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Agard is off by most measures.
In terms of raw numbers, the most recent data shows the US ranks second to Brazil.
When the population of countries are factored in, the US falls to 32nd.
- The US does come out on top when only high-income developed nations with 10 million or more people are considered.
Is the United States so awash in guns that gun violence has become a public health crisis?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN in a late August interview that she wants the agency to treat gun violence that way.
State Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, is on board, issuing a Sept. 2, 2021 news release that hailed the agency for "acknowledging the stark reality of too many lives lost each day."
She went on to make this claim:
"The fact is, no other country on the planet witnesses the number of gun deaths that we do here in the United States, and it’s not even close."
Is Agard right?
When asked for backup, Agard’s staff pointed us to various studies examining the level of gun violence in the United States and in other countries, including studies on mass shootings, gun ownership, and the number of children shot and killed.
For instance according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, about four in 10 Americans say they either own a gun or live in a home with guns -- the highest level among the nations surveyed.
But Agard’s claim was about gun deaths, not gun ownership.
And the way she phrased it -- flat out most in the world, without any qualifications -- means she is a bit off.
Let’s start with the raw numbers.
According to the World Population Review "Gun Deaths By Country 2021" report, Brazil topped the list of the most gun deaths, with a total of 43,200 out of the 250,000 deaths worldwide. The United States had the second-highest number of gun deaths with 37,200.
The report noted that in the U.S., mass shootings receive a great deal of media attention, however, they account for a small number of overall gun violence deaths.
So, by that measure, Agard is close -- the U.S. ranks second, but is certainly not "far and away" in first.
Of course, countries are of various sizes. So, what about deaths as a proportion of the population?
There Agard fares even worse.
A March 24, 2021 NPR article cited data from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and noted "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."
At the top of the list were a series of Central and South American countries, starting with El Salvador (36.77 per 100,000), followed by Venezuela (33.27), Guatemala (29.06), Colombia (26.36) and Brazil (21.92 per 100,000.)
Other high-ranking countries included the Bahamas, Honduras and Mexico.
Researchers noted that a large factor in gun violence in Central America and the Caribbean is a high level of gangs and drug trafficking. Venezuela, meanwhile, has struggled with political unrest and economic problems.
The report, released in 2020, noted that deaths from gun violence can be rare in many low-income countries — such as Tajikistan and Gambia, which saw 0.18 deaths and 0.22 deaths, respectively, per 100,000 people.
But wealthy Asian countries such as Singapore (0.01), Japan (0.02) and South Korea (0.02) have the absolute lowest rates — along with China, also at 0.02.
So, by this measure, Agard is way off.
What happens if you narrow the examination to countries that are larger, or more developed?
In a March 2021 article, the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation focused strictly on gun homicides (so, not including gun-related suicides) among 64 high-income countries and territories.
The U.S. ranked 8th with two U.S. territories -- Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- coming in first and third. (Bahamas was second).
When the institute narrowed it further, and looked at high-income countries and territories with populations of 10 million or more, the U.S. did come out on top.
United States 4.12 per 100,000 population
So, by this specific measure, the U.S. was on top, and far ahead of the next countries.
But, of course, Agard did not specify that measure. She spoke in the most general terms.
Agard said "the fact is, no other country on the planet witnesses the number of gun deaths that we do here in the United States, and it’s not even close."
The U.S. does top the list when only high-income developed nations with populations of 10 million or more are considered.
However, Agard is off by a bit when looking at raw numbers, and off by a whole lot when looking at gun-related deaths as a share of the population.
For a statement that contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, our rating is Mostly False.
The Wheeler Report, State Sen. Melissa Agard news release, "CDC Director Recommends Treating Gun Violence as a Public Health Crisis," Sept. 2, 2021.
Email, Sidney Litke, communications director, state Sen. Melissa Agard, Sept. 8, 2021.
Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, "On Gun Violence, the United States is an outlier," March 25, 2021.
NPR, "Gun Violence Deaths: How The U.S. Compares With The Rest Of The World," March 24, 2021.
World Population Review "Gun Deaths By Country 2021"
Pew Research Center, "How US gun culture compares with the world," 2017.
CNN "How US gun culture compares with the world," August 6, 2019.
Global Burden of Disease Report for gun violence 2019
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