Visualizing gun deaths – Comparing the U.S. to rest of the world

JohnWayneWhen it comes to gun violence, the United States stands out.

President Obama’s nominee for surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, a renowned Boston-based physician, has advocated for stricter gun-control laws and referred to the U.S. rates of gun violence as a public health threat.  Murthy’s views have ignited opposition from the gun lobby and politicians on both sides of the aisle, virtually assuring an end to his bid to become the U.S.’s top public health official.

In any debate about gun control and violence prevention, it is useful to examine data on gun deaths.

How does the US stack up against other countries when it comes to homicides involving guns? The screen grab below, which uses findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, illustrates the  difference in firearm homicide rates between the US and other high-income countries. Adjusting for differences in population size, rates of homicides from guns were  6.6 times larger in the US than in Portugal, the country with one of the highest rates in Western Europe.

Firearm homicide rates in selected high-income countries, 2010

Gun Violence

In a 2013 article for The Atlantic online that compared gun homicides in US cities to some of the deadliest places in the world, the authors created a map, below, that shows Atlanta has the same gun murder rate as South Africa, Detroit as El Salvador, Phoenix equal to Mexico’s gun homicide rate:

Atlantic Gun Violence

The Atlantic

Another screen grab, below, compares gun homicide rates in the US with countries that frequently make headlines for conflict-related violence (Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Pakistan).

The US has higher rates of homicides from guns than Pakistan. At 4.5 deaths per 100,000 people, the US rates aren’t much lower than gun homicide rates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (5.2 deaths per 100,000 people). Annually, the US has about two fewer gun homicide deaths per 100,000 people than Iraq, which has 6.5 deaths per 100,000.

Firearm homicide rates in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States, and Pakistan, 2010

Gun Violence 2Compared to certain countries known for their high crime rates, such as Jamaica, Russia, South Africa, and Kenya, the US had the second-highest rate of gun homicide deaths after Jamaica (view data online).

Although the US stands out for its high rates of homicide firearm deaths, its rates look small compared to certain Latin American countries. The following screen grab indicates that El Salvador, Colombia, and Honduras had the highest rates of firearm homicides in the world in 2010.

Firearm homicide rates in Latin America and the United States, 2010

Gun Violence 3

What can the US learn from strategies these countries are taking to address gun violence?

One inspiring example comes from Cali, Colombia, and highlights the value of using data to identify risk factors for homicide. In the early 1990s, the mayor of Cali decided to use data to improve health outcomes in his city. A physician and epidemiologist by training, Dr. Rodrigo Guerrero Velasco set up a firearm death tracking system to identify different risk factors driving these trends. Guerrero Velasco and his colleagues found that more than half of Cali’s homicide victims were intoxicated. Also, analysis of the data revealed that homicides were more likely to involve young people and occur on holiday weekends, weekends following paydays, and election days.

Based on these findings, Guerrero Velasco implemented several interventions to address these risk factors, such as limiting the hours alcohol could be sold, imposing curfews for individuals under 18 on the weekends, and imposing short-term gun bans on select weekends and election days when homicides were most likely to occur. According to an academic study based on an analysis of the city’s gun death database, homicides declined from a high of 124 per 100,000 in 1994 to 86 per 100,000 in 1997. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and co-authored by University of Washington epidemiologists found that homicide death rates were 14% lower than expected during periods when gun bans were imposed in Cali.

Homicide rates in Cali, Colombia, 1983-1998

HomicidesCaliNote: Figure taken from paper entitled “La epidemiología de los homicidios en Cali, 1993-1998: seis años de un modelo poblacional” published in the Pan American Journal of Public Health

In 2011, Guerrero Velasco was re-elected to a second term as mayor of Cali. It will be enlightening to see what additional steps he takes to curb the city’s gun violence.

Instead of using local data to identify local solutions, the US may largely have to rely on studies done in other countries to gain insight into ways to curb gun violence. Even though Obama lifted a 17-year-old ban on US federal funding for gun violence research in 2013, a congressional ban on funding for this research remains in place.

Katie Leach-Kemon, a weekly contributor of global health visual information posts for Humanosphere, is a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

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About Author

Katie Leach-Kemon

Katherine writes and produces policy reports, contributes to weekly blog posts for Humanosphere, and conducts outreach worldwide to boost awareness and understanding of IHME’s Global Burden of Disease research. In addition, she contributes to IHME’s health financing research. Katherine is a former IHME Post-Graduate Fellow.

  • steve

    I just want to know, are you naive or just really stupid?

    • KenD

      Please explain.

    • gunsfornuns

      yes, please do go on steve. you have got us all so enthralled. do you know what that word means? enthralled. maybe ask an actual involved question instead of being and instadick then biding your time for a response… you slack jawed mongoloid sisterfucker. at least im an asshole with front teeth.

      • gunsfornuns

        sticks and stones may break my bones but hollow points expand on impact. brah

      • The One Who Knows

        *Tries to sound intelligent*
        *Uses the term “mongoloid” as an insult*
        Yeah okay you’re just another idiot…

        • Rees Britton

          Mon·gol·oid adjective ˈmäŋ-gə-ˌlȯid
          Definition of MONGOLOID
          1
          : of, constituting, or characteristic of a race of humankind native to Asia and classified according to physical features (as the presence of an epicanthic fold)
          2
          often not capitalized usually offensive : of, relating to, or affected with Down syndrome
          — Mongoloid noun

          It is an insult you dult!

        • Rees Britton

          *tries to be an asshole
          *thinks mongoloid isnt an insult
          Yeah okay you’re just another idiot…

  • ussr51478

    Who keeps statistics on gun death in Afghanistan or Sudan? Just curious…

    • RPTX

      They can’t be accurate.

  • Voice_of_Reason

    Probably ought to look at TOTAL homicide rates. My understanding is that the homicide rate in Russia is four times that of the US, with kitchen knives being the most common weapon there.

    • mj2280

      “Probably ought to look at TOTAL homicide rates. My understanding is that the homicide rate in Russia is four times that of the US, with kitchen knives being the most common weapon there.”

      That is a valid point, although the rate difference between Russia and the U.S. is not 4x, but twice as much (4.7 to 9.2). That said, do we really just need to be better off than Russia to be doing the right thing? In my mind, being behind pretty much every first world country (even in total homicide rate) is a problem.

      Guns without a doubt cause issues in our country. People flout the 2nd amendment without understanding the amendment itself. People toss around conspiracy theories about how background checks will lead to an all out gun ban, even though our Supreme Court has essentially made such a ban impossible. The numbers in this article are worthy of a discussion. I just wish it could be done rationally, and by a Congress that was not afraid of special interest groups (Here’s lookin’ at the NRA).

      • Rincoln

        The numbers are complete bulshit. They are supplied by a medical organization with bias against gun ownership. You want real numbers, check the FBI database http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-8

        • mj2280

          All the numbers say that we lead in gun violence, so not sure which you are taking offense to. Even the FBI numbers, which are based on UCR data and are also flawed, still say we lead first world countries in gun violence. That is indisputable.

          If you want even more trustworthy information, you should look to peer reviewed research. There are a number of studies out there (Hoskins, 2011; Wells & Horney 2002; Donohue 2003; Block 1997; Hemenway, 2004). Those are a just a few that either compare gun violence across countries or discuss it.

          As I said, it really is indisputable that we lead our peer countries in gun violence. Now, what we should do about it is worthy of a debate. Preferably, a debate without special interest group’s interfering.

          • john robel

            YOU’RE FULL OF SHIT.

        • Matthew Clemens

          I did some basic math to compare the firearm homicide rates against what the fbi has posted and they are identical. Do you have a calculator?

        • john robel

          YEAH BUDDY !!

  • guest

    I would like to see a study of gun ownership within a country compared to freedoms its citizens enjoy. Wouldn’t U.S. citizens spike high in both categories compared to the rest of the world?

    • kate

      Other countries with strict gun control don’t have less freedoms in general!! There there are things you can do in the US that you can’t do in other countries but other countries have freedoms the US doesn’t have… We like to believe that we are the people with the most freedom but if you have lived in certain other countries you might find out that this is not always true…

      • QueueTC

        Yes. It would be really difficult to establish an operational definition of “freedoms enjoyed” that we could rank countries on, BUT it is indisputable that countries with even more guns freely floating around (Afghanistan, Honduras) would certainly be shown to have LESS individual freedoms enjoyed.

    • Randy Diplock

      Nobody enjoys (though I doubt you’ll believe this because of all the rhetoric) more freedoms than Canada or the UK. Check their/our numbers.

    • Max

      I would draw your attention back to the first graph (Firearm homicide rates in selected high-income countries, 2010). All of those nations listed would have similar (some slightly worse, some slightly better) levels of freedoms enjoyed by their citizens, without the incredible number of gun deaths that the U.S. “enjoys”.

      Personally I would think that being murdered is a huge infringement of your freedoms but no doubt my judgment is in question because I also think the U.S. has its guns laws all wrong. I would also note that the annual number of Americans to be murdered by firearms is similar to the number of Africans who have died in the current Ebola outbreak. One is an emergency worthy of worldwide intervention and support, the other is business as usual…

    • Elska_

      Most of Europe stands way better in terms of healthcare and affordable education for example, with good justice systems, and they don’t have a “need” for gun ownership like America does…Also, as an American living in China (yes, of all places), there are certain freedoms Americans DON’T have and Chinese do. We have to stop being ignorant and thinking everything we say is right all the time. We’re simply not. It’s totally fine to say America sucks. It does in a lot of ways. But it has a lot of potential too. Why can’t we just put down out egos and work to improve our country instead of feeling (falsely) like it’s already perfect?

      • john robel

        Anonymous — Response To Obama’s 2013 Gun Control Policy

    • john robel

      TRY THIS Anonymous — Response To Obama’s 2013 Gun Control Policy

  • Patrick Spence

    BAN ALL GUNS

    • john robel

      COME AND GET THEM.

  • Patrick Spence

    GUNS KILL PEOPLE

  • Troglodyte

    Just get rid of Detroit, L.A. and Chicago, and the U.S. falls about 48th in the world, crack down on gang violence and black crime, you will see a difference… Oh crap we can’t do that because we might offend someone, let’s just continue to blame the 80 million legal gun owners who haven’t committed a crime.

    • Ronald Reagan

      Please just kill yourself. This isn’t a joke or a threat. It’s advice. Kill yourself.

      • Troglodyte

        How enlightened of you, I thought the progressives were supposed to be the tolerant people, and ‘we’ gunowners the spawns of Satan, But I don’t want you, or anyone else dead, just because you have a different opinion, so no thanks, I will not heed your ‘advice’, I will keep on living, happily, while you stew in your own hate, and self loathing.

      • john robel

        Please drink some kool aid, you’re as about as Reagan as obama

    • QueueTC

      Ah yes, it sure didn’t take long for someone to drag out the old racist trope that US gun violence is an ‘urban black person’ problem–and the real victims here are us law abiding white folk. Keep on believing that one Troglodyte. And ignore all the facts about suicide, domestic partner violence, and accidents.
      And if more guns are the solution (surely it must be), then why aren’t “those” people’s neighborhoods the safest places on earth?

      • john robel

        In the summer of 2013, after neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, a Hispanic, was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, the political left wanted to have a discussion about everything except the black crime rates that lead people to view young black males with suspicion. Presi­dent Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder wanted to talk about gun control. The NAACP wanted to talk about racial profiling. Assorted academics and MSNBC talking heads wanted to discuss poverty, “stand-your-ground” laws, unemployment and the supposedly racist criminal justice system. But any candid debate on race and criminality in the United States must begin with the fact that blacks are responsible for an astoundingly disproportionate number of crimes, which has been the case for at least the past half a century.

        Crime began rising precipitously in the 1960s after the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, started tilting the scales in favor of the criminals. Some 63 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll taken in 1968 judged the Warren Court, in place from 1953 to 1969, too lenient on crime; but Warren’s jurisprudence was sup­ported wholeheartedly by the liberal intellectuals of that era, as well as by politicians who wanted to shift blame for criminal behavior away from the criminals. Popular books of the time, like Karl Menninger’s “The Crime of Punishment,” argued that “law and order” was an “inflammatory” term with racial overtones. “What it really means,” said Menninger, “is that we should all go out and find the n–– and beat them up.”

        The late William Stuntz, a Harvard law professor, addressed this history in his 2011 book, “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice.” “The lenient turn of the mid-twentieth century was, in part, the product of judges, prosecutors and politicians who saw criminal punishment as too harsh a remedy for ghetto violence,” wrote Mr. Stuntz. “The Supreme Court’s expansion of criminal defendants’ legal rights in the 1960s and after flowed from the Justices’ percep­tion that poor and black defendants were being victimized by a system run by white government officials. Even the rise of harsh drug laws was in large measure the product of reformers’ efforts to limit the awful costs illegal drug markets impose on poor city neighborhoods. Each of these changes flowed, in large measure, from the decisions of men who saw themselves as reformers. But their reforms showed an uncanny ability to take bad situations and make them worse.”

        Crime rates rose by 139 percent during the 1960s, and the murder rate doubled. Cities couldn’t hire cops fast enough. “The number of police per 1,000 people was up twice the rate of the population growth, and yet clearance rates for crimes dropped 31 percent and conviction rates were down 6 percent,” wrote Lucas A. Powe Jr. in “The Warren Court and American Politics,” his history of the Warren Court. “During the last weeks of his [1968] presidential campaign, Nixon had a favorite line in his standard speech. ‘In the past 45 minutes this is what happened in America. There has been one murder, two rapes, forty-five major crimes of violence, countless robberies and auto thefts.’”

        As remains the case today, blacks in the past were overrepre­sented among those arrested and imprisoned. In urban areas in 1967, blacks were 17 times more likely than whites to be arrested for robbery. In 1980 blacks comprised about one-eighth of the population but were half of all those arrested for murder, rape and robbery, according to FBI data. And they were between one-fourth and one-third of all those arrested for crimes such as burglary, auto theft and aggravated assault.

        Today blacks are about 13 percent of the population and continue to be responsible for an inordinate amount of crime. Between 1976 and 2005 blacks com­mitted more than half of all murders in the United States. The black arrest rate for most offenses — including robbery, aggravated assault and property crimes — is still typically two to three times their representation in the population. Blacks as a group are also overrepresented among persons arrested for so-called white-collar crimes such as counterfeiting, fraud and embezzlement. And blaming this decades-long, well-documented trend on racist cops, prosecutors, judges, sentencing guidelines and drug laws doesn’t cut it as a plausible explanation.

        “Even allowing for the existence of discrimination in the criminal justice system, the higher rates of crime among black Americans cannot be denied,” wrote James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein in their classic 1985 study, “Crime and Human Nature.” “Every study of crime using official data shows blacks to be overrepresented among persons arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for street crimes.” This was true decades before the authors put it to paper, and it remains the case decades later.

        “The overrepresentation of blacks among arrested persons persists throughout the criminal justice system,” wrote Wilson and Herrnstein. “Though prosecutors and judges may well make discriminatory judgments, such decisions do not account for more than a small fraction of the overrepresentation of blacks in prison.” Yet liberal policy makers and their allies in the press and the academy consistently downplay the empirical data on black crime rates, when they bother to discuss them at all. Stories about the racial makeup of prisons are commonplace; stories about the excessive amount of black criminality are much harder to come by.

        “High rates of black violence in the late twentieth century are a matter of historical fact, not bigoted imagination,” wrote Mr. Stuntz. “The trends reached their peak not in the land of Jim Crow but in the more civilized North, and not in the age of segrega­tion but in the decades that saw the rise of civil rights for African Americans — and of African American control of city governments.” The left wants to blame these outcomes on racial animus and “the system,” but blacks have long been part of running that system. Black crime and incarceration rates spiked in the 1970s and ’80s in cities such as Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington under black mayors and black police chiefs. Some of the most violent cities in the United States today are run by blacks.

        Black people are not shooting each other at these alarming rates in Chicago and other urban areas because of our gun laws or our drug laws or a criminal justice system that has it in for them. The problem is primarily cultural — self-destructive behaviors and attitudes all too common among the black underclass. The problem is black criminal behavior, which is one manifestation of a black pathology that ultimately stems from the breakdown of the black family. Liberals want to talk about what others should do for blacks instead of what blacks should do for themselves. But if we don’t acknowledge the cultural barriers to black progress, how can we address them? How can you even begin to fix something that almost no one wants to talk about honestly?

        Jason Riley is a member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

  • MissingInfo

    I couldn’t find the additional data that talked about suicides… because the FBI documented that in 2012, fully 61% of all firearm deaths were due to suicides… kind of puts a different perspective on things…

  • lothur

    From the World Health Organization
    The latest Murder Statistics for the world:
    Murders per 100,000 citizens per year.

    Honduras 91.6 (WOW!!)
    El Salvador 69.2
    Cote d’lvoire 56.9
    Jamaica 52.2
    Venezuela 45.1
    Belize 41.4
    US Virgin Islands 39.2
    Guatemala 38.5
    Saint Kitts and Nevis 38.2
    Zambia 38.0
    Uganda 36.3
    Malawi 36.0
    Lesotho 35.2
    Trinidad and Tobago 35.2
    Colombia 33.4
    South Africa 31.8
    Congo 30.8
    Central African Republic 29.3
    Bahamas 27.4
    Puerto Rico 26.2
    Saint Lucia 25.2
    Dominican Republic 25.0
    Tanzania 24.5
    Sudan 24.2
    Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 22.9
    Ethiopia 22.5
    Guinea 22.5
    Dominica 22.1
    Burundi 21.7
    Democratic Republic of the Congo 21.7
    Panama 21.6
    Brazil 21.0
    Equatorial Guinea 20.7
    Guinea-Bissau 20.2
    Kenya 20.1
    Kyrgyzstan 20.1
    Cameroon 19.7
    Montserrat 19.7
    Greenland 19.2
    Angola 19.0
    Guyana 18.6
    Burkina Faso 18.0
    Eritrea 17.8
    Namibia 17.2
    Rwanda 17.1
    Mexico 16.9
    Chad 15.8
    Ghana 15.7
    Ecuador 15.2
    North Korea 15.2
    Benin 15.1
    Sierra Leone 14.9
    Mauritania 14.7
    Botswana 14.5
    Zimbabwe 14.3
    Gabon 13.8
    Nicaragua 13.6
    French Guiana 13.3
    Papua New Guinea 13.0
    Swaziland 12.9
    Bermuda 12.3
    Comoros 12.2
    Nigeria 12.2
    Cape Verde 11.6
    Grenada 11.5
    Paraguay 11.5
    Barbados 11.3
    Togo 10.9
    Gambia 10.8
    Peru 10.8
    Myanmar 10.2
    Russia 10.2
    Liberia 10.1
    Costa Rica 10.0
    Nauru 9.8
    Bolivia 8.9
    Mozambique 8.8
    Kazakhstan 8.8
    Senegal 8.7
    Turks and Caicos Islands 8.7
    Mongolia 8.7
    British Virgin Islands 8.6
    Cayman Islands 8.4
    Seychelles 8.3
    Madagascar 8.1
    Indonesia 8.1
    Mali 8.0
    Pakistan 7.8
    Moldova 7.5
    Kiribati 7.3
    Guadeloupe 7.0
    Haiti 6.9
    Timor-Leste 6.9
    Anguilla 6.8
    Antigua and Barbuda 6.8
    Lithuania 6.6
    Uruguay 5.9
    Philippines 5.4
    Ukraine 5.2
    Estonia 5.2
    Cuba 5.0
    Belarus 4.9
    Thailand 4.8
    Suriname 4.6
    Laos 4.6
    Georgia 4.3
    Martinique 4.2
    And ………
    The United States 4.2 !!!!!

    ALL (109) of the countries above America,
    HAVE 100% gun bans.

    It might be of interest to note that SWITZERLAND is not shown on this list, because it has…NO MURDER OCCURRENCE!

    However, SWITZERLAND’S law requires that EVERYONE:
    1. Own a gun.
    2. Maintain Marksman qualifications … regularly .

    • Rees Britton

      Honduras does NOT have a gun ban much less a 100% ban… keep trying!

    • Florian Schneider

      Dont you dare pull Switzerland into this. Yes we have a lot of guns but NO FUCKING AMMUNITION. Stop talking about things you dont understand. We are free and dont have to live in the constant fear of getting shot every day. We dont need to tell ourselfs that we are better than everyone else because we are a more mature society and at least we are not as fucked up as the US.

      • Camren Hansen

        As an American who wants our country to speak about gun control, I truly thank you for your comment. I’m so sick of morons who pull out the Switzerland argument. Either way, I don’t think our society is near that maturity yet or even close. Hell, after 23 kids were shot and killed no politician had the balls to take on the fucked up NRA. It’s a joke here.

        • John Burns

          no one had the balls to begin having someone armed and taking the gun free killing zone away where the lunatics that want to kill will not kill.

      • john robel

        If you define “mature” as, having a huge and growing muslim problem, a population of “law abiding” people unable to do jack shit about it, a government foolish enough to encourage it, well, that speaks for itself. I guess you can boing them with watch springs or throw chocolate at the problem. WE WILL NEVER HAVE THAT PROBLEM.

  • bstacy

    I’m late to the game here – just saw this article. My 2 cents is that you aren’t doing much of a balanced graph in comparing the ‘high income’ countries with gun violence because most countries have quite strict gun laws and not the militia minded 2nd amendment. Now. if you include all homicides / murders with any weapon in accordance to population size may show a better comparison. Why is there such a bias for gun owners, the majority are law abiding. It’s just too bad so many are available for criminal intentions, that’s my only pause.

  • Diane

    At the risk opening a flood gate here but has anyone ever noticed or wondered if immigration had an impact on the occurance of gun violence in the US? If you look at the gun violence rates of ALL countries, regardless of economics, most south and central countries are right up at the top, far above even the US. Now, if we factor in immigration from these countries to the US, especially in recent years, has it affected the gun violence ratio? Just curious….

  • callmechaz

    Perhaps “Vivek Murthy, a renowned Boston-based physician” should address a REAL public health threat in his own sphere of expertise. The Journal of Patient Safety estimates there are between 210,000-440,000 deaths due to poor hospital related care. Oh, but 8,000 gun deaths are so much more sensational! And it takes the heat off the medical community so they can continue to ignore their own little disaster. Reality is that gun deaths pale by comparison to most everyday fatalities, like drunk driving. Priorities, gentlemen, priorities.