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America’s dangerous Love for Firearms


Firearms explainer article covering common themes and questions in the US weapons debate. We looked at how common mass shootings are, how many people die by a firear, how that compares internationally and what is the historical origin of weapons in America. 

An estimated 300 million weapons are in circulation in the US, nearly one per capita. No other country experiences so many mass shootings - and yet the US vehemently defends the right to carry a weapon.

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Written, researched, and visualized in collaboration with David Bauer and Ann-Dorit Boy. Read the article in German here.



An exemplary look at the past year shows that firearms massacres in the US are almost commonplace. In 2018, there were more days with such an incident than days without. On some days up to six "mass shootings" occurred with several fatalities.

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There have been 307 mass shootings already this year (2018).
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Number of mass shootings (4+ persons dead) per day. 

By far the largest share of America's firearms deaths are attributed to suicide. Most of them are white men, the group of people who also own most firearms. In second place are murders and homicides.

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38,658 people died in 2016 by a firearm
The number of people who died by a firearm in the case of suicide, murder, by the police, by accident or unknown. 

Overall crime rates have fallen since the mid-nineties in the US as well as the number of people killed by firearms. However, the number has increased significantly again in recent years. 

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Deaths by firearms per 100,000 citizens

There are 88 weapons per 100 US citizens. This is far more than in any other industrialized country in the world.

Industrialized countries with more firearms obviously also have a higher rate of death by firearms. However, the number of weapons alone does not explain the extremely high number of firearms deaths in America, as a comparison with Switzerland or Finland shows.

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More guns in circulation, more gun deaths. 
Industrialized countries by yearly gun deaths (per 100,000 citizen) and number of weapons per citizen.  

Analyses indicate that the lack of arms control laws - and the inadequate implementation of existing laws - contribute to the high number of firearms, suicides and accidents. In several democratically governed states of the United States, which have independently introduced stricter weapons laws for background checks and age restrictions, there are fewer deaths from firearms. However, this is not continuous. In addition, other factors such as wealth, literacy or unspecified cultural factors need to be considered.

Many Americans have a close, if not uncomplicated, relationship to weapons.
Above all, gun owners see the right to carry a weapon as essential for their sense of freedom (74%), freedom of expression (94%), the right to vote (92%) and freedom of religion (88%).


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The right to own a weapon is more important to Americans now that it used to be.
What Americans consider more important (in procent): The right to own a weapone or gun ownership regulation 

What attempts have been made to control the arms trade and firearms at the national level? A timeline of gun ownership regulations: 




After 1986 built automatic weapons were banned in the US. Automatic weapons built before 1986 remain legally in circulation. In addition, semi-automatic weapons can be rebuilt using accessories such as bump stocks, allowing them to fire like machine guns.


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Gun comparison: revolver (non-automatic), semi-automatic pistol, semi-automatic rifle
What do US citizens want? 
Polls conducted after the Parkland massacre show that more and more Americans have been calling for regulation to prevent firearm massacres. However, this does not necessarily mean banning certain types of weapons or raising the age limit for arms purchases, which remains highly controversial. The opinions of Americans who own weapons and those who do not own firearms are very different in some respects.


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Americans advocating for stronger gun ownership regulations
Proportion in procent who want stronger regulation, no change in regulation and less regulation. 

There is general agreement on the exclusion of the mentally ill from buying weapons. A majority of Americans also call for mandatory background checks on private arms sales. The demand for the creation of a national database, in which all arms sales would have to be traceable remains polarized.

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Actions that the majority of the US population advocate
Agreement in procent from weapon owners, non-weapon owners and everyone.


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