Editor's note: This is the latest update of a story that NPR has run on several occasions after mass shooting events in the United States. It was last republished on May 24, 2022.
The quick succession of horrific shootings this month in California has once again shone a spotlight on how frequent this type of violence is in the United States compared with other wealthy countries.
The U.S. has the 32nd-highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world: 3.96 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. That was more than eight times as high as the rate in Canada, which had 0.47 deaths per 100,000 people — and nearly 100 times higher than in the United Kingdom, which had 0.04 deaths per 100,000.
On a state-by-state calculation, the rates can be even higher. In the District of Columbia, the rate is 18.5 per 100,000 — the highest in the United States. The second-highest is in Louisiana: 9.34 per 100,000. In Georgia and Colorado — the scenes of the two most recent mass shootings — the rates are a bit closer to the national average: 5.62 per 100,000 in Georgia and 2.27 in Colorado.
The numbers come from a massive database maintained by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks lives lost in every country, in every year, by every possible cause of death.
The 2019 figures paint a fairly rosy picture for much of the world, with deaths due to gun violence rare even in many low-income countries — such as Tajikistan and Gambia, which saw 0.18 deaths and 0.22 deaths, respectively, per 100,000 people.
Prosperous Asian countries such as Singapore (0.01), Japan (0.02) and South Korea (0.02) boast the absolute lowest rates — along with China, also at 0.02.
"It is a little surprising that a country like ours should have this level of gun violence," Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health and epidemiology at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told NPR. "If you compare us to other well-off countries, we really stand out."
To be sure, there are quite a few countries where gun violence is a substantially larger problem than in the United States — particularly in Central America and the Caribbean. Mokdad said a major driver is the large presence of gangs and drug trafficking. "The gangs and drug traffickers fight among themselves to get more territory, and they fight the police," Mokdad said. And citizens who are not involved are often caught in the crossfire.
Another country with widespread gun violence is Venezuela, which for the last several years has been grappling with political unrest and an economic meltdown.
Mokdad said drug trafficking may also be a factor in two Asian countries that have unusually high rates of violent gun deaths for their region, the Philippines and Thailand.
With the casualties due to armed conflicts factored out, even in conflict-ridden regions such as the Middle East, the U.S. rate is worse.
The U.S. gun violence death rate is also higher than in nearly all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including many that are among the world's poorest.