Imagine that, in the course of a single year, a ubiquitous household item was implicated in the death of every man, woman and child in the city of Glendale, Ariz., America’s 87th largest city with a population of 251,269. The world would almost certainly take notice of such a loss.

That, in essence, was the global toll of humanity’s obsession with firearms.

There are roughly 1 billion guns in the world, and new research finds that in 2016, they ended the lives of about 251,000 people in 195 countries and territories that kept reasonably detailed death records. Those deaths included homicides, suicides and accidents.

Just six countries that make up less than 10 percent of the world’s population – Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Guatemala – accounted for just over half of the world’s gun-related deaths.

The new worldwide tally is a first-ever attempt to discern international patterns in gun access, gun ownership and fatalities caused by guns. The findings were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Wars, mass shootings and terrorist attacks may loom large in our consciousness. But the new work makes clear that guns’ worldwide death toll actually is driven by personal despair, interpersonal conflict and carelessness.


“This constitutes a major public health problem for humanity,” a trio of firearms-research specialists wrote.

The census of gun fatalities did not include people killed in armed conflict situations. Indeed, in almost every year between 1990 and 2016, the non-combat toll of firearms dwarfed the number of gun deaths stemming from wars and insurrections.

In affluent countries such as Australia, Canada and Germany, suicides outnumbered homicides by considerable margins. In the United States, there were nearly twice as many gun-related suicides as gun-related homicides in 2016.

In countries where drug trafficking and gang violence are pervasive scourges, gun-related homicides clearly dominated.

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