Rate of U.S. Gun Violence

Does the U.S. have more gun violence per capita than other countries?

By Deane Barker

The U.S. rate of gun violence is not more than every other country, but certainly far, far more than other developed, stable countries.

I found this NPR article which summarizes statistics from Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

After removing gun deaths due to military action and suicide, the U.S has 3.96 deaths per 100,000 people (numbers from 2019).

The lowest countries are way, way less:

  • Singapore: 0.01
  • Japan, China, South Korea: 0.02
  • Oman: 0.03
  • United Kingdom: 0.04
  • Indonesia, Iceland: 0.06
  • Romania, Norway: 0.07

Those numbers are 1-2% the rate of the U.S.

There are certainly countries with rates higher than the U.S. Many of them are in Central America, in countries prone to drug trafficking (El Salvador is the worst, at almost 10x the U.S. rate). Several countries in Southern Africa also have a gun violence rate hovering around the U.S. number.

(Note that the law of small numbers might skew the rates here for some of the very small countries. When numbers are smaller, tiny chances can wildly skew things like frequency distributions.)

The IHME numbers aren’t the only ones available, of course, but they’re the easiest to compare to other countries. (Example: Pew Research puts the U.S. rate at 6.7, but has no stats for other countries.)

But what if we take out guns specifically, and just compare murder rates – maybe people are using weapons other than guns?

According to this Wikipedia page (numbers compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, but sourced from the individual countries), the U.S. comes in with the 61st highest murder rate out of 195 measured countries.

The list tracks pretty closely with the gun violence rate – lots of Central American countries are high on that list. The countries worse that the U.S. of significant size are Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The rate of gun violence seems to correlate highly with the murder rate. (Consider the U.K. – they have one of the lowest gun violence rates, and their murder rate is also 148th out of 195.)

Pew Research found that 81% of murders in the U.S. involved a gun. That probably doesn’t extrapolate to other countries, however, since gun ownership is much higher in the U.S.

In particular, if we limit to just G20 countries, the U.S. has the 5th worst murder rate, behind Russia, South Africa, Mexico, and Brazil. The average placing for the 19 other G20 countries is 110th (again, the U.S. is 61st).

Of course, the accuracy of the reporting of gun violence or murders might vary wildly per country. However, the countries where you would expect the reporting to be lax or suppressed are countries that already do poorly, so those numbers could only get worse. (With the possible exception of China, which purports to do very well in both murder rate and gun violence.)

So, it seems the U.S. is a more violent country than most, even when normalized for size. If limited to just gun violence, the U.S. is considerably more violent.

Why I Looked It Up

I just got to wondering. It seems that we have more shootings in absolute terms, but the U.S. is a big country, so I wondered if that was skewing the perception.

I posted a question to Reddit, and lots of people chimed in with answers saying that our gun violence rate was much worse, but no one had any statistics, so I went looking.

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