Gun Death Rates Worldwide

John Phillips, May 04, 2018

How violent is the United States? How do wealth and industrialization affect gun death rates?

The data on gun deaths comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington. It excludes suicides and deaths from war or other “armed conflicts.” The figures listed are from 2016.

U.S. & Western Europe

You have seen likely some variation of this graph before. It compares the death rates of Western Europe with those in the United states. It shows the number of deaths per 100,000 people.

Western Europe is a bit hazily defined. The chart shows nine representative countries, including the highest death rate (Portugal) and the lowest (the UK).

The wealthy industrialized countries of Europe have some of the lowest rates of gun deaths in the world.

The U.S. has a lot in common with these countries. We are also a wealthy, industrialized nation. Compared with Western Europe, we have a slightly higher average income. We also have much higher levels of income inequality.

North & Central America

This graph shows how the U.S. compares to our neighbors in North & Central America. These two regions have the highest rates of gun deaths in the world.

Canada is the outlier here. The rate of gun violence is on par with the highest rates in Western Europe.

El Salvador has the highest rate of gun deaths in the world. Again, this data isn’t counting deaths from armed conflicts. Of the counties not having a war, El Salvador has the highest rate of gun deaths.

Except for Canada and the U.S., most of these counties are fairly poor. Income inequality is somewhat higher in these countries than in the U.S.

South America

The chart omits the Guyanas, with rate of 8.86 gun deaths per 100,000 and Uruguay, with a rate of 2.94.

Bolivia is a much poorer country, but has a rate similar to the United States.

The Caribbean

American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands are US Territories. The US Virgin Islands has the highest rate of gun deaths in the Caribbean, while American Samoa has one of the lowest.

Bermuda, Antigua and Barbuda and the Bahamas all have similar average income levels, about half the average income of the U.S. Bermuda and Antigua and Barbuda have fairly low rates of gun deaths, while the rate in the Bahamas is much higher.

Haiti, a very poor country, has about the same rate of gun deaths as the U.S.

The Middle East

The rates of gun death are much lower in the Middle East than in the Western hemisphere, again omitting deaths due to armed conflict. The richest countries in the region have fairly low gun death rates, the lowest are comparable to Europe.

Iran, Pakistan and Israel all have very similar rates. Israel is a wealthy industrialized nation, with very strict gun control laws. Iran is less wealthy and industrialized, while Pakistan is a fairly poor county.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The countries shown are representative of the region, including the three with the highest levels of deaths and the country with the lowest. These are among the poorest nations in the world. Burundi is the second poorest county in the world, according to the World Bank. South Africa and Cape Verde are among the wealthiest and most developed countries in the region, yet they have the highest rates of death from gun violence.

What Conclusions Can We Reach?

Among the wealthy industrialized nations, the United States is an outlier. Our rates of death from guns are not found anywhere else in the industrialized world. Most of these countries have have much more strict control laws, and more to the point, many fewer guns. None of them have a constitutional right to own a firearm. This is one area where American exceptionalism is undeniable.

The Western hemisphere, except for Canada, is much more violent than other parts of the world. Even compared to “war-torn” countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Counties involved in the international drug trade have higher rates of firearm deaths, including most of Central and South America. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, and it is a violent and dangerous place, even without counting the deaths from armed conflict. A conflict we have been involved with since 2001, by the way.

As far as gun deaths, here is the neighborhood we live in:

Country Rate of Gun Deaths
Argentina 3.37 per 100 K
Bolivia 3.73 per 100 K
United States 3.85 per 100 K
Haiti 3.90 per 100 K
Iraq 4.28 per 100 K

Looking at this data at the country level is somewhat misleading. Deaths from gun violence are higher in cities than in rural areas. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation provides data at the state level, but not down to the city level, with the exception of the District of Columbia.

State Rate of Gun Deaths
Vermont 2.07 per 100 K
Colorado 2.52 per 100 K
California 3.56 per 100 K
Illinois 4.45 per 100 K
District of Columbia 9.00 per 100 K

It would be interesting to look at the data at the city level. A handful of neighborhoods in Chicago raise the rate for the whole of Illinois.