Shock and anger were not the only reactions to Wednesday’s massacre of nine worshippers at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Although racism was surely a factor in the tragedy, President Obama called out another salient feature, one that distinguishes our country from every other developed nation in the world: “Once again innocent people were killed because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun…. This type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced nations.”
Was the President telling the truth? Unfortunately, yes. In fact-checking an assertion by former U.S. Representative from Virginia Jim Moran, politifact.com compared the U.S. gun-homicide rate to the rates of 22 other nations defined as “high-income” by the World Health Organization: Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom (England and Wales), United Kingdom (Northern Ireland), and United Kingdom (Scotland). Using data mostly from 2009, they concluded that the gun homicide rate in the USA (3.0 per 100,000 people) was 15 times the combined rate of the 22 other nations (0.2 per 100,000).
And homicides are just the tip of the iceberg. According to GunPolicy.org, an international database comparing armed violence and gun laws across 350 jurisdictions (hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney), the 2013 rate of gun deaths in the USA from all causes – intentional and unintentional – was 10.64 per 100,000. The rate in Washington state was slightly lower (9.07 per 100,000), but substantially higher than rates in other developed countries.
The 2012 rate of firearm-related deaths in King County was 7.9 per 100,000 — low, perhaps, by U.S. standards, but almost 4 times the rate in Israel and 36 times the rate in England and Wales. Rates were even higher among King County males, Blacks, the poor, residents of South Region, and both younger (18-24 years) and older (>65 years) adults.
What about access to guns? GunPolicy.org reports that the United States has the highest rate of civilian firearm possession in the world –101.05 firearms per 100 people. Yemen, at 54.8 per 100, is a distant second.
According to King County’s Community Health Indicators, firearms are kept in or around 1 in 4 King County homes. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that more people in King County die from gun violence than motor vehicle crashes. For more information on regional gun violence and firearm access and policies, see two recent reports, Gun Violence in King County, and The Impact of Firearms on King County’s Children: 1999-2012. For information on King County homicide and hate-crime trends, see Communities Count crime data.