NVDRS Frequently Asked Questions

NVDRS defines a violent death as a death that results from the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or a group or community.

NVDRS collects information about violent deaths, including homicides, suicides, and deaths where individuals are killed by law enforcement acting in the line of duty. NVDRS also gathers information about unintentional firearm-related deaths, and deaths where the intent cannot be determined, that might have been due to violence.

Other data systems primarily count deaths and provide basic demographic information about decedents (people who have died). In contrast, NVDRS has the following features:

  • Gathers and links detailed investigative information from several sources, including law enforcement, coroner/medical examiners, toxicology, and death certificates. With this linked information, NVDRS is able to provide a more complete picture of the circumstances that may contribute to violent deaths.
  • Helps identify emerging issues, such as Veteran suicide, by collecting extended demographic information on victims and suspects, injury characteristics, and circumstances.
  • Combines data about deaths that occurred during the same violent event to help identify circumstances of multiple homicides or homicides followed by the suicide of the homicide suspect.
  • Connects deaths that are related but occur outside the same violent event, such as related suicides or multiple victims of the same suspect over a longer time period (e.g., serial homicide).
  • Collects information on suspects, including the relationship of the victim to the suspect to better characterize homicides.

Annually, in the United States, seven people per hour die a violent death. According to data from the Nation Center for Health Statistics’ National Vital Statistics System, more than 19,100 people were victims of homicide and more than 47,500 people died by suicide in 2019 alone (the most recent year for which data are available). NVDRS data dive deeper into the circumstances (events that preceded or were determined to be related to a victim’s death) and other contexts of these violent deaths.

For a comprehensive report of NVDRS data, see the latest NVDRS Surveillance Summaries.

All 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico submit data into NVDRS.

State laws require that death certificates be filed for all deaths and that violent deaths, including homicides, suicides, and deaths of undetermined intent, be reviewed by a coroner or medical examiner. States that receive funding for NVDRS agree to report de-identified data to CDC.

CDC’s Injury Center distributes information from NVDRS at the national level in both summary and topic-specific reports.

NVDRS data are stored in an incident-based database. Descriptive data can be accessed free of charge from the Web-based Injury Statistics and Query System (WISQARS). More detailed data from NVDRS is available through the NVDRS Restricted Access Database (RAD). NVDRS RAD is a de-identified, multi-year, multi-state, case-level dataset comprised of hundreds of unique variables.  The data set is available to researchers who meet specific criteria. The RAD database also includes short narratives to describe violent deaths, including descriptions abstracted from law enforcement and coroner/medical examiner reports. There is no cost for accessing the NVDRS RAD. To learn more about these data, eligibility requirements, and the application process, please visit our Data Access webpage.

NVDRS data increase our knowledge about where violent deaths occur, who is most at risk, and the factors that contribute to violent deaths. These data provide the foundation for building successful strategies for preventing violence so that all communities can be safe and free from violence and people can live to their full potential. To learn more, read the NVDRS Impact Examples.

CDC is taking the following steps to ensure that NVDRS data inform violence prevention activities:

  • Raising awareness about NVDRS data and promoting its use at the national level.
  • Providing resources to states to monitor and report their data.
  • Enhancing the reporting platform to increase efficiency, timeliness of data entry, and consistency.

State health departments (or their bona fide agents) that participate in NVDRS submit information to CDC. No personally identifying information, including names, addresses, and dates of birth is submitted to CDC. Participating states and territories enter data into a secure web-based system. Local laws that protect other types of health department records, such as communicable disease records, also apply to NVDRS data.

NVDRS is operated in compliance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-53, “Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations.”  The NVDRS System Security Plan is reviewed annually by CDC’s Office of the Chief Information Security Officer (OCISO), which also conducts continuous monitoring of the NVDRS servers and databases.

During the 19 years of NVDRS data collection, there have been no reported data breaches or compromises of the confidentiality or security of the system.

NVDRS seeks to address the reasons that violent deaths occurred (the “why”) by understanding the “who, when, where, and how” of those deaths. Circumstances are recorded by law enforcement and coroners/medical examiners, and NVDRS integrates this information so it can be used together by states and communities to better understand the context of violent deaths.

For suicides, examples of circumstances include a history of depression or other mental health conditions; recent problems with a job, finances, or relationships; and/or the recent death of a family member. Examples of homicide circumstances include that an incident was related to intimate partner violence; a crime in progress at the time of the incident; gang activity; and/or drug involvement.

Information about circumstances is important to help inform prevention activities and is gathered from witnesses, family, friends, and other informants by death investigators. See below for a more detailed list of the circumstance information that is included.

Circumstances preceding fatal injury, by manner of death — National Violent Death Reporting System, 2021

Suicide/Undetermined Intent
  • History of suicidal thoughts or plans: decedent had previously expressed suicidal thoughts or plans.
  • History of non-suicidal self-injury/self-harm: decedent had a history of intentionally inflicting pain or injuring one’s own body without the conscious intent of dying by suicide.
  • History of suicide attempts: decedent had previously attempted suicide before the fatal incident.
  • Recent disclosed suicidal thoughts or intent to die by suicide: decedent had previously expressed suicidal feelings to another person with time for that person to intervene.
  • Disclosed to whom: person to whom decedent recently disclosed suicidal thoughts and/or plans to die by suicide.
  • Left a suicide note: decedent left a note, e-mail message, video, or other communication indicating intent to die by suicide.
  • Recent criminal legal problem: decedent was facing criminal legal problems.
  • Non-criminal legal problem: decedent was facing civil legal problems (e.g., a child custody, civil lawsuit).
  • Physical health problem: decedent was experiencing physical health problems (e.g., a recent cancer diagnosis, chronic pain).
  • Job problem: decedent was either experiencing a problem at work or was having a problem with joblessness.
  • Financial problem: decedent was experiencing problems such as bankruptcy, overwhelming debt, or foreclosure of a home or business.
  • School problem: decedent was experiencing a problem such as poor grades, bullying, social exclusion at school, or performance pressures.
  • Eviction or loss of home: decedent was experiencing a recent eviction or other loss of housing.
  • Suicide of friend or family: decedent was distraught over, or reacting to, the suicide of a friend or family member.
Homicide/Legal Intervention
  • Jealousy (lovers’ triangle): jealousy or distress over an intimate partner’s relationship or suspected relationship with another person.
  • Stalking: pattern of unwanted harassing or threatening tactics by either the decedent or suspect.
  • Prostitution: prostitution or related activity that includes prostitutes, pimps, clients, or others involved in such activity.
  • Drug involvement: drug dealing, drug trade, or illegal drug use.
  • Brawl: mutual physical fight involving three or more persons.
  • Mercy killing: decedent wished to die because of terminal or hopeless disease or condition, and documentation indicates that the decedent wanted to be killed.
  • Victim was a bystander: decedent was not the intended target in the incident (e.g., pedestrian walking past a gang fight).
  • Victim was a police officer on duty: decedent was a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty.
  • Victim was an intervener assisting a crime victim: decedent was attempting to assist a crime victim at the time of the incident (e.g., child attempts to intervene and is killed while trying to assist a parent who is being assaulted).
  • Victim used a weapon: decedent used a weapon to attack or defend during the course of the incident.
  • Intimate partner violence–related: incident is related to conflict between current or former intimate partners; includes the death of an intimate partner or nonintimate partners (e.g., child or parent) killed to cause pain to an intimate partner.
  • Hate crime: decedent was selected intentionally because of his or her actual or perceived gender, religion, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, or disability.
  • Mentally ill suspect: suspect’s attack on decedent was believed to be the direct result of a mental illness.
  • Drive-by shooting: suspect drove near the decedent and fired a weapon while driving.
  • Walk-by assault: decedent was killed by a targeted attack (e.g., ambush) where the suspect fled on foot.
  • Random violence: decedent was killed by a random act of violence.
  • Gang-related: incident resulted from gang activity or gang rivalry; not used if the decedent was a gang member and the death did not appear to result from gang activity.
All Manners of Death (Except Unintentional Firearm Deaths)
  • Current depressed mood: decedent was perceived by self or others to be depressed.
  • Current diagnosed mental health problem: decedent was identified as having a mental health disorder or syndrome listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Version V (DSM-V), with the exception of alcohol and other substance dependence (these are captured in separate variables).
  • Type of mental health diagnosis: identifies the DSM-V diagnosis made by a medical or mental health practitioner.
  • Current mental health treatment: decedent was currently receiving mental health treatment as evidenced by a current prescription for a psychotropic medication or visit to a mental health professional in the previous 2 months.
  • History of treatment for mental health problem: decedent was identified as having ever received mental health treatment during the decedent’s lifetime.
  • Alcohol/other substance problem: decedent was perceived by self or others to have a problem with, or to be addicted to, alcohol or other drugs.
  • Other addiction: decedent was perceived by self or others to have an addiction other than alcohol or other substance abuse (e.g. gambling, sex).
  • Family relationship problem: decedent was experiencing problems with a family member, other than an intimate partner.
  • Other relationship problem: decedent was experiencing problems with a friend or associate (other than an intimate partner or family member).
  • History of child abuse/neglect: decedent had history of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse; physical, emotional, or educational neglect; or exposure to a violent environment or inadequate supervision by a caretaker as a child.
  • Caretaker abuse/neglect led to death: decedent was experiencing physical, sexual, or psychological abuse; physical, emotional, or educational neglect; or exposure to a violent environment or inadequate supervision by a caretaker that led to death.
  • Perpetrator of interpersonal violence in previous month: decedent perpetrated interpersonal violence during the previous month.
  • Victim of interpersonal violence in previous month: decedent was the target of interpersonal violence during the past month.
  • Physical fight: a physical fight between two individuals that resulted in the death of the decedent who was either involved in the fight, a bystander, or trying to stop the fight.
  • Argument or conflict: a specific argument or disagreement occurred during the incident.
  • Precipitated by another crime: incident occurred as the result of another serious crime.
  • Nature of crime: identifies the specific type of other crime that occurred during the incident (e.g., robbery or drug trafficking).
  • Crime in progress: serious crime was in progress at the time of the incident.
  • Terrorist attack: decedent was injured in a terrorist attack, leading to death.
  • Crisis during previous or upcoming 2 weeks: current crisis or acute precipitating event(s) that either occurred in the previous 2 weeks or was impending in the following 2 weeks (e.g., a trial for a criminal offense begins the following week).
  • Other crisis: a crisis related to a death but not captured by any of the standard circumstances.
Unintentional Firearm Death
Context of Injury
  • Hunting: death occurred any time after leaving home for a hunting trip and before returning home from a hunting trip.
  • Target shooting: shooter was aiming for a target and unintentionally hit the decedent; can be at a shooting range or an informal backyard setting (e.g., teenagers shooting at signposts on a fence).
  • Loading/unloading gun: gun discharged when the shooter was loading/unloading ammunition.
  • Cleaning gun: shooter pulled trigger or gun discharged while cleaning, repairing, assembling or disassembling gun.
  • Showing gun to others: showing the gun to another person when the gun discharged or the trigger was pulled.
  • Playing with gun: shooter and one or more others were playing with a gun when it discharged.
  • Celebratory firing: shooter fired gun in celebratory manner (e.g., on New Year’s Eve night).
  • Other context of injury: shooting occurred during some context other than those already described.
Mechanism of Injury
  • Unintentionally pulled trigger: shooter unintentionally pulled the trigger (e.g., while grabbing the gun or holding it too tightly).
  • Thought gun safety was engaged: shooter thought the safety was on and gun would not discharge.
  • Thought unloaded/magazine disengaged: shooter thought the gun was unloaded because the magazine was disengaged.
  • Thought gun was unloaded: shooter thought the gun was unloaded for other unspecified reason.
  • Bullet ricochet: bullet ricocheted from its intended target and struck the decedent.
  • Gun defect or malfunction: gun had a defect or malfunctioned as determined by a trained firearm examiner.
  • Gun fired while holstering: gun was being replaced or removed from holster/clothing.
  • Dropped gun: gun discharged when it was dropped or when something was dropped on it.
  • Gun fired while operating safety/lock: shooter unintentionally fired the gun while operating the safety lock.
  • Gun mistaken for toy: gun was mistaken for a toy and was fired without the user understanding the danger.
  • Other mechanism of injury: shooting occurred as the result of a mechanism not already described.

NVDRS collects data on all mechanisms leading to fatal injury, including the following:

  • Firearm: method that uses a powder charge to fire a projectile
  • Sharp instrument: knife, razor, machete, or pointed instrument (e.g., chisel or broken glass)
  • Blunt instrument: club, bat, rock, or brick
  • Poisoning: street drug, alcohol, pharmaceutical, carbon monoxide, gas, rat poison, or insecticide
  • Hanging/strangulation/suffocation: hanging by the neck, manual strangulation, or plastic bag over the head
  • Personal weapons: hands, fists, or feet
  • Fall: being pushed or jumping
  • Drowning: inhalation of liquid in bathtub, lake, or other source of water/liquid
  • Fire/burn: inhalation of smoke or the direct effects of fire or chemical burns
  • Shaking: shaking a baby, child, or adult
  • Motor vehicle: car, bus, or motorcycle
  • Other transport vehicle: train or airplane
  • Intentional neglect: starvation, lack of adequate supervision, or withholding of health care
  • Other: any method other than those listed above
  • Unknown: method not reported or not known

NVDRS collects additional details on firearms and poisons, such as the type of firearm or substance involved. These data are obtained from law enforcement, coroner/medical examiner, and toxicology reports.

NVDRS collects information on unintentional firearm deaths but not other types of unintentional deaths. The primary reason for this is so that NVDRS can provide a more complete picture of firearm-related injury deaths in the country. These data have allowed researchers to examine the classifications of assault-related, suicide-related, undetermined, and unintentional firearm deaths, which can vary across jurisdictions where these deaths occur.

NVDRS is an incident-based system, which means it is able to link deaths that occurred during the same violent event to help identify the circumstances of multiple homicides (such as mass shootings) or homicides followed by suicides.

Page last reviewed: September 28, 2021