After a mass shooting at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis on Thursday, Americans are once again faced with the country's unique relationship with guns.
America is certainly an exceptional country when it comes to firearms. It is one of the few countries where the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected. But the relationship is unique in another crucial way: Of the developed world, the US is by far the deadliest – in large part because of the easy access many Americans have to firearms.
These maps and diagrams show how this violence compares to the rest of the world, why it is occurring, and why it is so difficult to fix.
1) America has six times as many gun murders as Canada and almost 16 times as many as Germany
Javier Zarracina / Vox
This table, compiled from the United Nations 2012 data collected by Simon Rogers for the Guardian, shows that America leads other developed nations far and wide when it comes to gun-related murders. Why? Extensive reviews of the research compiled by the Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health suggest the answer is pretty simple: The US is an outlier when it comes to gun violence because it has far more guns than other developed nations.
2) America has more guns than people
Small Arms Survey
Another way of looking at it: Americans make up less than 5 percent of the world's population, but own roughly 45 percent of all privately owned firearms in the world, based on data from the 2018 Small Arms Survey.
3) More than 2,500 mass shootings have taken place since Sandy Hook
Kavya Sukumar / Vox
In December 2012, a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children, six adults and himself. Since then, through July 2020, more than 2,500 mass shootings have occurred.
The number comes from the Gun Violence Archive, which has a database that has recorded mass shootings since 2013. However, since some shootings are not reported, the database is likely to be missing some as well as the details of some events.
The tracker uses a fairly broad definition of "mass shooting": it includes not only shootings in which four or more people were murdered, but also shootings in which four or more people were shot in the first place (excluding the shooter).
Even under this broad definition, it should be noted that mass shootings account for less than 2 percent of American gun deaths, which amounted to nearly 40,000 in 2017 alone.
4) On average, there is roughly one mass shooting a day in America
Christopher Ingraham / Washington Post
Whenever mass shootings occur, gun rights advocates often argue that it is inappropriate to have political debates about gun control after a tragedy.
However, if this argument is followed to its logical conclusion, the time will almost never be the right time to discuss gun control, as Christopher Ingraham pointed out to the Washington Post in 2015. Under the broader definition of mass shootings, America has about one mass shooting a day. So if lawmakers are forced to wait for a time when there are no mass shootings to talk about gun control, they could wait a very long time.
5) States with more guns have more gun deaths
Using data from a 2016 study on Injury Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mother Jones compiled the table above, which shows that states with more guns tend to have far more gun deaths, including murders and suicides. This has been noted throughout the empirical research: "In the United States, there is abundant empirical evidence that more guns lead to more murder in a community," wrote David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, in Private Guns. Healthcare.
Read more in Mother Jones' "10 Pro-Gun Myths That Got Shot Down".
6) It's not just the US: developed countries with more guns also have more gun deaths
Javier Zarracina / Vox
7) America is an outlier when it comes to gun deaths but not general crime
It would be one thing if the US happened to have more crime than other nations, but the data available shows that it doesn't. America is just an outlier when it comes to homicides and gun violence in particular, based on data from 2000 Duke University's Jeffrey Swanson.
As Zack Beauchamp explained to Vox, a groundbreaking analysis by Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of UC Berkeley in the 1990s found that, contrary to old conventional wisdom, the US generally has no more crime than other western industrialized nations. Instead, the US appears to have more lethal violence – and this is in large part due to the proliferation of guns.
"A series of specific comparisons of death rates from property crime and personal injury in New York City and London show how huge differences in risk of death can be explained, even if the general patterns are similar," wrote Zimring and Hawkins. "The preference for crimes of personal violence and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery result in 54 times more property crime in New York City than in London."
This is intuitive in many ways: people in every country get into quarrels and fights with friends, family and peers. However, in the US, someone is much more likely to get angry during an argument and be able to pull out a gun and kill someone.
8) States with stricter gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths
Zara Matheson / Martin Welfare Institute
When economist Richard Florida took a look at gun deaths and other social indicators in 2011, he found that higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness did not correlate with more gun deaths. But he found a meaningful correlation: States with stricter gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths. (Read more in Florida's "The Geography of Gun Deaths".)
This is supported by other research: A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries published in Epidemiologic Reviews found that new legal restrictions on the possession and purchase of guns tend to be followed by a decrease in gun violence – a strong indicator of restrictions on access to Guns can save lives.
9) Still, gun killings (like all murders) have declined over the past few decades
The good news is that gun homicides, like all homicides and criminal offenses, have decreased in recent decades.
There is still much debate among criminal justice experts as to why this decline in crime is occurring. Some of the most credible ideas include mass detention, more and better policing, and less lead exposure from gasoline. However, one theory that researchers have largely debunked is the idea that more guns deter crime – in fact, the opposite may be the case, based on research compiled by the Injury Control Center at Harvard School of Public Health.
10) Most gun deaths are suicides
Although America's political debate over guns tends to focus on gruesome mass shootings and murders, most gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides. Indeed, as Dylan Matthews explained to Vox, this is one of the most compelling reasons for restricting access to guns: there is a lot of research showing that better access to guns dramatically increases the risk of suicide.
11) The states with the most guns report the most suicides
12) Guns make it much easier for people to kill themselves
Estelle Caswell / Vox
Perhaps the main reason access to guns is such a major contributor to suicides is that guns are far more deadly than alternatives like cutting and poison.
Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, previously stated that reducing access to guns can be so important in preventing suicide for this reason: just stopping one attempt or increasing the likelihood of death Decreasing makes a big difference.
"Time is really the key to preventing suicide in a suicidal person," said Harkavy-Friedman. "First, the crisis will not last, so over time it will seem less dire and less hopeless. Second, it opens up the possibility for someone to help, or the suicidal person to turn to someone to help. That is why it is so powerful to restrict access to lethal agents. "
She added, “(i) If we keep the suicide method away from a person when they think about it, they will not switch to another method at that moment. That doesn't mean they never will. But at this moment your thinking is very inflexible and rigid. So it's not like they're saying, "Oh, this won't work." I will try something different. "They generally cannot adjust their thinking and do not change methods."
13) Policies restricting access to weapons have reduced suicides
Estelle Caswell / Vox
When countries restricted access to guns, the number of firearm suicides fell. The above data, taken from a 2010 study by Australian researchers, shows that suicides fell dramatically after the Australian government introduced a mandatory gun buyback program that reduced the number of firearms in the country by about a fifth has been.
The Australian study found that buying back 3,500 guns per 100,000 people correlated with up to a 50 percent decrease in gun homicides and a 74 percent decrease in gun suicides. As Dylan Matthews explained to Vox, the decrease in murders was not statistically significant (in large part because the murders in Australia were already so small). But the decline in suicides has definitely been – and the results are remarkable.
Australia is far from alone with results like this. A study by Israeli researchers found that suicides among Israeli soldiers fell by 40 percent when the military stopped letting soldiers bring their weapons home. The change was most pronounced on the weekends.
These data and research have a clear message: States and countries can significantly reduce the number of suicides by restricting access to weapons.
14) In states with more weapons, more police officers are killed on duty
Given that states with more guns tend to commit more murders, it's not surprising that states with more guns also kill more police officers on duty, according to a 2015 study in the American Journal of Public Health.
The researchers examined federal data on gun ownership and the killings of police officers in the United States over a 15-year period. They found that in states with more gun ownership, more police officers were killed in murders: every 10 percent increase in gun ownership correlated with 10 additional officers killed in murders during the 15-year study period.
The results could explain why US police officers appear to kill more people than police officers in other developed countries. For U.S. law enforcement officers, the higher rates of gun and gun violence – even against them – in America means that not only are they exposed to more guns and violence, but they can expect more guns and deadly violence, making them more likely to anticipate and perceive a threat and use lethal force as a result.
15) Support for gun ownership has grown dramatically since the early 2000s
In the past two decades, according to an analysis of 2017 polls by the Pew Research Center, Americans have shifted from supporting the concept of gun control to increasing support for protecting the "right of Americans to own guns." This shift has occurred despite the fact that major mass shootings like the attacks on Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School have received more press coverage.
16) Specific gun control guidelines are pretty popular
While most Americans say they want to protect the right to own guns, most Pew Research Center polls also support many gun control proposals – such as stronger background checks, a database to track gun sales, and bans on assault weapons.
This kind of contradiction does not only apply to arms policy issues. For example, although most Americans have said they dislike Obamacare in the past, most also said they like the specific guidelines of the Health Act. Americans don't like some political ideas until they get specific.
For people who believe the empirical evidence that more guns mean more violence, this contradiction is the source of much frustration. Americans by and large support policies that restrict access to weapons. Once these guidelines are proposed, politicians and experts largely turn them into attempts to "take your weapons away". So nothing is done and preventable deaths keep coming.