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America's gun culture in charts

·4-min read

US president Joe Biden's announcement on gun control throws the spotlight once again on Americans' attitudes to firearms.

Here is a selection of charts and maps on where America stands on the right to bear arms.

How does the US compare with other countries?

There were 14,400 gun-related homicides in 2019.

Killings involving a gun accounted for nearly three quarters of all homicides in the US in that year.

That's a larger proportion of homicides than in Canada, Australia, England and Wales, and many other countries.

Chart comparing gun-related deaths as % of total homicides - 73% in US, 39% in Canada, 22% in Australia, and 4% in England and Wales. Updated 8 April
Chart comparing gun-related deaths as % of total homicides - 73% in US, 39% in Canada, 22% in Australia, and 4% in England and Wales. Updated 8 April

Who owns the world's guns?

While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US, with more than 390 million, is far out in front. The latest figures from the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based leading research project, are for 2018.

Chart showing civilian gun owneship around the world
Chart showing civilian gun owneship around the world

Switzerland and Finland are two of the European countries with the most guns per person - they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. The Finnish interior ministry says about 60% of gun permits are granted for hunting - a popular pastime in Finland. Cyprus and Yemen also have military service.

How do US gun deaths break down?

Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,300 deaths from guns in 2019 - of which more than 23,900 were suicides.

Graphic showing 38,355 died from guns in 2019, of those 23,941 were suicides and 14,414 were homicides Updated 8 April 2021
Graphic showing 38,355 died from guns in 2019, of those 23,941 were suicides and 14,414 were homicides Updated 8 April 2021

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

The number of mass shootings fell last year during the pandemic.

According to investigative magazine Mother Jones, which has been tracking such incidents since 1982, there were only two in the whole of 2020. Mother Jones defines a mass shooting as three or more people shot dead.

It does not include violent crimes like robberies or gang-related violence in its statistics.

Other figures from the Gun Violence Archive suggest mass shooting may have risen last year. It uses a broader definition of shootings including those where victims are shot and injured, as well as robberies.

Attacks in US become deadlier

The Las Vegas attack in 2017 was the worst mass shooting in recent US history - and eight of the shootings with the highest number of casualties happened within the past 10 years.

Chart showing worst mass shootings in the US since 1991 with Las Vegas at the top. Updated 8 April 2021
Chart showing worst mass shootings in the US since 1991 with Las Vegas at the top. Updated 8 April 2021

How much do guns cost to buy?

For those from countries where guns are not widely owned, it can be a surprise to discover that they are relatively cheap to purchase in the US.

Among the arsenal of weapons recovered from the hotel room of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock in 2017 were handguns, which can cost from as little $200 (£145) - comparable to a Chromebook laptop.

Graphic showing price of an assault rifle $1500 and handgun $200
Graphic showing price of an assault rifle $1500 and handgun $200

Assault-style rifles, also recovered from Paddock's room, can cost from around $1,500 (£1,100).

Who supports gun control?

US public opinion on gun laws has fluctuated over recent years.

Opinion polling by Gallup suggests that a majority of Americans would like to see the laws covering the sale of firearms made more strict.

Chart showing attitudes to gun laws. Updated 8 April 2021
Chart showing attitudes to gun laws. Updated 8 April 2021

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

States banning assault weapons, April 2021
States banning assault weapons, April 2021

Some controls are widely supported by people across the political divide - such as restricting the sale of guns to people who are mentally ill, or on "watch" lists.

Who opposes gun control?

The National Rifle Association (NRA) campaigns against all forms of gun control in the US and argues that more guns make the country safer.

It is among the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the US, with a substantial budget to influence members of Congress on gun policy.

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

Figures from the Center for Responsive Government suggest that groups advocating stricter gun controls actually spent more than gun rights groups like the NRA in 2018.

In January 2021, the NRA filed for bankruptcy as part of a fraud case against some of its own senior staff.

The NRA said it would continue "confronting anti-Second Amendment activities, promoting firearm safety and training, and advancing public programs across the United States".