Data from the United Nations and the Small Arms Survey shows how South Africa’s gun ownership and gun deaths compare to other countries across the world.
Gun violence has again been thrust into the global spotlight following a widely publicised mass shooting in Orlando, Florida in the USA.
The mass shooting has been described as the worst of its kind in US history – and is just the latest in what has sadly become a common recurrence in the world’s leading economy.
Martin Grandjean, a researcher of contemporary history at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and a data visualization expert, claimed that more Americans have died from guns in the US since 1968, than on the battlefields of all the wars in the country’s history.
From 1966 to 2012, nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings took place in the US, according to a 2016 study that used the FBI definition of ‘mass shooting’.
An despite this infamy around gun deaths in the US, a World Health Organization report in 2015 – using data from 2012 – revealed that South Africa was the second worst country in the world for gun-related deaths.
South Africa is a violent country, recording high murder rates on an annual basis. However, gun death statistics are notoriously difficult to pin down due to the non-specific nature of reporting.
The South African Police Service stopped reporting on firearm data in 2000, making many of the local stats dependent on hunting associations and other sources, which are not entirely reliable.
Also because of this, the number of reported guns are typically indicative of legal gun ownership (as illegal firearms can’t easily be tracked), while gun death statistics include both murder and suicide.
Despite these points, many legal firearms still end up in the hands of criminals (the SAPS reported 1,900 police guns going missing between 2014 and 2015 alone), and add fuel to the fire of gun control debates – in the USA and South Africa.
Global gun deaths
Data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime paints a different picture to the WHO data.
The global body tracked homicide rates and gun ownership in 2012, showing which nations in the world lead as the most dangerous for gun crime.
In summary, the data shows that the US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, with 88.8 firearms per 100,000 people, followed by Yemen (54.8 per 100,000) and Switzerland (45.7 per 100,000).
The US has the most guns, and also one of the highest death counts attributed to guns (6th, globally, with 9,146 deaths) – but the country known as the most gun-crazy in the world has a lower murder by gun rate than South Africa, the data shows.
According to the UN data, the US has a homicide by firearm rate of 2.97 per 100,000 people – the 28th highest rate in the world.
South Africa ranks 12th, with a rate of 17.03 per 100,000 people.
These findings are vastly different to the WHO dataset, which shows just how difficult it is to determine any solid facts on global gun deaths – but the data aligns with global homicide rates.
The tables below show the countries in the world with the highest rates of gun ownership and gun deaths, according to the UN.
Top 15 countries by gun ownership
|#||Country||Total number of civilian firearms||Rate (per 100,000 people)|
|1||United States||270 000 000||88.8|
|2||Yemen||11 500 000||54.8|
|3||Switzerland||3 400 000||45.7|
|4||Finland||2 400 000||45.3|
|5||Serbia||3 050 000||37.8|
|7||Saudi Arabia||6 000 000||35.0|
|8||Iraq||9 750 000||34.2|
|9||Uruguay||1 100 000||31.8|
|10||Sweden||2 800 000||31.6|
|11||Norway||1 400 000||31.3|
|12||France||19 000 000||31.2|
|13||Canada||9 950 000||30.8|
|14||Austria||2 500 000||30.4|
|15||Germany||25 000 000||30.3|
Top 15 countries by gun deaths
|#||Country||Number of homicides by firearms||Rate (per 100,000 people)|
|2||El Salvador||2 446||39.9|
|6||Saint Kitts and Nevis||17||32.4|
|7||Trinidad and Tobago||365||27.3|
|12||South Africa||8 319||17.0|
|13||Dominican Republic||1 618||16.3|