Gun Violence in the US Far Exceeds Levels in Other Rich Nations

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Mass shootings like the horrific attack that killed 19 children and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, or the murder of 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York the week prior, are all too common in the US. There have been 214 mass shootings—defined by Gun Violence Archive as one in which at least 4 people were shot—in the US within the first 145 days of the year. These types of tragedies feel unique to America, where there are more civilian-owned guns than people.

In reality, gun violence is a huge issue in many other countries—just none that the US would consider a peer.

The US Stands Out

Countries with high rates of violent gun deaths tend to be poorer
  • Developed economies
Note: GDP per capita for Denmark and Greenland come from CIA. Greenland GDP per capita is for 2015, the latest available data.
Sources: Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation, IMF, CIA

Gun deaths are high in places like El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia, where gang violence and drug trafficking are prevalent. Among developed economies, no others have nearly as many violent firearm deaths as the US.

Odd One Out

Gun violence deaths per 100,000 people in developed economies
Sources: Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation, United Nations

Latin America

The gun homicide rate is high in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2021, the Mexican government sued the US and several gunmakers saying loose controls are contributing to the illegal flow of weapons over the border. Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Chile allow citizens to own guns but regulate the purchase of them.

In Brazil, firearms have become easier to get and multiplied in circulation under the unabashedly pro-gun President Jair Bolsonaro, who claims putting guns in the hands of “good guys” helps lower crime. Registered collectors, hunters and recreational gun users surged 325%, to over 1 million licensed owners last year, from just over 255,000 in 2018, according to a joint study by Igarape Institute and Sou da Paz Institute, local organizations that focus on issues of security and violence.

Asia

In China, Chairman Mao Zedong once famously said: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” The Communist Party implemented one of the strictest gun control laws in 1996, banning possession, manufacturing, trade, transport, lease of guns for anyone other than state-approved personnel, such as law enforcers, security guards, approved athletes and hunters.

In India, the world’s second most populous nation, getting a gun license involves thorough assessment and background checks. The country of 1.4 billion people had about 3.3 million gun licenses in 2018.

Southeast Asia has strict gun controls though it is a hub for cross-border arms smuggling and trafficking. Cambodia and Vietnam have bans on firearms while Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand have restrictive controls. The death penalty can be imposed for gun-related crimes in countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Europe

European countries have strict regulations that ban civilians from bearing guns, with few exceptions. The deadly terrorist attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris in 2015 and the mass shooting near a Munich shopping mall the following year focused attention on the proliferation of converted alarm handguns across the region.

“In general, there is a long-term decline in firearms homicides across the EU,” says Katharina Krüsselmann, a PhD Researcher on Gun Violence and Homicide who worked on EU’s Project Target. Sweden stands out for a high level of gun homicide compared with other European countries, at about 4 deaths per million inhabitants per year. The average for Europe is roughly 1.6 deaths per million inhabitants, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.

Central and Eastern Europe have had a lower frequency of mass shootings than the US, according to Alexei Anisin from the Anglo American University in Prague. There are strict regulations on gun ownership across the region, and getting permission usually requires jumping through layers of bureaucracy, including a psychological assessment and a training process.

Middle East and South Africa

Firearms in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE are very strictly regulated with behavioral and background checks, leading to very few instances of gun violence. The minimum age to obtain a license is 21, and guns need to be registered. In Kuwait, even the bullets need to be licensed.

In South Africa, there are an estimated 2.72 million firearms owned by private individuals in the nation of 60 million people. The country recorded 7,351 fire-arm related killings in 2019-20, according to the most recent available data from the Police Ministry.

“Firearm-related crime is the leading cause of murders in South Africa. But, we don’t have a trend of mass shootings at schools, rather we have incidents of killing of family members and firearms being used in gangs or syndicate related crimes,” Police Ministry spokeswoman Lirandzu Themba said by phone from Pretoria.