The United States and Brazil top the list of nations with the most gun deaths

The first global analysis of firearm-related deaths tallies homicides, suicides and accidents


GLOBAL HAZARD  Worldwide, there are more gun deaths outside of war zones than inside, a new analysis shows.


Gun deaths occur worldwide, but a new survey reveals the hot spots for those that occur outside of war zones.

In 2016, firearm-related homicides, suicides and accidental deaths were highly concentrated. For example, just six countries — the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Guatemala — accounted for about half of the estimated number of gun deaths unrelated to armed conflict, even though the nations together contributed less than 10 percent of the world’s population.

That’s just one takeaway from the first look at the global impact of interpersonal and self-inflicted gun violence on public health, published online August 28 in JAMA. Here’s the big picture:

Total global gun deaths rose from 1990 to 2016

Worldwide, an estimated 251,000 people died from guns due to homicide, suicide or unintentional injury in 2016. That’s up from an estimated 209,000 such firearm deaths in 1990, the team found by analyzing data from 195 countries and territories from 1990 to 2016.

In 2016, 64 percent of gun-related deaths were homicides, 27 percent were suicides and 9 percent were accidental deaths.

But the rate of gun deaths dipped a bit

The researchers looked at the global rate of firearm deaths, adjusted for differences in the distribution of ages in a population. The rate decreased slightly, from 4.2 deaths per 100,000 in 1990 to 3.4 deaths per 100,000 in 2016, because the global population grew.

Even so, “we can see the number of deaths due to gun violence — homicide, suicide, unintentional injury — is very high,” says study coauthor and global health researcher Mohsen Naghavi of the University of Washington in Seattle. “Gun violence is a public health problem.”

More gun deaths occur outside of war zones than inside

Globally, for every year studied save one, gun deaths due to homicide, suicide and unintentional injury exceeded those due to conflict and terrorism. The exception: 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide. That year, the death toll from global conflict reached 551,000, compared with 232,000 deaths from gun homicides, suicides and unintentional injuries.

The United States and Brazil are hot spots of gun violence

These two countries accounted for 32 percent of the total number of estimated deaths in 2016. In Brazil and the other top four Latin America countries, most gun deaths were homicides. The high rate of gun homicide in these countries is associated with drug and weapon trafficking, research has found. One-fourth of all global gun-related homicides in 2016 took place in Brazil.

But in the United States, as in some other wealthy countries, such as France and Germany, suicide accounted for the majority of gun deaths in 2016. Thirty-five percent of all global firearm suicides that year occurred in the United States, the researchers estimate.

Suicide rates have risen across the United States since 1999 (SN: 7/7/18, p. 13). Previous research has shown that having guns in the house is linked to higher use of the weapons to commit suicide and to a larger number of unintentional gun-related deaths.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on September 7, 2018, to correct the description of where global gun deaths were concentrated in 2016.

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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