America is an exceptional country when it comes to guns. It's one of the few countries in which the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, and presidential candidates in other nations don'tcook bacon with guns. But America's relationship with guns is unique in another crucial way: Among developed nations, the US is far and away the most violent — in large part due to the easy access many Americans have to firearms. These charts and maps show what that violence looks like compared with the rest of the world, why it happens, and why it's such a tough problem to fix.
America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and 15 times as many as Germany
This chart, compiled using United Nations data collected by the Guardian's Simon Rogers, shows that America far and away leads other developed countries when it comes to gun-related homicides. Why? Extensive reviews of the research by the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center suggest the answer is pretty simple: The US is an outlier on gun violence because it has way more guns than other developed nations.
There have been at least 1,042 mass shootings since Sandy Hook
In December 2012, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children, six adults, and himself. Since then, there have been at least 1,042 mass shootings, with shooters killing at least 1,312 people and wounding 3,764 more, as this map (click to view the interactive version) shows.
The counts come from the Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowdsourced database that tracks shootings since 2013. As with any crowdsourced database, it's likely missing some shootings, and some of the shootings are missing details.
The tracker uses a fairly broad definition of "mass shooting": It includes not just shootings in which four or more people were murdered, but shootings in which four or more people were shot at all. The database's organizers explained their reasoning on their website: "For instance, in 2012 Travis Steed and others shot 18 people total. Miraculously, he only killed one. Under the incorrect definition of mass shooting, that event would not be considered a mass shooting! Arguing that 18 people shot during one event is not a mass shooting is absurd."
Even under this broad definition, it's worth noting that mass shootings make up a tiny portion of America’s firearm deaths, which totaled more than 32,000 in 2013.
On average, there is more than one mass shooting for each day in America
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, supporters of gun rights often argue that it's inappropriate to bring up political debates about gun control in the aftermath of a tragedy. For example, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a strong supporter of gun rights, criticized President Barack Obama for "trying to score cheap political points" when the president mentionedgun control after a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
But if this argument is followed to its logical end, then it willnever be the right time to discuss mass shootings, as Christopher Ingraham pointed out at the Washington Post. Under the Mass Shooting Tracker's definition of mass shootings, America has nearly one mass shooting a day. So if lawmakers are forced to wait for a time when there isn't a mass shooting to talk gun control, they could find themselves waiting for a very long time.
Using data from a study in Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mother Jones put together the chart above that shows states with more guns tend to have far more gun deaths. And it's not just one study. "Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide," David Hemenway, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center's director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.
States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths
When economist Richard Florida took a look at gun deaths and other social indicators, he found that higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness didn't correlate with more gun deaths. But he did find one telling correlation: States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths.
Still, gun homicides (like all homicides) are declining:
The good news is that all firearm homicides, like all homicides and crime, are on the decline. There's still a lot of debate among criminal justice experts about why this crime drop is occurring — some of the most credible ideas include mass incarceration, more and better policing, and reduced lead exposure from gasoline. But one theory that researchers have widely debunked is the idea that more guns have deterred crime — in fact, the opposite may be true, based on research compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Center.
Although America's political debate about guns tends to focus on grisly mass shootings and murders, a majority of gun-related deaths in the US are suicides. As Vox's Dylan Matthews explained, this is actually one of the most compelling reasons for reducing access to guns — there is a lot of research that shows greater access to guns dramatically increases the risk of suicide.
"Time is really key to preventing suicide in a suicidal person," Harkavy-Friedman said. "First, the crisis won't last, so it will seem less dire and less hopeless with time. Second, it opens the opportunity for someone to help or for the suicidal person to reach out to someone to help. That's why limiting access to lethal means is so powerful."
She added, "[I]f we keep the method of suicide away from a person when they consider it, in that moment they will not switch to another method. It doesn't mean they never will. But in that moment, their thinking is very inflexible and rigid. So it's not like they say, 'Oh, this isn't going to work. I'm going to try something else.' They generally can't adjust their thinking, and they don't switch methods."
Programs that limit access to guns have decreased suicides
When countries reduced access to guns, they saw a drop in the number of firearm suicides. The data above, taken from a studyby Australian researchers, shows that suicides dropped dramatically after the Australian government set up a gun buyback program that reduced the number of firearms in the country by about one-fifth.
The Australian study found that buying back 3,500 guns per 100,000 people correlated with up to a 50 percent drop in firearm homicides, and a 74 percent drop in gun suicides. As Vox's Dylan Matthews noted, the drop in homicides wasn't statistically significant. But the drop in suicides most definitely was — and the results are striking.
Australia is far from alone in these types of results. A studyfrom Israeli researchers found that suicides among Israeli soldiers dropped by 40 percent — particularly on weekends — when the military stopped letting soldiers take their guns home over the weekend.
This data and research have a clear message: States and countries can significantly reduce the number of suicides by restricting access to guns.
Image credit: Estelle Caswell/Vox
There are hundreds of police shootings every year in America
Since the shooting of Michael Brown, police have killed more than 1,100 people
Since the August 9, 2014, police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police have killed at least 1,112 people, as this map (click to view the interactive version) shows.
Fatal Encounters, a nonprofit, has tracked these killings by collecting reports from the media, public, and law enforcement and verifying them through news reports. Some of the data is incomplete, with details about a victim’s race, age, and other factors sometimes missing. It also includes killings that were potentially legally justified, and is likely missing some killings entirely.
A huge majority of the 1,112 deaths on the map are from gunshots, which is hardly surprising given that guns are so deadly compared with other tools used by police. There are also noticeable numbers of fatalities from vehicle crashes, stun guns, and asphyxiations. In some cases, people died from stab wounds, medical emergencies, and what's called "suicide by cop," when people kill themselves by baiting a police officer into using deadly force.
In states with more guns, more police officers are also killed on duty
Given that states with more guns tend to have more homicides, it isn't too surprising that, as a study in the American Journal of Public Health found, states with more guns also have more cops die in the line of duty.
Researchers looked at federal data for firearm ownership and homicides of police officers across the US over 15 years. They found that states with more gun ownership had more cops killed in homicides: Every 10 percent increase in firearm ownership correlated with 10 additional officers killed in homicides over the 15-year study period.
The findings could help explain why US police officers appear to kill more people than cops in other developed countries. For US police officers, the higher rates of guns and gun violence — even against them — in America mean they not only will encounter more guns and violence, but they can expect to encounter more guns and deadly violence, making them more likely to anticipate and perceive a threat and use deadly force as a result.
Support for gun ownership has sharply increased since the early '90s
Over the past 20 years, Americans have clearly shifted from supporting gun control measures to greater support of "protecting the right of Americans to own guns," according to Pew Research Center surveys. This shift has happened even as major mass shootings, such as the attacks on Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, have received more press attention.
High-profile shootings don't appear to lead to more support for gun control
Although mass shootings are often viewed as some of the worst acts of gun violence, they seem to have little effect on public opinion about gun rights. That helps explain why Americans' support for the right to own guns appears to be rising over the past 20 years even as more of these mass shootings make it to the news.
But specific gun control policies are fairly popular
Although Americans say they want to protect the right to bear arms, they're very much supportive of many gun policy proposals — including some fairly contentious ideas, such as more background checks on private and gun show sales and banning semi-automatic and assault-style weapons.
For people who believe the empirical evidence that more guns mean more violence, this contradiction is the source of a lot of frustration. Americans by and large support policies that reduce access to guns. But once these policies are proposed, they're broadly spun by politicians and pundits into attempts to "take away your guns." So nothing gets done, and preventable deaths keep occurring.