The U.S. rate of gun homicides was 10 times the average rate of peer countries. And looking at total homicides, other advanced countries do not appear to be swinging nearly enough hammers or wielding enough knives to rival our total homicide rate either. The only countries that exceed our rate of homicides and gun homicides are less developed, drug cartel invested countries like Columbia, Brazil and Mexico. Surely, we do not want to set our bar that low!
For more countries (and links to original data sources), see the full spread sheet here:
We also have by far the highest rate of civilian gun ownership (see yellow bars and use scale on right). Some countries like Switzerland do have high gun ownership rates without an accompanying spike in homicide rates. Even Switzerland, however, has been moving away from widespread guns in households and instead storing guns in depots.
Of course, societal violence is a complex problem stemming from many other diverse factors — drug trafficking, income inequality, access to mental health services, violent video games, inadequate law enforcement, to name a few. And minimizing it will therefore require a multi-pronged approach. Nor am I suggesting that more guns directly cause more violence, but there is definitely a disturbingly strong correlation. No doubt we need more research and data on this topic. Ever since the late 1990s, however, the Centers for Disease (and Injury) Control and Prevention has been wary of studying gun-related issues after NRA lobbyists convinced Congress to cut the CDC's funding. Sounds like a tactic ripped straight from the tobacco industry playbook.
It's interesting to note that Japan consumes as many violent video games as America but has very low gun ownership and homicide rates. And don't forget that all other advanced countries have some form of universal healthcare so everyone has easy access to mental health services. Perhaps we have a perfect storm in America of all these factors converging together to produce a toxic stew of violence.
One thing is clear: Guns are the most effective lethal weapons (and also most impersonal). There's no such thing as a drive-by knifing. It's an eerie coincidence that on the same day of the Newtown massacre, an attacker wielding a knife at an elementary school in China injured 22 kids and one adult, but no one was killed. Perhaps the universe was trying to tell us something.