Politifact VA: Gun homicides 22 times more common in US than EU
Speaker: Del. Cliff Hayes Jr.
Statement: “When you compare us to the European Union, we're something like 23 times more likely” to have homicides and handgun killings.
Date: Nov. 23
Setting: CNN interview
The day after six people died in a mass shooting at a Chesapeake Walmart, Del. Cliff Hayes Jr. (D-Chesapeake) said the nation must discuss why it has so many “homicides and handgun killings.”
“When you compare us here in this country to the European Union, we’re something like 23 times more likely for these incidents to occur here,” he said during a Nov. 23 interview on CNN.
We fact-checked Hayes’ statistic and found it’s essentially correct. He was referring to a May 2022 report published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
The IHME compared the 2019 murder rates from firearms — not just handguns, as Hayes said — between countries across the globe. Among the findings is that the firearm homicide rate in the U.S. was 22 times larger than in the European Union as a whole. (The institute does not calculate worldwide homicides from handguns, and we were unable to find such figures).
The U.S. firearm homicide rate in 2019 was 4.11 people per 100,000, compared to 0.19 in the 27-nation European Union. Bulgaria had the EU’s highest firearms homicide rate 0.56 per 100,000 – more than seven times lower than the U.S.
Romania had the EU’s lowest firearm homicide rate at 0.06 per 100,000 — 65 times lower than the U.S. Romanians are restricted to owning handguns manufactured before 1945, but can only collect and not carry them.
Here are the firearm homicide rates of several other EU nations and how they compare with the United States, according to IHME:
- Italy: 0.35 per 100,000, 1/12th of the U.S.
- France: 0.32 per 100,000, 1/13th of the U.S.
- Sweden: 0.25 per 100,000, 1/16th of the U.S,
- Spain: 0.13 per 100,000, 1/32nd of the U.S.
- Germany: 0.08 per 100,000, 1/51st of the U.S.
While a number of statistical studies have focused on the high rate of firearm murders in the U.S. compared to other countries, less research has been devoted to the reasons why, according to William A. Pridemore, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany.
An obvious reason, Pridemore and many other academics said, is the high availability of firearms in the United States, where gun ownership is considered a constitutional right.
“The U.S. is exceptional in per capita firearm ownership,” Pridemore said.
In 2017, there were 393.3 million firearms held by civilians in the U.S., according to a Small Arms Survey report by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. That broke down to roughly 1.2 guns per resident, the highest rate among 56 nations and territories surveyed. Yemen had the second highest rate at 0.53 guns per resident — less than half the rate of the U.S.
“No doubt we have other social factors that play a role in high gun homicide rates, but more guns and lax regulations are major contributors,” said Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
The National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates contend that firearms protect innocent people from harm and that more firearms would make the U.S. safer.
We should note Hayes’ statement also suggested that the overall homicide rate in the U.S. — from firearms and other methods — was about 23 times higher than the EU. The IMHE found that in 2019, 5.6 people per 100,000 were murdered in the U.S. compared to 0.9 in the EU. In other words, the overall homicide rate in the U.S. was 6.2 times higher than the EU.
Hayes said that when the U.S. is compared to the European Union, “we're something like 23 times more likely” to have homicides and handgun killings.
The University of Washington research he cited showed the 2019 homicide rate from firearms — not just handguns as Hayes said — was 22 times higher in the U.S. than in the EU. The report did not contain worldwide murder rates from handguns, and we have been unable to find that data.
While there’s a slight error in Hayes’ language, his eye-popping gist about the preponderance of gun homicides in the U.S. compared to the EU holds up.
We rate his statement Mostly True.
Cliff Hayes Jr., CNN interview, Nov. 23, 2022
Email from Sheryl Moody Reddington, chief of staff for Hayes, Nov. 30, 2022
Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, “ On gun violence, the United States is an outlier,” May 31, 2022
Emails from Connie Kim, senior communications manager at IHME, Nov. 30, 2022
IHME data bases comparing firearm homicides between the U.S. and European Union, and comparing overall homicides between the U.S. and EU. accessed Nov. 30, 2022
Small Arms Survey, “ Global Firearms Holdings,” March 29, 2020
Arme Vechi, Romanian gun laws, accessed Dec. 1. 2022
Email from William Pridemore, professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York at Albany, Dec. 1, 2022
Email from Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, Nov. 30, 2022
National Rifle Association, “ Gun Ownership and Crime Trends,” December 2021