Another day, another mass shooting in the United States of America. Tragically, this is a sentence I can write almost every single day in the US and be accurate.
The violence that killed 14 people in San Bernardino yesterday, was the 353rd mass shooting in the US this year. That guarantees a tragic stat: that there will likely be more mass shootings than there are days in 2015.
The prevalence of mass shootings (defined for this purpose as an incident where 4 or more people have been shot, as is done by http://shootingtracker.com/) in the United States is such a constant presence on the news, many of them don’t even grab national headlines.
Grappling with the impacts, causes and debates over gun violence in the United States is a monumental task. As is understanding how gun violence in the US relates to poverty.
To help break this down here are 11 facts to keep in mind as you debate what this means for the US and the world.
1) More people have died from gun violence committed by Americans than by either ISIS or Boko Haram
The Gun Violence archive has recorded 12,184 gun deaths in the United States up to December 2nd. Notably this gun death total does not include suicide by guns (which I’ll get to in a moment). That is still substantially more than Amnesty international’s estimate of “more than 3,500 civilians killed by Boko Haram in 2015.”
Disclaimer: The Boko Haram number was updated on September 30th of this year, so for a more accurate comparison, the 2015 gun death totals in the US are still nearly double the confirmed death toll by Boko Haram in 2014. In 2014 Boko Haram killed 6,644 people (a number that has gone through extensive study by various organizations). The US gun death toll in 2015 surpasses that and there is still a month left in the year. That means the world’s deadliest terror group has killed less people than Americans with guns.
2) Suicides make up the majority of gun deaths in the United States
Estimates say about 50-60% of gun deaths in the US are suicides. This is a staggering and tragic statistic. All suicide is tragic, but suicide attempts by gun are particularly horrific because they are almost always fatal. Anyone dismissing this fact as not important to the current debate over gun ownership should check out the next point. For example, in 2013 in the US there were 11,208 gun related homicides. When the gun death toll includes suicides, the total jumps to nearly 34,000 people. That number is higher than the death toll of ISIS and Boko Haram combined in 2014 (which was 12,717).
3) Restricting access to guns drastically reduces suicide rates
In 2006 the Israeli Military tried a “radical” approach to a consistent problem of active military personnel committing suicide. The approach: stop allowing military personnel to take their guns home. The result: a 40% drop in suicides by military personnel. Guess the idea wasn’t that radical after all. (Need more studies? Check here, here and here) This suggests that restricting gun access generally would lower their usage rate. Despite claims that firearms afford protection, a home with a firearm in it is more likely to be the site of a death by gun.
4) There are twice as many guns in the US as the next most armed nation: Yemen.
This stat has been making the rounds from Vox and the Guardian, and others. But no matter where you’re seeing it, the truth is the US owns a LOT of guns. Inside the US there are 88.8 guns per 100 people. The next most armed nation is Yemen, where there are 54.8 guns per 100 people. For perspective’s sake, let’s keep in mind that Yemen is in an active civil war (which is a crisis that needs more attention).
5) The United States has 4.4 percent of the world’s population and almost half of the world’s civilian owned guns
This number comes from the UNODC, Small arms survey. And pretty much speaks for itself.
6) 60% of homicides in the US are committed with a gun
This number is from 2012. As a bonus fact, the US is not number one in this category; that belongs to US territory Puerto Rico. 94.8% of homicides in Puerto Rico are committed with a gun.
7) The United States has a gun related homicide rate 20 times its economic peer nations
Looking at the other member states of the organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US has six times the number of gun related deaths than Canada, and 15 times as many as Germany. If Mexico is removed from the group, the US has 20 times as many gun related deaths than its economic peers.
8) Gun deaths in the US alone outnumber the number of people killed by terrorism around the world
I know, this is similar to the first fact but this is staggering. According to Vision of Humanity, 32,658 people died from terrorism in 2014. That is still less than the nearly 34,000 that died from gun violence in the US including suicide (Note: that number is from the latest year with complete stats, 2013).
9) Mass shootings are only a small fraction of gun deaths in the United States
For all of the attention on mass shootings in the US this year, these types of incidents have killed about 460 people. That is a tiny fraction of the over 12,000 gun related homicides in the US, and an even smaller fraction if suicides are included. Mass shootings are terrifying but the real problem is guns, not mass shooters.
10) Education can be a key to ending gun violence
In the United States, the ten states with the highest gun related homicides have populations with education attainment rates lower than the national average.
11) Poverty and gun violence ARE connected
In a study published this year, a connection between poverty and gun related homicides was definitively found. Generally, gun violence has been most often associated with gender and age, with young men making up the bulk of gun related deaths in the US. This study by Mike Males, broke the traditional numbers down and looked for poverty rates in each age group. More than half of 15-24 year old males involved in gun homicides live in communities with over 20% poverty rates. Poverty and violence are connected in the United States. This matches trends elsewhere in the world, and reminds us that the underlying stresses of poverty need to be addressed. It can be a life or death matter.
The United States has a serious gun violence problem. The issue is partially cultural (gun ownership being considered a personal value to many citizens in the country), partly regulatory and all about community.
Communities around the world should learn from the tragedies like San Bernadino and question the role and presence of guns. When privately held guns in the US kill more people than global terrorism, it’s time for deep reflection and immediate action.
The Global Goals include number 16: Peace and Justice, because without this the world cannot evolve, poverty cannot be ended and all of humanity cannot achieve better lives. When it comes to guns, the most powerful choice may start with each of us choosing not to own a gun, and encouraging our friends and neighbors to follow suit.