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A global view on American gun violence

Firearm ownership and homicides relative to the rest of the world.

By Rich_Maloof Dec 19, 2012 7:50PM

Around the world, there are more than 656,000,000 firearms in the hands of civilians. A fresh batch of eight million small arms are manufactured every year, plus 10 to 15 billion rounds of ammunition. That’s enough to shoot every person in the world — twice.

Photo: Bill Boch/Getty ImagesWhere does the U.S. rank in gun ownership and gun violence relative to other countries of the world?

It depends on how you consider the data: by percentage of guns per capita, by mass killings committed, by gun homicides in nations with comparable economies, or even by unintentional gun deaths.

We are the unrivaled leader in all of those categories.

Here are a few facts to begin gaining some perspective.

There are an estimated 270,000,000 guns held by civilians in the U.S. — more than the number of passenger cars by about 50 million. It may be expected that we’d have more than the other 178 countries surveyed, but we also have by far the highest percentage of guns per capita. The rate? For every 100 people in America there are 88.8 guns. The nearest competitor is Serbia at 58.21 per 100 people, and rates fall off significantly from there.

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Ownership rates can’t be equated with violence, and we are not the most homicidal nation by a long shot. Honduras has only 6.2 guns per 100 people, a small fraction of our own rate, but has the most homicides per gun. In that small Central American republic there are 68.43 killings by gun per 100,000 people, compared to just 2.98 per 100,000 in the U.S.

In fact, underdeveloped nations far surpass wealthier regions in armed civilian violence. Countries in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, the near and middle East, and Southwest Asia far outgun North America, Central Asia, and Europe in percentage of homicides by firearm.

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However, relative to other highly developed nations, our record is abysmal. Using statistics from the UN and national sources, PolitiFact calculated that the rate of gun homicide in the U.S. was 15 times the rate of comparable countries like Australia, Japan, Norway, and the UK nations (as of 2009).

Mass shootings are not unique to America. But for civilian massacres outside of wartime, we have more than all other nations combined. Of the 25 worst mass shootings of the past 50 years listed in Time this past July, months before Sandy Hook, 15 occurred in the U.S. Of the other nations, only Finland, with two entries, had more than one shooting ranked.

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Worldwide there are more than 1,000 gun deaths daily. In the U.S., we average 25 every day, or more than one person shot to death every hour.

Back in 2000, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the death toll from small arms “dwarfs that of all other weapons systems — and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

In other words, the carnage wrought by the most devastating weapons of mass destruction ever unleashed on mankind is repeated every year in gun violence. Certainly there’s an argument to be made for responsible firearm ownership. But there’s no debating that if it weren’t for gun violence, nearly 300,000 people who were alive at this time last year would still be breathing.

Primary sources: Geneva Declaration Secretariat, GunPolicy.org, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, PolitiFact Virginia

Photo: Bill Boch/Getty Images

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