The United States has 88.8 guns for every 100 people, more than any other nation on earth.
That’s more than Yemen (54.8), number two on the list, a desperately poor and dangerous country undergoing a civil war. More than Serbia (37.8), number five, where armed militias terrorized civilians for a decade. More than our northern neighbors, Canada, which has only 30.8 firearms per 100 people, despite our similar cultures.
Our rate of gun-related murders is also the highest in the developed world.
Check out our interactive map of the countries with the most firepower below:
Even though we own so many guns, American attitudes towards firearms may be shifting after the Newtown massacre.
President Obama has announced he will submit gun control legislation to Congress no later than January. The bill will likely reinstate the federal assault weapons ban – which expired in 2004- prohibit the purchase of high-capacity ammunition magazines, and close the so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows as many as four in ten gun purchases to happen under the radar.
The bill’s passage is far from certain.
That’s because Americans don’t just own more guns than other nations: we also have a very different attitude towards them.
The more guns you own, the safer you’ll be
Like the U.S., the Nordic countries have developed economies and relatively low crime rates. Their citizens also keep lots of guns. Finland has 45.3 firearms per 100 people. Sweden has 31.6, Norway 31.3.
But Helgi Gunnlaugsson, a professor of criminology at the University of Iceland, tells Latitude News that Scandinavians own guns not for self-defense — a common justification for owning a weapon in America — but for hunting and recreational shooting.
“To arm your homes to protect yourself with guns and pistols,” Gunnlaugsson explains, “is a foreign idea here —it easily ends up in family tragedies and accidents, to a much larger degree than [it actually results in] defending yourself against crime.”
Janet Rosenbaum, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, says the dynamic is similar in Switzerland, number three on the list with 45.7 guns per 100 people. Rosenbaum says that, according to public polling, Americans are eight times as likely as the Swiss to say they own a gun for self-defense.
Meanwhile, Gunnlaugsson argues that new laws won’t necessarily solve the problem of gun violence in America.
“This is a deep belief in the U.S. — the deterrent effect of guns and the right for self-defense,” he says. “Stricter gun control will not change this U.S. sentiment.”
You can explore the full data set, which we adapted from the 2007 Small Arms Survey, here.