A week before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting anniversary, the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on gun violence in nearly a decade.
Committee chairman U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., opened the hearing with a sobering statement: "Every day in America, on average, 34 people are murdered with a firearm, and more than 183 people are injured in an attack."
Nadler warned of the prevalence of U.S. gun violence compared with other industrialized countries.
"But while no other country in the industrialized world would tolerate such statistics — in fact, gun deaths in most of those countries barely crack triple digits annually — in the United States, it is accepted as a grim reality," Nadler said. "By comparison, in 2011, for example, the United Kingdom had 146 deaths due to gun violence; Denmark, 71; Portugal, 142; and Japan, 30. But last year, in the United States, almost 40,000."
The House Judiciary Committee passed HR 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, by a 23-15 vote on Feb. 13, prepping it for a full House vote. It is not expected to pass the Republican-led Senate.
Nadler’s comparison highlights the magnitude of gun deaths in the United States, and we were curious to find out if his statement is accurate.
The claim in absolute numbers doesn't account for massive differences in population. Denmark, for example, has 5.7 million people, while the United States has 325.7 million. That said, when you factor in the rate of gun deaths, the United States remains an outlier.
Nadler’s estimate for U.S. gun deaths is basically right (although we don’t have numbers for 2018 yet). When he said "last year," he was most likely pointing to the number of gun deaths in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That year, 39,773 deaths were related to firearms. The number captures deaths resulting from suicides, homicides, unintentional and undetermined deaths as well as those from law enforcement.
Nadler claimed there are an average of 34 deaths and 183 injuries resulting from firearm assaults per day, which echoes a five-year average calculated by the Brady Campaign to Protect Gun Violence, a nonprofit gun control advocacy group. The numbers creep higher when looking at 2017 alone, we found. An average of almost 40 people were murdered every day with a firearm in 2017. And 107,002 nonfatal gunshot injuries involved firearm assaults in 2017, according to the CDC, or about 293 injuries per day.
According to the CDC database, the number of nonfatal injuries related to firearm assaults grew sharply from 62,896 in 2015, to 88,702 in 2016, before hiking to 107,002 in 2017. Deaths from homicides involving firearms also rose.
Nadler compared the United States’ annual total in 2017 against other countries’ numbers in 2011. (Back in 2011, 32,351 in the United States lost their lives because of guns.)
Nadler’s numbers are consistent with the number of deaths on Gunpolicy.org, a public health database hosted by the University of Sydney. Its numbers are gleaned from the World Health Organization's Mortality Database.
More recent data is available for Denmark (82 in 2014), Japan (28 in 2014), Portugal (155 in 2014) and the U.K. (144 in 2013).
Experts pointed out that Nadler highlighted a small sample, leaving out a couple of advanced countries with higher gun death counts.
For example, France saw about 2,330 firearm-related deaths in 2016, while Germany had 1,220 firearm mortalities that year, according to the study Global Mortality From Firearms, 1990-2016 done by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Also, it is important to consider differences in population size when drawing comparisons with other countries.
"Nevertheless, the point he’s making — that the United States has far more gun deaths than any other industrialized nation, and far more per capita than any other industrialized nation — is correct," said Philip Cook, a prominent gun researcher and Duke University emeritus professor of public policy.
While there is no uniform definition of industrialized countries, a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Medicine compared the total firearm death rates per 100,000 people among high-income Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries in 2010.
Among most industrialized countries, the United States does have an outstanding rate of firearms mortality and almost triples the rate of the next country in line, Finland. Finland had a gun-related death rate of 3.6 per 100,000 people in 2010.
The gap between the U.S. and other countries’ firearm-related death rate widened between 2010 and 2016.
This does not make the United States the leading country for violent gun deaths in the world. Our previous reporting looked into violent gun death rates internationally (excluding suicides and others) in 2016 and found that the U.S. ranks No.10 worldwide, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
El Salvador (40.29), Venezuela (34.77) and Guatemala (28.81) had the highest firearm homicide rates per 100,000 people, as compared to 3.85 in the United States.
Nadler said, "In 2011, for example, the United Kingdom had 146 deaths due to gun violence; Denmark, 71; Portugal, 142; and Japan, 30. But last year, in the United States, almost 40,000."
The numbers Nadler mentioned were largely accurate for their corresponding years, but his claim was missing some context. Some of Nadler’s exact figures were dated, and they didn’t consider each country’s relative population.
Still, the most recent figure shows that magnitude and rate of firearm-related deaths in the United States surpass most, if not all, of its industrialized counterparts. We rate Nadler’s statement Mostly True.