics were difficult to come by. However, estimates by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) places the total number of abortions per day at around 1,748. (Whether that should be included on this list is a matter of debate.)
The meme said that eleven people died each day from “underage drinking.” The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimated 5,000 deaths related to underage drinking each year, or 13 deaths per day.
Of the remaining causes of death, two of our own fact-checks addressed comparison causes of death between rifles, teen texting and driving, and drunk driving. The meme said teen texting and driving was responsible for eight deaths per day, but that number was actually closer to 1.17 total teen deaths per day.
In a similar vein, the meme held that 28 people per day died of causes related to driving under the influence of alcohol. Based on our finding that 10,874 annual deaths from drunk driving occurred in the United States, they averaged out to 29.7 deaths per day — not far off from 28.
Finally, the meme contained the claim that rifles caused one death in the U.S. per day, a number we also closely examined in the “drunk driving versus rifles” fact check, finding the number is actually much higher:
The Center for Disease Control [CDC]’s 2017 mortality reference sheet does not break out the details of firearm-related deaths in 2017. For that, we used the CDC Wonder tool to estimate the number of deaths by rifle in 2017. Rifles were grouped with shotguns and “large firearms,” and returned a figure of 3,462 fatalities. Of the total 3,462 deaths by rifle in 2017, 11.6 percent (403) were homicides. Excluded from those numbers were deaths involving legal intervention and war operations, figures also counted in the broader CDC tables.
If we reduce the 3,462 figure by 11 percent to account for homicides, we get a figure of 3081 and a daily breakdown of 8.4 deaths — not “one.” Now, let’s revisit the table with the actual numbers emphasized alongside its figures. For deaths by disease, statistics are linked:
Rifles — 1 death per day [8.44]
Teen texting and driving — 8 deaths per day [1.17]
Underage drinking — 11 per day 
Drunk driving — 28 per day [29.7]
Opioids — 115 per day [130+]
Suicide — 128 per day 
Flu — 150 per day 
Diabetes — 228 per day 
Alzheimer’s — 332 per day 
Stroke — 401 per day 
Medical error — 685 per day [268-684]
Cancer — 1,641 per day [1663, estimated]
Heart Disease — 1,773 per day [1,671]
Abortion — 2,408 per day [0.024]
Given that “rifles” topped the list in order of appearance, the list appears to be yet another meme riffing on the purportedly low number of rifle deaths per day in the United States (placing it at one). Although the list approximated the “deaths per day” for underage drinking, drunk driving, and some diseases closely, its rate for “rifles” as well as “teen texting and driving” and “abortion” were extremely far off. Its overarching claim that rifles killed far fewer people than other injuries and illness is somewhat subjective, but the numbers used to make its point are patently false by any metric.