Science & Technology

U.S. gun homicide rate highest among high-income countries

As seen in the above statistics, people between the ages of 35 and 64 have the highest firearm death rates in the United States. Photo by Alexis Lungu

As seen in the above statistics, people between the ages of 35 and 64 have the highest firearm death rates in the United States. Graphic by Alexis Lungu


Violent, firearm-related deaths in the United States are at disproportional levels when compared to other high-income countries, according to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine. The study aims to illustrate how severe gun-related deaths are damaging to public health in the United States.

According to the data collected, the U.S. firearm death rate has remained the same while the rate in other high-income countries has decreased.

Researchers from the University of Nevada in Reno, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at data collected by the World Health Organization in 2010.

The data collected represented violent deaths in 23 high-income countries as defined by the World Bank. The countries data were drawn from included Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Researchers analyzed the data and found that overall U.S. homicide rates were seven times higher than all the other high-income countries represented in the study. The study claims that this phenomenon is due to the U.S. gun homicide rate, which, on average, is 25.2 times higher than other high-income country.

The study divided violent death data into age categories. For 15-to 24-year-olds, the 2010 gun homicide rates were 49 times higher in the United States than other and aggregate of all other countries examined in the study, debatably the most shocking statistic produced by this study.

Homicide is the second-leading cause of death for this age group. It is also the third-leading cause of death for 25-to-34-year-olds in the United States. For this second age group, the risk of dying from a gun-related homicide is 32 times higher.

According to a study by Lisa M. Hepburn of the Harvard School of Public Health, the high gun homicide rate in the United States may have an influence on the U.S. non-gun homicide rate, which is also high.

The study that examines the 2010 data from the World Health Organization references Hepburn’s research, and states, “[O]ffenders take into account the threat posed by their adversaries. Individuals are more likely to have lethal intent if they anticipate that their adversaries will be armed. Under dangerous circumstances, offenders are more likely to kill adversaries to eliminate the risk of retaliation. Research suggests that during assaults, offenders are more likely to kill adversaries who pose a greater threat.”

The study delves into the fact that, though the overall suicide rate in the United States is slightly below the average of the other 22 high-income nations—with eight high-income nations having a higher suicide rate—the gun suicide rate is much higher in the United States.

Specifically, 50 percent of all suicides in the United States are gun suicides, while the average gun suicide rate of other high-income nations is only 5 percent. The U.S. gun suicide rate is almost twice as high as the country with the second-highest rate, Finland.

In 2013, based on an executive order from President Barack Obama, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study regarding gun violence.

The research found that, “Between the years 2000 and 2010, firearm-related suicides significantly outnumbered homicides for all age groups, annually accounting for 61 percent of the more than 335,600 people who died from firearm-related violence in the United States.”

In the study, one of the authors, David Hemenway, Ph.D., Professor of Health Policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, attributes the higher gun suicide rate in the United States to higher accessibility to guns when compared to other countries.

“Differences in overall suicide rates across cities, states and regions in the United States are best explained not by differences in mental health, suicide ideation or even suicide attempts, but by availability of firearms,” the research states.

No definite figure exists, but there are believed to be roughly 300 million guns in the United States, or one gun per person. Roughly 100 million of those are handguns. Research by the CDC indicates that handguns are responsible for 87 percent of violent crimes in the United States.

When it comes to gun violence in the United States, many point to the all-too-frequent mass shootings that occur. The fact is that mass shooting-related injuries and deaths account for a very small fraction of total gun violence in the United States.

The CDC research conducted under executive order claimed that, “The number of public mass shootings of the type that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School accounted for a very small fraction of all firearm-related deaths,” adding, “Since 1983 there have been 78 events in which 4 or more individuals were killed by a single perpetrator in 1 day in the United States, resulting in 547 victims and 476 injured persons.”

This is still a small number compared to the 335,000 gun deaths between 2000 and 2010.

Data from the CDC shows that, in 2013, only 1.3 percent of all deaths in the United States were related to firearms.

The authors of the study close the research by stating that the United States “suffers disproportionately from firearms compared with other high-income countries. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that our firearms are killing us rather than protecting us.”

February 15, 2016

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