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Here Are the Factors That Fuel Gun Deaths Around the World

August 29, 2018, 10:25 AM UTC

Where you live and who you are determine your risk of being shot to death, a study shows.

In a global estimate of gun deaths published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers sought to tie the estimated 195,000 to 276,000 interpersonal and self-inflicted gun deaths around the world in 2016 to the context in which they occurred. Homicides accounted for around 64% of gun deaths, followed by suicide at about 27%, and accidental deaths at about 9%.

Deaths relating to military conflicts, terrorism, and police violence are measured separately, but conflicts are estimated to account for a tenth of violent deaths.

Those rates vary across countries. For example, the researchers calculated that El Salvador suffered 38.9 gun homicides per 100,000 people in 2016, while Singapore suffered none at all. A few countries dominate the overall gun death numbers. The United States, with 4.0 gun homicides per 100,000 people, is one of just six countries that make up for half of the world’s gun deaths. Like the other five countries on that list—Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Guatemala—it is a major site of the illicit drug trade, which the study authors link to higher gun homicide rates. Gun deaths are part of why the U.S. has lower life expectancy than other rich countries.

The rates also vary within populations: nobody will be surprised to learn that young men are likelier to pull the trigger than are older men or women. When women are the victims of gun violence, men tend to be the perpetrators.

On the bright side, the study confirmed a roughly 0.9% global downward trend in gun deaths since 1990. It also hints at interventions that might accelerate that trend. For example, in many countries gun ownership is tied to high suicide rates and gun suicides even outnumber gun homicides, including in the U.S.

Better gun policies could slow those suicides, the authors write. For example, in the U.S., state-level gun rules seem to correlate inversely with gun crime. And Australia has achieved decades without mass shootings since a 1996 reform.