June 1, 2022 Editor

Reflections on: How US gun culture stacks up with the world

Thu May 26, 2022

WN: Add to this the overwhelming imperial lethality of America around the world, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared correctly–but still massively understated:

The United States is “The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World Today”: We Hear Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Speech Against the Vietnam War On the 35th Anniversary of His Assassination (APRIL 04, 2003).

I say (Empire or Humanity?) in the introduction to The Fall of the American Empire:

A character in the movie highlighted says: “That’s what destroyed the United States: money.” Now greed, fear and powerthese three–remain for every empire known to humanity. But the greatest of these is Greed.

And so Bill Clinton’s prediction (1992) came to pass (see below), spoken to West Point graduates: “The values you learned here will be able to spread throughout the country and throughout the world.

Indeed: Now greed, fear and powerthese three–remain for every empire known to humanity. But the greatest worldwide dispersion of these is Greed.

So I say: “Go for it, West Pointers!; America!” It is your Manifest Destiny to sow the Greed Creed everywhere until world implosion end . . .

And lo, they heeded my call and went forth . . . (since before the nation’s Founding . . .)

As anthropologist René Girard brilliantly demonstrated, we humans are fundamentally behaviour imitators. The U.S. has consistently shown violence to the world on a gargantuan scale, in its bid for world dominance.

The chickens are increasingly, inexorably, ineluctably coming home to roost.


Ubiquitous gun violence in the United States has left few places unscathed over the decades. Still, many Americans hold their right to bear arms, enshrined in the US Constitution, as sacrosanct. But critics of the Second Amendment say that right threatens another: The right to life.

America’s relationship to gun ownership is unique, and its gun culture is a global outlier.

As the tally of gun-related deaths continue to grow daily, here’s a look at how gun culture in the US compares to the rest of the world.

How firearm ownership compares globally

The United States is the only nation in the world where civilian guns outnumber people.

While the exact number of civilian-owned firearms is difficult to calculate due to a variety of factors — including unregistered weapons, the illegal trade and global conflict — SAS researchers estimate that Americans own 393 million of the 857 million civilian guns available, which is around 46% of the world’s civilian gun cache.

About 44% of US adults live in a household with a gun, and about one-third own one personally, according to an October 2020 Gallup survey.

Some nations have high gun ownership due to illegal stocks from past conflicts or lax restrictions on ownership, but the US is one of only three countries in the world where bearing (or keeping) arms is a constitutional right, according to Zachary Elkins, associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and director of the Comparative Constitutions Project. Yet the ownership rate in the other two — Guatemala and Mexico — is almost a tenth of the United States.

The US has the highest firearm homicide rate in the developed world

In 2019, the number of US deaths from gun violence was about 4 per 100,000 people. That’s 18 times the average rate in other developed countries. Multiple studies show access to guns contributes to higher firearm-related homicide rates.

Almost a third of US adults believe there would be less crime if more people owned guns, according to an April 2021 Pew survey. However, multiple studies show that where people have easy access to firearms, gun-related deaths tend to be more frequent, including by suicide, homicide and unintentional injuries.

It is then unsurprising that the US has more deaths from gun violence than any other developed country per capita. The rate in the US is eight times greater than in Canada, which has the seventh highest rate of gun ownership in the world; 22 times higher than in the European Union and 23 times greater than in Australia, according to Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) data from 2019.

The gun-related homicide rate in Washington, DC — the highest of any US state or district — is close to levels in Brazil, which ranks sixth highest in the world for gun-related homicides, according to the IHME figures.

Globally, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean suffer from the highest rates of firearm homicides, with El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia and Honduras topping the charts.

The US was home to 4% of the world’s population but accounted for 44% of global suicides by firearm in 2019

The country recorded the largest number of gun-related suicides in the world every year from 1990 to 2019.

While personal safety tops the list of reasons why American gun owners say they own a firearm, 63% of US gun-related deaths are self-inflicted.

Over 23,000 Americans died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in 2019. That number accounts for 44% of the gun suicides globally and dwarfs suicide totals in any other country in the world.

At six firearm suicides per 100,000 people, the US rate of suicide is, on average, seven times higher than in other developed nations. Globally, the US rate is only lower than in Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory with relatively high gun ownership (22 guns per 100 people).

Multiple studies have reported an association between gun ownership and gun-related suicides

One of those studies, conducted by researchers at Stanford University, found that men who owned handguns were almost eight times as likely to die of self-inflicted gunshot wounds as men who didn’t own a gun. Women who owned handguns were 35 times as likely to die by firearm suicide, compared to those who didn’t, according to the 2020 study, which surveyed 26 million California residents over a more than 11-year period.

No other developed nation has mass shootings at the same scale or frequency as the US

Half of the world’s developed countries had at least one public mass shooting between 1998 and 2019.* But no other nation saw more than eight incidents over 22 years, while the United States had over 100 — with almost 2,000 people killed or injured.

Regular mass shootings are a uniquely American phenomenon. The US is the only developed country where mass shootings have happened every single year for the past 20 years, according to Jason R. Silva, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at William Paterson University.

To compare across countries, Silva uses a conservative definition of a mass shooting: an event that leaves four or more people dead, excluding the shooter, and that excludes profit-driven criminal activity, familicide and state-sponsored violence. Using this approach, 68 people were killed and 91 injured in eight public shootings in the US over the course of 2019 alone.

A broader definition of mass shootings reveals an even higher figure.

The Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit based in Washington, DC and which CNN relies on for its reporting of mass shootings, defines a mass shooting as an incident leaving at least four people dead or injured, excluding the shooter, and does not differentiate victims based upon the circumstances in which they were shot.

They counted as many as 417 mass shootings in 2019. And in 2022, 213 mass shootings have already been recorded.

State gun policies also appear to play a role. A 2019 study published in the British Medical Journal found that US states with more permissive gun laws and greater gun ownership had higher rates of mass shootings.

Researchers from Washington University at St Louis’ Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute presented this argument to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2018, saying that the US government’s “failure” to prevent and reduce gun-related violence through “reasonable and effective domestic measures has limited the ability of Americans to enjoy many fundamental freedoms and guarantees protected by international human rights law,” including the right to life and bodily integrity.

UN bodies have also underlined these concerns, pointing to America’s “stand your ground” laws, which allow gun owners in at least 25 states to use deadly force in any situation where they believe that they face an imminent threat of harm, without first making any effort to deescalate the situation or retreat. A 2019 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report said that the law can encourage people to respond to situations with lethal force, rather than use it as a last resort.

Gun-related deaths reduced after the introduction of stricter laws in these countries

Shortly after a mass shooting in Tasmania, Australia banned rapid-fire rifles and shotguns and tightened licensing rules. Over the next decade, gun deaths dropped by 51%.

A decade of rising gun deaths in South Africa prompted the government to pass new laws prohibiting certain firearms, mandating background checks and tightening licensing requirements, which capped gun ownership numbers. A mass shooting in 1996 prompted the UK Parliament to further tighten the country’s gun laws and ban private gun ownership.* Gun-related deaths fell by a quarter over the decade that followed. Three mass shootings in three years prompted Finland to overhaul its gun laws in 2011. Gun deaths were already falling, yet there was an additional 17% drop between 2011 and 2019. After a 2002 shooting by a 19-year-old, Germany’s parliament passed gun restrictions for young people, including banning large-caliber weapon sales and requiring psychological checks.

Less than two weeks after Australia’s worst mass shooting, the federal government implemented a new program, banning rapid-fire rifles and shotguns, and unifying gun owner licensing and registrations across the country. In the next 10 years gun deaths in Australia fell by more than 50%. A 2010 study found the government’s 1997 buyback program — part of the overall reform — led to an average drop in firearm suicide rates of 74% in the five years that followed.

Other countries are also showing promising results after changing their gun laws. In South Africa, gun-related deaths almost halved over a 10-year-period after new gun legislation, the Firearms Control Act of 2000, went into force in July 2004. The new laws made it much more difficult to obtain a firearm.

In New Zealand, gun laws were swiftly amended after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings. Just 24 hours after the attack, in which 51 people were killed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the law would change. New Zealand’s parliament voted almost unanimously to change the country’s gun laws less than a month later, banning all military-style semi-automatic weapons.

Please click on: How US gun culture stacks up with the world

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.