US & Canada

Guns in the US: The statistics behind the violence

Guns for sale are displayed in Roseburg Gun Shop in Roseburg, Oregon, United States, 3 October 2015. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US has approximately 300 million guns - nearly one for every member of the population

In his first weekly address of 2016, Barack Obama vowed to take executive action to increase background checks on gun buyers.

His announcement followed another bloody year in the US in which thousands were killed and tens of thousands wounded by gunfire.

Here's a look at some of the statistics behind the violence.

The statistics

Mass shootings: There were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which catalogues such incidents. A mass shooting is defined as a single shooting incident which kills or injures four or more people, including the assailant.

Source: Mass Shooting Tracker

School shootings: There were 64 school shootings in 2015, according to a dedicated campaign group set up in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Connecticut in 2012. Those figures include occasions when a gun was fired but no-one was hurt.

Source: Everytown for Gun SafetyResearch

All shootings: Some 13,286 people were killed in the US by firearms in 2015, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and 26,819 people were injured [those figures exclude suicide]. Those figures are likely to rise by several hundred, once incidents in the final week of the year are counted.

Source: Gun Violence Archive

How the US compares: The number of gun murders per capita in the US in 2012 - the most recent year for comparable statistics - was nearly 30 times that in the UK, at 2.9 per 100,000 compared with just 0.1.

Of all the murders in the US in 2012, 60% were by firearm compared with 31% in Canada, 18.2% in Australia, and just 10% in the UK.

Source: UNODC.

The home front: So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the country. According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period, compared with 1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq.

Source: Politifact.

Total number of guns: No official figure exists but there are thought to be about 300 million in the US, held by about a third of the population. That is nearly enough guns for every man, woman and child in the country.

The NRA: The right to own guns is regarded by many as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, and fiercely defended by lobby groups such as the National Rifle Association, which boasted that its membership surged to around five million in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Gun violence and terrorism: The US spends more than a trillion dollars per year defending itself against terrorism, which kills a tiny fraction of the number of people killed by ordinary gun crime.

According to figures from the US Department of Justice and the Council on Foreign Affairs, 11,385 people died on average annually in firearm incidents in the US between 2001 and 2011.

In the same period, an average of 517 people were killed annually in terror-related incidents. Removing 2001, when 9/11 occurred, from the calculation produces an annual average of just 31.