Gun-owners like to defend their right to bear arms by talking about America's "gun culture" and the long history of gun-ownership in the United States. But perhaps the better term is "shooting culture" because we not only love our guns, we also love to shoot people with them: Americans are 25 times more likely to die by gunshot than anywhere else in the developed world.
In a study based on World Health Organisation (WHO) data from 2010, by Erin Grinshteyn and David Hemenway, researchers from the University of Nevada-Reno have detailed the absurd risks of guns in the U.S.
The study compares mortality data from developed countries— places like Europe, Japan and Korea, Australia and New Zealand, plus many more—taking the statistics for death rates per 100,000 population. The numbers are startling, so let’s get right to it.
In the U.S., homicide rates in general are seven times higher than elsewhere. That’s general murder, including all weapons or methods. For guns alone, U.S. rates are 25.2 times higher than the rest of the world.
Even if you don’t get yourself murdered, you’re still 10 times more likely to get shot to death—the overall firearm death rate, says the study, is 10 times that found in other places. This includes being shot by accident and then dying. Firearm suicide rates are eight time higher than anywhere else.
That’s not to say that the U.S. has more crime in general. Non-lethal crimes are similar to other developed countries. It’s the lethal crime that is so out of whack. And while the number of gun deaths hasn’t risen since the last wide-ranging study in 2003, they’ve dropped everywhere else in the world, widening the gap from the other direction.
The tie for next most trigger-happy country on the list is between Portugal and Canada, both with 0.5 firearm homicides per 100,000 population (the U.S. figure is 3.6). Then we come to Ireland (0.4), then Italy and Finland (0.3). Everywhere else is lower, and the U.K., Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea all enjoy zero gun deaths, although Norway suffered a gun massacre in 2011, a year after the date covered by these figures.
Gun ownership in other countries varies. In Norway, according to Wikipedia, there are 31.3 guns per 100 residents, but in the U.K. there are just 6.6 per 100 people (for comparison, the U.S., has 112.6 guns per 100 people). In the U.K., handguns are illegal, and the police are not armed (although guns can be carried in some situations).
All of the numbers in Grinshteyn and Hemenway’s paper are interesting, and helpfully arranged into tables, but this snippet really shows just how different the U.S. is from the rest of the world:
"Ninety percent of women, 91% of children aged 0 to 14 years, 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms were from the United States."