Imagine picking up the U.S. and dropping it into a different part of the world. How would its record of gun deaths compare to its neighbors?
In the wake of the mass shootings of the past few weeks, I decided to look into that question. I used a handy tool from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. It turns out, the U.S. doesn't fare too well. In five out of six regions, it would be right near the top in terms of gun deaths per 100,000 people. Only in one region is it near the bottom.
There are two important things to note. First, the IHME data exclude deaths from armed conflicts. So casualties from the ongoing conflict in Syria, for example, are not counted.
Second, data from some parts of the world are not the most reliable. "The number of gun deaths in many countries are underreported," says Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health and epidemiology at the University of Washington. IHME makes adjustments for countries where underreporting is likely.
We should also point out that each list below includes only the 10 countries in the region with the highest rate of gun deaths; in the Americas, the U.S. ranked lower, but we included it for the sake of comparison.
Here's the breakdown:
Western Europe: The U.S. Is No. 1 (Out Of 23)
If the U.S. were in Western Europe, it would have the highest rate of gun deaths by a wide margin. The U.S. has more than five times the number of gun deaths as the top Western European nation: Portugal has 0.66 deaths per 100,000 people compared with 3.55 in the U.S.
"If we compare the U.S. to Western Europe, which is a fair comparison in terms of socioeconomics, we are simply way, way higher," Mokdad says.
Central And Eastern Europe: The U.S. Is No. 2 (Out Of 21)
Countries that were part of the Soviet Union have relatively high levels of gun violence. But even in this region, the U.S. ranks right near the top. Only Albania has higher levels of gun deaths, with 5.86 per 100,000 people.
There's also an interesting correlation with a popular recreational substance. "In Eastern Europe and Russia, gun deaths are more closely associated with alcohol use, not drug abuse," Mokdad says.
The Americas: The U.S. Is No. 13 (Out Of 20)
Compared with its neighbors in North, South and Central America, the U.S. has a relatively low rate of gun violence. The U.S. ranks 13th out of 20 countries in terms of gun deaths — far behind El Salvador (52.39), Colombia (35.08) and Venezuela (32.66). Just six major countries in the Americas have lower rates of gun death than the U.S. — ranging from Argentina (3.08) to Canada (0.49).
Overall, gun violence is far worse in Central America than anywhere else in the world. And it's largely due to one problem, says Mokdad. "In El Salvador and Honduras, there are a lot of gangs and drug trafficking, especially among younger men, and that has resulted in a big increase in gun violence."
North Africa And The Middle East: The U.S. Is No. 2 (Out Of 21)
This might be the most surprising statistic of all: If the United States were in the Middle East, it would have the second-highest rate of gun deaths of any nation — more than Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Israel combined. (Again, these numbers do not include deaths in armed conflicts.) In fact, only Iraq has a higher level of non-conflict-related gun deaths.
Sub-Saharan Africa: The U.S. Is No. 8 (Out Of 43)
In areas of sub-Saharan Africa where there is not armed conflict, death rates from guns are relatively low. If the U.S. were on the continent, it would have the eighth-highest number of gun deaths. It would be well ahead of most countries, including several with a violent reputation: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and South Sudan.
Southeast Asia, East Asia And Australasia: The U.S. Is No. 3 (Out Of 19)
Only two countries in this part of the world have higher levels of gun violence than the U.S.: Thailand and the Philippines. By contrast, in Japan and Singapore, gun deaths are virtually nonexistent.
Mokdad says many nations in this part of the world are providing young men with a better safety net and more educational opportunities, which might help reduce gun-related violence. "If you have an education and have a future," he says, "there is no reason to belong to a gang or to get a gun."