More than 37,000 people died as the result of firearm incidents in the US in 2016, most of them homicides, a worldwide study has found.
In a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a team led by Christopher Murray of the Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, US, finds that the US has the second highest number of firearm-related deaths in the world – beaten only by Brazil, which recorded 43,200 fatalities in the same year.
Across the planet, a quarter of million people died because of guns in 2016, not including those killed during acts of war or terrorism.
“This study confirms what many have been claiming for years – that gun violence is one of the greatest public health crises of our time,” says co-author Mohsen Naghavi, from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
The authors compiled statistics on firearm-related mortality for 195 countries covering 1990 to 2016. Overall, they found that numbers of firearm deaths decreased across the period, but regional variations were huge.
Six countries in the Americas – Brazil, the US, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela and Guatemala – together accounted for just over half of all firearm deaths across the planet in 2016.
Globally, 64% of the deaths were the result of homicide, 27% were suicides, and 9% were accidental.
Divided according to the age and gender of the victims, the figures present a stark picture. In 2016, 87% of people killed by firearms were male, with the largest single cohort – some 34,700 – men aged between 20 and 24.
And while the raw numbers in the US were huge, when expressed as a proportion of the population they were far from the worst result. Two of the country’s overseas territories, however, fared particularly badly.
The researchers broke down gun deaths as a percentage of 100,000 people for each country. This method revealed that El Salvador was the most dangerous nation in the world, with a rate of 39.2 deaths, followed by Venezuela, Guatemala, Greenland, Colombia, Honduras, the US Virgin Islands, Brazil, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
Greenland was an interesting inclusion in the list. While its homicide rate is quite low, it was one of 67 countries in which suicide is the largest cause of firearm deaths. Its rate was by far the highest – recording 22 deliberate self-inflicted firearm deaths per 100,000 people.
The US recorded the second-highest firearm suicide rate, at 6.4 per 100,000.
At the other end of the scale, Singapore recorded the lowest rate of firearm deaths – homicide, suicide and accidental combined – with just 0.1 per 100,000, and a gun-related homicide rate an order of magnitude lower, at 0.03.
China, Oman, Japan, Taiwan, and Romania recorded similar rates.
The authors hope that their findings will help policy-makers around the world formulate better policies around gun control and education.
“There are no simple antidotes to address this health problem,” says Naghavi. “The tragedy of each firearm-related death will continue until reasonable and reasoned leaders come together to address the issue.”
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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