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The Gap Between Gun Deaths in the U.S. and Other Advanced Nations Is Getting Wider, Study Finds

Americans account for 82 percent of all gun deaths among 23 high-income countries.

While the United States has failed to significantly reduce its annual rate of gun deaths, other high income countries have been making steadier progress, resulting in a wider gap between the U.S. and its international peers when it comes to fatal shootings.

That’s the conclusion of an upcoming study by public health researchers David Hemenway and Erin Grinshteyn. Using 2010 data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the academics found that firearm homicide rates were 25 times higher in the U.S. than in other high-income countries. The research is an update to a study on WHO data from 2003, which determined the U.S.’s rate to be just 19.5 times higher than that of comparable nations. The math behind the increasing divergence comes down to this: While per capita gun deaths declined in the U.S. over the period in question, the decrease was a small dip from an anomalously high rate. In other high-income nations, already much lower rates have fallen farther.

In the new research, the U.S. accounted for 82 percent of all firearm deaths among the 23 countries studied, a fact Hemenway calls “eye-popping.”

“The difference is just so enormous,” Hemenway tells The Trace. “Death rates in these other countries were so low already, and now the big picture is that we’re still out-of-this-world horrible compared those countries. We have so many more people dying.”

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To conduct their most recent study, Hemenway and Grinshteyn examined WHO data from the most recent year with complete figures for the greatest number of countries. Their goal was to compare the U.S. to countries of similar size and economic status, so they narrowed their focus to 22 high income members of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) with more than 1 million inhabitants. The researchers then combed each country’s mortality data, looking at six different categories of deaths, including firearm-related homicides, firearm-related suicides, and unintentional firearm deaths.

One of the grimmest figures in the study shows that among 15 to 24-year-olds, the gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 49 times higher than in other high-income countries, or in line with the rate of gun murders in Mexico. Firearm-related suicides were also eight times higher in the U.S. than the other countries, while unintentional firearm deaths were 6.2 times higher. Ninety percent of women killed by guns in the study were in the U.S., as were 91 percent of children aged 0 to 14.

“If you look at all the women who are killed with guns in advanced countries, if you look at all the children, they’re all Americans,” Hemenway says.

Here’s a breakdown of the study’s key findings (all rates per 100,000 people): 

2003

  • U.S. gun death rate: 2.8
  • U.S. gun homicide rate: 4.1
  • U.S. gun suicide rate: 5.8
  • U.S. unintentional gun death rate: 0.3
  • Other high income countries’ gun death rate: 0.2
  • Other high income countries’ gun homicide rate: 0.2
  • Other high income countries’ gun suicide rate: 1.0
  • Other high income countries’ unintentional gun death rate: 0.0

2010

  • U.S. gun death rate: 2.7
  • U.S. gun homicide rate: 3.6
  • U.S. gun suicide rate: 6.3
  • U.S. unintentional gun death rate: 0.2
  • Other high income countries’ gun death rate: 0.1
  • Other high income countries’ gun homicide rate: 0.1
  • Other high income countries’ gun suicide rate: 0.8
  • Other high income countries’ unintentional gun death rate: 0.0

“Whenever there’s a violent interaction in the United States, there’s a chance that somebody may die,” Hemenway said. “In most of these other countries, the worst thing that might happen is somebody gets hit with fists, or a glass bottle, or even stabbed, and in those cases there probably won’t be any deaths. But when there’s a gun, it really makes it so much more likely that something terrible will happen.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]