Gun-related deaths are tragically common. In 2019 alone, more than 250,000 people died as a result of firearms worldwide. Nearly 71% of gun deaths were homicides, about 21% were suicides, and 8% were unintentional firearms-related accidents. A smaller subset of gun deaths occur as the result of mass shootings and school shootings, which are often highly publicized.
Gun-related violence occurs all around the world, including (to a lesser extent) countries in which guns are illegal. However, out of the estimated 250,227 gun-related deaths worldwide in 2019, 65.9% occurred in just six countries: Brazil, the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, India, and Colombia. Gun deaths are considered an epidemic in the United States (which leads the world in civilian gun ownership) by many people, particularly those on the left side of the political spectrum.
Countries with the Highest Total Gun Deaths (all causes) in 2019
Nearly nine out of 10 people killed by gun violence in 2019 were men. The highest number of homicide deaths occurred among people 20-24 years old, while the highest number of gun-enabled suicides happened among those aged 55-59. Brazil recorded the world's highest number of total gun deaths from all causes combined, with 49,436 out of 250,227 worldwide. The United States has the second-highest number of gun deaths with 37,038.
That said, if one isolates the violent gun deaths and adjusts for population size by expressing the rate as the number of homicides per 100k people, the list changes significantly.
Countries with the Highest Rates of Violent Gun Death (Homicides) per 100k residents in 2019
- El Salvador — 36.78
- Venezuela — 33.27
- Guatemala — 29.06
- Colombia — 26.36
- Brazil — 21.93
- Bahamas — 21.52
- Honduras — 20.15
- U.S. Virgin Islands — 19.40
- Puerto Rico — 18.14
- Mexico — 16.41
Gun violence in Latin America is exceptionally high, due in no small part to the prevalence of criminal gangs and a vibrant drug trafficking industry. The Inter-American Development Bank released a report highlighting several critical factors in Latin American cities that contribute to increased gun violence, including economic deprivation, residential instability, family disruption, absence from school, the population’s age structure, and alcohol consumption.
Gangs are much less of an issue in the United States, yet it is second only to Brazil on the list in total gun deaths. Many people understandably assume the high number of gun deaths in the U.S. is due to mass shootings, which receive frequent attention from the media. In truth, mass shootings account for only a small percentage of gun deaths in the United States. Rather, nearly two-thirds (63%) of gun deaths in the US in 2019 were suicides.
Countries with the Highest Rates of Firearm-Related Suicide (per 100k) in 2019
- Greenland — 16.36
- United States — 7.12
- Uruguay — 4.74
- San Marino — 4.08
- Montenegro — 3.40
- Argentina — 2.67
- Finland — 2.66
- Monaco — 2.64
- France — 2.64
- Venezuela — 2.50
In contrast to the U.S. and Latin America, gun deaths are extremely rare in countries like Japan, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Australia. These countries have implemented incentives or passed legislation to decrease the number of firearms in circulation. For example, in July 2021, Australia implemented a permanent gun amnesty program, in which unregistered firearms could be anonymously surrendered at police stations.
Japan boasts a population of more than 127 million people, yet finished 2019 with a gun death rate of only .02 per 100,000 people. One major factor in this success is that Japan has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world. For Japanese citizens to purchase a gun, they must attend an all-day class, pass a written exam, and complete a shooting range test, scoring at least 95% accuracy. Candidates will also receive a mental health evaluation, performed at a hospital, and will have a comprehensive background check done by the government. Only shotguns and rifles can be purchased. The class and exam must be retaken every three years.