American gun culture – in seven charts


A school shooting in Uvalde, Texas involving young children has reignited the US national debate over gun access. What does the data tell us about gun culture and its impact?

Gun deaths are an integral part of American life.

There were 1.5 million between 1968 and 2017 – more than the number of soldiers killed in every US conflict since the American Revolutionary War in 1775.

In 2020 alone, more than 45,000 Americans died at the end of a gun barrel, whether by homicide or suicide, more than any other year on record. This figure represents a 25% increase over the previous five years and a 43% increase over 2010.

But the issue is highly political, pitting proponents of gun control against sectors of the population fiercely protective of their constitutional right to bear arms.

How many guns are there in the United States?

Although it is difficult to calculate the number of guns owned by individuals around the world, figures from the Small Arms Survey – a leading research project based in Switzerland – estimate that there were 390 million guns in circulation in 2018.

Chart showing civilian firearms ownership around the world

The US ratio of 120.5 guns per 100 people, down from 88 percent in 2011, far exceeds that of other countries in the world.

More recent data also suggests that gun ownership has increased significantly in recent years. A study, published by the Annals of Internal Medicine in February, found that 7.5 million American adults – just under 3% of the population – became first new gun owners between January 2019 and April 2021.

This, in turn, exposed 11 million people to firearms in their homes, including 5 million children. About half of new gun owners during this period were women, while 40% were black or Hispanic.

A separate study, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2021, linked increased gun ownership during the pandemic to higher rates of firearm injuries among – and inflicted by – the children.

How do gun deaths in the United States break down?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 45,222 people died from firearm-related injuries from all causes in 2020, the latest year for which complete data is available.

Chart showing a breakdown of firearm-related deaths in the United States

Chart showing a breakdown of firearm-related deaths in the United States

And while mass shootings and gun killings usually get more media attention, of the total, 54% – around 24,300 deaths – were suicides.

A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher gun suicide rates for both men and women.

Proponents of tougher gun laws in the United States often cite this statistic when pushing lawmakers to spend more resources on mental health and less on easing gun restrictions.

How do gun murders in the United States compare to those in other countries?

In 2020, 43% of deaths – or 19,384 people – were homicides, according to data from the CDC. This figure represents a 34% increase from 2019 and a 75% increase over the previous decade.

Nearly 53 people are killed every day by a firearm in the United States, according to the data.

The data also shows that the vast majority of murders, 79%, were committed with firearms.

This is a much higher proportion of homicides than is the case in Canada, Australia, England and Wales and many other countries.

A graph showing an international comparison of gun-related murders as a percentage of all homicides in each country.  The United States leads with nearly 79% of all homicides committed with firearms.

A graph showing an international comparison of gun-related murders as a percentage of all homicides in each country. The United States leads with nearly 79% of all homicides committed with firearms.

Are mass shootings getting more deadly?

However, deaths from “mass shootings” that attract international attention are harder to track.

Although the country does not have a single definition of “mass shootings,” the FBI has tracked “active shooter incidents” for more than a decade in which “an individual has actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area”.

According to the FBIthere were 345 “active shooter incidents” in the United States between 2000 and 2020, resulting in more than 1,024 deaths and 1,828 injuries.

The deadliest attack of its kind, in Las Vegas in 2017, killed more than 50 people and injured 500. The vast majority of mass shootings, however, result in less than 30 deaths.

Chart showing the worst mass shootings in the United States since 1991

Chart showing the worst mass shootings in the United States since 1991

Who supports gun control?

Despite widespread and vocal public outrage – often in the wake of gun violence – US support for tougher gun laws in 2020 has fallen to the lowest level since 2014, according to a poll conducted by Gallup.

Only 52% of Americans polled said they wanted tougher gun laws, while 35% said they should stay the same.

Eleven percent of respondents said the laws should be “made less strict”.

The issue is also hyper-partisan and extremely divisive, largely along party lines.

“Democrats are almost unanimous in their support for tough gun laws,” the same Gallup study noted, with nearly 91% in favor of tougher gun laws.

Only 24% of Republicans, on the other hand, agreed with the same statement, along with 45% of independent voters.

Chart showing attitudes toward gun laws in the United States

Chart showing attitudes toward gun laws in the United States

Some states have taken steps to ban or strictly regulate the possession of assault weapons. Laws vary by state, but California, for example, has outlawed possession of assault weapons with limited exceptions.

Map showing states with assault weapons restrictions, April 2022

Map showing states with assault weapons restrictions, April 2022

Some controls are widely supported by people from all political backgrounds – such as restrictions on the sale of firearms to people with mental illness or on “watch” lists.

Who opposes gun control?

Despite years of financial hardship and internal strife, the National Rifle Association (NRA) remains the most powerful gun lobby in the United States, with a substantial budget to influence members of Congress on gun policy. .

In January, the NRA filed for bankruptcy in connection with a fraud case against some of its own top executives. Even after the move, he pledged to continue “to confront anti-Second Amendment activity, promote firearms safety and education, and advance public programs across the United States.”

In recent election cycles, she and other organizations have consistently spent more on pro-gun rights messaging than their rivals in the gun control lobby.

Chart showing spending by gun rights and gun control groups.  Updated April 8, 2021

Chart showing spending by gun rights and gun control groups. Updated April 8, 2021

A number of states have also gone so far as to largely eliminate restrictions on who can carry a gun. In June 2021, for example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a “carry without a license law” that allows state residents to carry handguns without a license or training.

Likewise, on April 12, Georgia became the 25th country in the nation to eliminate the need for a permit to conceal or openly carry a firearm. The law means that any citizen of this state has the right to carry a firearm without a license or permit.

The law was backed by the NRA, and the organization’s leaders called the move “a monumental moment for the Second Amendment.”