U.S. Stands Alone in Gun Deaths Among Advanced Nations

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Investigators inspect the site of Sunday morning's shooting in Orlando. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images


Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger Katz, © 2016 New York Times News Service

The mass shooting Sunday in Orlando, Florida, was appalling in scale: 49 killed in a single attack. But it’s not unusual for dozens of Americans to be killed by guns in a single day.

Gun homicides are a common cause of death in the United States, killing about as many people as car crashes (not counting van, truck, motorcycle or bus accidents). Some cases command our attention more than others, of course. Counting mass shootings that make headlines and the thousands of Americans murdered one or a few at a time, gunshot homicides totaled 8,124 in 2014, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

This level of violence makes the United States an extreme outlier when measured against the experience of other advanced countries.

Around the world, those countries have substantially lower rates of deaths from gun homicide. In Germany, being murdered with a gun is as uncommon as being killed by a falling object in the United States. About two people out of every million are killed in a gun homicide. Gun homicides are just as rare in several other European countries, including the Netherlands and Austria. In the United States, two per million is roughly the death rate for hypothermia or plane crashes.

In Poland and England, only about one out of every million people die in gun homicides each year — about as often as an American dies in an agricultural accident or falling from a ladder. In Japan, where gun homicides are even rarer, the likelihood of dying this way is about the same as an American’s chance of being killed by lightning — roughly one in 10 million.

In the United States, the death rate from gun homicides is about 31 per million people — the equivalent of 27 people shot dead every day of the year. The homicides include losses from mass shootings, like Sunday’s Orlando attack, or the San Bernardino, California, shooting in December. And of course, they also include the country’s vastly more common single-victim killings.

To give you a sense of how unusual America’s gun violence problem is, consider the daily death toll compared with other Western democracies.

International comparisons help highlight how exceptional the United States is. In a nation where the right to bear arms is cherished by much of the population, gun homicides are a significant public health concern. For men 15-29, they are the third-leading cause of death, after accidents and suicides. In other high-income countries, gun homicides are unusual events. Last year’s Paris attacks killed 130 people, which is nearly as many as die from gun homicides in all of France in a typical year. But even if France had a mass shooting as deadly as the Paris attacks every month, its annual rate of gun homicide deaths would be lower than that in the United States.

Our gun homicide numbers come from the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss nonprofit affiliated with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and represent the average gun homicide death rates in those countries between 2007 and 2012. The U.S. death rates come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over those same years. There are more recent statistics on U.S. gun deaths, like the FBI number at the top of this article, but we chose these years to provide fair comparisons. We focused on the rates of gun homicides; the overall rate of gun deaths is substantially higher, because suicides make up a majority of gun deaths in the United States and are also higher than in other developed countries.

The rate of gun violence in the United States is not the highest in the world. In parts of Central America, Africa and the Middle East, the gun death rates are even higher — close to those from heart attacks and lung cancer in the United States. In neighboring Mexico, where a drug war rages, 122 people per million die in a gun homicide, a rate slightly higher than Americans’ death rate from pancreatic cancer. But the countries with those levels of gun violence are not like the United States in many other ways, including GDP, life expectancy and education. Among developed democracies, the United States is an outlier.


To Learn More:

Gun Murders in Missouri Increase after Easing of Gun Control Laws (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

12 States Have more Gun Deaths than Motor Vehicle Deaths (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

86 Firearm Deaths a Day in U.S.; 60% are Suicides (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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