Compared with populations from other high-income nations, Americans are at much greater risk of gun death, new research finds.
Additionally, the study reveals that Americans are significantly more likely to be accidentally or violently killed by a gun and are more likely to commit suicide using a gun, compared with individuals in other developed countries.
Study coauthors Erin Grinshteyn, PhD, of the University of Nevada-Reno, and David Hemenway, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, say their findings "support the hypothesis that our firearms are killing us rather than protecting us."
There were more than 33,000 gun deaths in the US in 2014, including more than 21,000 gun-related suicides.
Such figures have fueled proposals to update gun laws in the US; early last month, President Barack Obama vowed to step up gun control in the US, proposing stricter and more efficient background checks for the purchase of firearms, with the aim of "keeping guns out of the wrong hands."
While many people are in support of stricter gun control - a recent survey found that 50% of Americans support President Obama's proposals - others have been more skeptical, with some individuals claiming that stricter gun control would reduce the country's ability to protect itself against possible terrorist threats.
Lethal crimes in US driven by gun-related homicide
For their study, Grinshteyn and Hemenway aimed to "help put America's relationship with guns into perspective" by gaining a better understanding of how much violence in the country is related to firearms, compared with other high-income countries.
Fast facts about guns in the US
- Around 270-310 million guns are held by US civilians
- In 2014, there were around 10 gun-related deaths for every 100,000 Americans
- There were 586 unintentional gun deaths in the US in 2014.
The researchers analyzed 2010 mortality data from the World Health Organization (WHO), looking at death rates per 100,000 people and the causes of death across 23 developed countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Spain, Switzerland and Finland.
The team found that while the US has a similar rate of non-lethal crimes as other high-income countries, the rate of lethal crimes is significantly higher, which the researchers say is primarily driven by higher levels of gun-related homicide.
The study results revealed that Americans are seven times more likely to be violently killed overall and 25 times more likely to be violently killed with a gun, compared with individuals in other developed countries.
Among Americans aged 15-24, homicide is the second leading cause of death. This group, the researchers found, is 49 times more likely to die from gun-related homicide than their counterparts in other developed countries.
What is more, Americans aged 25-34 - for whom homicide is the third leading cause of death - are 32 times more likely to die from gun-related homicide than their counterparts from other high-income nations.
"More than two thirds of the homicides in the US are firearm homicides and studies have suggested that the non-gun homicide rate in the US may be high because the gun homicide rate is high," notes Grinshteyn, "For example, offenders take into account the threat posed by their adversaries. Individuals are more likely to have lethal intent if they anticipate that their adversaries will be armed."
US accounts for 80% of all gun-related deaths
Additionally, while the overall suicide rate in the US is similar to that of other high-income countries, the researchers found that Americans are eight times more likely to commit suicide using a gun than people in other developed nations.
"Differences in overall suicide rates across cities, states, and regions in the United States are best explained not by differences in mental health, suicide ideation, or even suicide attempts, but by availability of firearms," says Hemenway. "Many suicides are impulsive, and the urge to die fades away. Firearms are a swift and lethal method of suicide with a high case-fatality rate."
The team also found that Americans are six times more likely to be accidentally killed with a gun and 10 times more likely to die from a firearm overall, compared with people in other high-income countries.
Of all gun-related deaths across all countries included in the study, the US accounted for more than 80%. What is more, the US accounted for 90% of all gun-related deaths among women, 91% of all gun-related deaths among children aged 0-14 and 92% of all gun-related deaths among individuals aged 15-24.
Commenting on their findings, the researchers say:
"Overall, our results show that the United States, which has the most firearms per capita in the world, suffers disproportionately from firearms compared with other high-income countries. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that our firearms are killing us rather than protecting us."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study that found 60% of Americans would buy a smart gun - a gun that can only be fired after authorization from a registered owner through a fingerprint or radio frequency identification (RFID).