It appears that the United States is at a crossroads. The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killed 20 children in first grade and took the life of six other adults who worked at the school. This summer, a shooter opened fire during the midnight premiere of The Dark Night Rises in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 and injuring 58. In this year alone, over 140 people have been killed or injured by mass shooters in the United States.
The United States has the most guns per capita of any country in the world. There are just about nine guns for every 10 people in the United States, according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey. For reference, the next closest country in terms of guns per capita is Yemen ... a country with a few simmering insurgencies. And, it is quite likely that, after recent surges in arms sales, the United States has now surpassed the “nine guns for every ten people” threshold.
In 2008, the year President Obama won his first term as president, the FBI performed 12.7 million background checks for guns, one million more than the year before. Records show that these requests have increased every year since. After President Obama was reelected this November, gun sales skyrocketed once again. The FBI received a single-day record of 154,873 calls for background exams on Black Friday, when presumably a record number of Americans bought guns. In light of the rekindled debate on gun control as a result of the Sandy Hook shooting, it is likely that gun sales will continue to increase at a rapid rate, spurred by fears of new gun control measures.
Throughout the world, mass shootings have spurred greater gun control legislation. In Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, massacres have caused legislators to clamp down on guns in a variety of ways. Here is a timeline of mass casualty shootings in the United States and elsewhere, some of which have resulted in great gun control. See more in-depth data on non-United States school shootings. As you can see, some countries are very responsive to these threats, while the United States has moved from lax gun control, to the assault weapons ban in 1994, and back to loose gun laws again when this ban expired in 2004.
In terms of mass shootings, there is no clear cut evidence that the assault weapons ban definitely curtailed these types of events. According to a Mother Jones timeline, there were 19 mass shootings between 1982 and the time the assault weapons ban was put into place in 1994. From 1994 until 2004, when the ban expired, there was a similar amount of mass shootings — 16 — but there were nine in 1999 alone.
What is striking is that in the eight years since this ban expired, there have been 27 shootings in the United States. Since the ban has expired, there has been a significant uptick in these events in a shorter amount of time. These recent events are inflicting more casualties as well. The deaths of 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 have brought these hard truths to the mind of every American in the past week.
Although mass shootings have spurred a renewed discussion over gun laws in the United States, it is more important to realize the United States has the highest homicide by firearm rate outside of Mexico when compared with other OECD countries. Mexico, a country snared in a flaring drug war that resembles an insurgency, only passed the United States in terms of firearm homicide rates in 2008. According to the UNODC in 2007, the United States had 3.8 firearm homicides per 100,000 people, while Mexico had 3.7. In 2008, the rate dropped to 3.6 in the United States and rose to 4.6 in Mexico; this trend has continued ever since. For this reason, Mexico was left out of this infograph, which compares selected OECD countries in terms of their homicide by firearm rate (per 100,000 people). The infographs below show what percentage of homicides are committed by firearm in these selected countries.
Sixty-eight percent of homicides are caused by firearms in the United States. Switzerland is the only country in this list with a higher percentage at 74.4 percent. However, Switzerland has a significantly lower homicide rate than the United States, and an interesting gun culture that deserves to be explored. For a further comparison of these countries by gun laws, and the events that may have spurred these laws, please read this list that summarizes the OECD countries included in this infograph, why they were included, and the horrific events that caused these states to reevaluate their gun laws.
This article originally appeared on the Century Foundation.