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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 10:07PM
One thing I heard years ago was that the only reason Japan did not continue on to attack the mainland when they hit hawaii was the fact that they new most all americans had guns in their homes.  Makes you think doesn't it?
I just hope people don't fall for Obama's goal to kill the 2nd amendment.  Yes these killings are horrendous.  But taking the guns out of amrican hands will be worse.
Dec 19, 2012 10:07PM

try and take my guns...see what happens!!

Dec 19, 2012 10:06PM
sad, very sad how RWNJ are destroying this country...
Dec 19, 2012 10:05PM

we have a social problem, not a gun problem. what has been done to address the mentally ill in this country; exactly. divorce is at an all time high, the govt. thinks marijuana is ok to use, our borders are open to let in tons of illegal drugs,our economy is in the toilet; we are held hostage by criminals who are let out early because it's too expensive to house them because we think it's more important to give unrealistec pensions to unions blood suckers and you want blame guns for our problems; get real. let's be accountable for where the problem lies. we don't want address the mentally ill like we need to. if they are a danger they don't belong in the streets. I don't care that he/she or it is fine most of the time. he/she or it is danger and society should not  be at risk. i don't care if they are retarded, have autism, asperger, bipolar,depressed, or a junkie. society should not be put at risk. let 's address the metaly ill now.

Dec 19, 2012 10:05PM
I'm not sure how I feel about the issue and am not a gun owner. Some of my family and friends do own though. The one statement that seems wrong to me is the last one..    "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". Certainly a lot of those deaths  would have occurred anyway
Dec 19, 2012 10:04PM

To compare the US to any other nation on earth is pointless.  The US is unique in almost every regard.  We have more diversity than any other nation on the planet in terms of ethnicity, wealth and religion.  Yet we live, work and enjoy life together.  In other nations people are killing each other over these same issues.  We have more immigration issues than any other nation.  Who is beating down the door to get into Japan, Norway or the UK.  We have a poor, lawless country that borders us to south.  Japan, UK and Australia are Islands.  Makes immigration control a littler easier eh?


We are the leaders of the free world and for good reason.  Phycos commiting mass murders or not, we will not give up our guns.  Why?  Because we are FREE people.

Dec 19, 2012 10:04PM
OK gang let's summarize.

Annual Deaths by Guns - 9,125
Annual Deaths by Car Accident - 33,000
Annual Deaths by Medical Error - 200,000

So let's deal with the smallest problem first in order to gain some experience and then we can move on to the more significant problems later.

Dec 19, 2012 10:04PM

While I know that a sounds examination of the stats shows that owning guns is the cause of the problem, I am also jaded enough to know that if a sentence is worded properly, the stats can be twisted to suggest otherwise. We have all seen this happen in the last week.


So forget stats for a moment, and consider this: Why are we just about the only post-industrial democracy to have so many guns (per capita)? Why does essentially the whole civilized world come to one conclusion, and America another? Take your head out of the sand and realize that America is not always right.

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