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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.

Bing: Obama pledges action on gun violence now

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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Dec 19, 2012 10:35PM
Once we give up this constitutional right, we can be as safe as the people of Mexico.
Dec 19, 2012 10:34PM
Its amazing 25 people are killed by guns every day,  how many are killed by abortion every day?
Dec 19, 2012 10:33PM
American simply have a tough a time dealing with being told they are wrong about anything...it truly is like preaching to the stupid....what you say has no resonance, and there is no logical form of debate with the unwilling...lets see...the world told Americans they were wrong to invade Viet Nam...listen??/ NO....The same world told the US not to invade Iraq....LISTEN??/ no...The world tells Americans they are simply WRONG about gun control, or lack there of it...do they listen??/ NO...Same bunch of pig headed we are the greatest, we can't be taught, we are holier than thou Americans who can't be taught. Why ??? Americans are too stupid to learn anything...PERIOD
Dec 19, 2012 10:33PM
You responders, for the most part, make knee jerk arguments, not sensible ones based on data. The number of crimes prevented by gun toting civilians is MINISCULE!!! You hyper defensive gun fans will present ANY excuse to justify gun ownership. If you look at the Constitution in relation to when it was written you can't help but realize that it was written when firearms were needed to provide food and defend the homestead against marauding groups and wild predators. Technology has so out paced need that it is incomprehensible that one can compare equally gun laws then with the need for new gun laws now. Do you need an assault weapon to hunt deer?? What makes the average hand gun owner think that he/she has been properly trained to assess and react to a presumed home threat? I once had a joker come in to my store with a hand gun on his hip. I told him that he wasn't welcome in my store with a loaded firearm and that he could leave or put the gun in his car and lock it up and then come back. He refused. I asked him why he carried in the first place. The idiot's response was " suppose the bank across the street was being robbed?" After I was sure that I wouldn't laugh, I asked him what he was implying. He said he could out there and confront the robbers and, if necessary, engage in a gunfight so that he could stop the criminals." First I replied "that's the reason we have law enforcement  - its their job to deal with situations like that - you are not trained nor are you entitled to engage in irresponsible armed confrontation, especially where the public welfare is at risk". Then I told him that he had a lot of research to do concerning the involvement of private individuals in exchange of gunfire and what the statistics prove. He didn't want to listen anymore and THEN he started mumbling about the secret instructions written on the back of stop signs that would help lead the invading enemies of the U.S. to important installations, etc. That's when I told him to take a hike. It turned out that his family had a barricaded family compound out in the Wapiti Valley with a huge metal gate and warning signs proclaiming the dire results of trespassing on their property.  I'm sure that they have progressed to being doomsday preppers loading up on food, weapons and bomb proof bunkers in preparation for the end of days. I don't think that they are the kind of "folks" who would travel down to Mexico waiting for the doom of civilization. They'll face the consequences in their little compound while the rest of the world smiles and has a collective cocktail or cold beer. Of course, when the end DOESN'T come on the 21st, they'll have an excuse of some kind that will reschedule the EOD. Gun ownership can easily be addressed and allowed but it must be open to rational and reasonable discussion with a sensible and responsible agenda. The way that gun ownership was presented in the 18th century no longer makes sense today. The laws concerning gun ownership need to be revisited and revised where necessary to help guarantee our welfare and protect our citizens, especially our children, from the increasing occurrence of senseless mass murder. This is NOT  a pursuit of total gun control but the it is the pursuit of responsible and regulated gun ownership. Gun ownership should not be offered with a blanket permit for just ANY type of firearm. It should be offered with reasonable and necessary constraints that any rational gun owner should understand and support.
Dec 19, 2012 10:32PM
After reading this article it finally  came to me...........THE WHOLE PROBLEM ISN'T GUNS........................IT'S THIS COUNTRY.............and the ****s running it.
Dec 19, 2012 10:31PM
I am so f'ing sick and tired of hearing how guns don't kill people, people kill people, people WITH guns kill people! Get used to it, there is going to be some sort of firearm control, ,there is no reason in the world for anyone to own an AR15 or an Uzi or any kind of assault weapon. We have the highest murder by firearm rate in the civilized world, something has to be done!
Dec 19, 2012 10:30PM

"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"


I don't think all 300,000 would still be breathing.  In some cases, the killer would choose a different weapon.  So, maybe 270K, 280K, would be alive, but not every one of them  (Also, statistically some would have died from other causes, like car accidents, etc).


So, I guess there IS some debate.

Dec 19, 2012 10:30PM

the author  of this article has some interesting information however they say that not for gun violence there would be another 300,000 people alive today truly though one cannot  say that because cars drugs bad air artery clogging foods sugars in an unhealthy dose knifes accidents of million ways. so really you can never truly say that had it not been for the gun the death  wouldn't have happen

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