Are people killed by guns or by people?


First and foremost our condolences to all involved in Dallas police shootings. We just noticed this unfortunate turn of events on the news as we were finalising this blog post we’ve been preparing this week. It’s extremely sad to see this kind of cycle of violence, protesting against violence with violence will just keep things spiralling for worse. We hope in time people can step back and start thinking about the reasons and solutions to end this madness. This posting was intended to start that process, so hopefully you get something out of it. Use it for good.


The debate in the US about gun laws fired us pondering whether murders are made by guns or people. We collected some data on Small Arms Survey (as found on Guardian) about privately owned firearms and UNODC, which we combined with some data from our previous post (see at the bottom of this post).


Overall the total amount of murders was 367 741 in the countries where data was available. This is the rough amount of homicides committed in the world in a year, which is  in line with other estimates ranging from  low 300 000 to low 500 000 . On average this means that almost 6.6 people of every 100 000 are murdered each year. These murders however are not distributed equally around the globe. In Honduras over 73 people / 100 000 are murdered while less than 1.5 / 100 000 are murdered in Algeria, which is a pretty low rate for an African country. It’s quite likely that numbers in Africa do have gaps in them  due to reporting standards, therefore it’s quite probable that these figures are higher in real life.


Average of Murders
Chart 1. Average (of countries in region) of Murders / 100 000 people by Region


While your best bet for not getting murdered would be in any given European country, the safest country in Latin America would be Chile. There are also minuscule Caribbean countries like Saint Lucia where murders virtually don’t exist.


The next thing we wanted to know was how many of these murders were committed by firearms. Latin America leads again, as on average more than 14.6 murders per every 100 000 people is committed with firearms. In comparison the same figure in Europe is only 0.35 and in Oceania as low as  0.05.


Murders on average by firearms
Chart 2. Average (of countries in region) of Murders by firearm / 100 000 people by Region


But wait a minute… This means, that not even one third of the murders are made by firearms! Well, maybe this just means that there are not many firearms available? As it turns out, there is very little correlation between how much there are fire arms and the amount of murders committed by them. There are lots of murders in Latin America and lots of murders there are committed by firearms, but on average only 8.47 % of people own a gun while in Europe on average there are more than 16 guns per every 100 people and in North America on average more than half of the population own firearms.


average of firearms
Chart 3. Average (of countries in region) of Firearms / 100 people by Region


Let’s have a look at Europe. The top 3 countries with most firearms / 100 people are:

  1. Finland
  2. Serbia
  3. Switzerland

However, the most murders per 100 000 people made by firearms are committed in Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia. There are less murders made by firearms in Finland than in Denmark even though the Danes own significantly less firearms than the Finns. There are even less firearms in Albania than in Denmark! One has to wonder if the estimations about the amount of firearms in Albania are correct.


Chart of firearms per 100 people
Chart 4. Firearms per 100 people by country in Europe.



murders by firearms in Europe
Chart 5. Murders by firearms per 100 000 people in European countries.


In speculation of what are the common nominators between the three countries at the top of European gun owners, we found out that all three countries had mandatory military service for men until recent years while both Finland and Switzerland still have current ongoing conscription. This means that most of the adult male population in these countries are fully trained for handling firearms and thus may be more interested in owning one. The same factor may also contribute to being a responsible gun owner.


Now that we know that the murders made by firearms depend very little on the actual amount of firearms, let’s have a closer look at what’s happening around the world. There are areas where lots of murders are made by firearms while the amount of firearms is not very large, and areas where there are plenty of firearms around but they are not used for murdering people. For some reason people in some areas (Look at Latin America!) are more inclined in using firearms for murderous purposes. Even though there are high murder accounts per 1000 guns in Africa, the amount of homicides made by guns / 100 000 guns is a lot higher in Latin America.


Murders per 1000 firearms
Chart 6. Average of Murders / 1000 firearms by Region


murders by firearms per 100 000 firearms
Chart 7. Average of murders made by firearms per 100 000 firearms by region.


It looks like the amount of guns have little to do with whether they are actually used for murders or violence. There are probably other factors contributing to that. In the end we think people kill people, and we can only change that if we find out the real reasons behind the violence.


This is just an introduction to this particular data set, and the whole data can be found as a sample data set on You’re welcome to explore the whole data and find out more detailed information about this topic! 


Note that not all the available data is from same year (mostly 2010, and only 4 countries before year 2009), therefore some might be a bit more dated and cross referenced over different years  (2006 – 2014), for example, amount of murders from year “x” and % of murders by firearms from year “y”, however this data should still work for broad analysis.

“Murder” in this text refers to “Intentional Homicide” means unlawful death purposefully inflicted on a person by another person. Data on intentional homicide should also include serious assault leading to death and death as a result of a terrorist attack. It should exclude attempted homicide, manslaughter, death due to legal intervention, justifiable homicide in self-defence and death due to armed conflict. as defined by UNODC.





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