The BBC opened its coverage of the ongoing San Bernardino mass shooting Wednesday evening by acknowledging a fairly alarming reality: “Just another day in the United States of America, another day of gunfire, panic, and fear.”
The quip is painfully accurate. As ThinkProgress has already pointed out, there have been 355 mass shootings this year in the United States, more than one for every day of the year that has passed so far.
But the commentary inherent in the BBC segment also speaks to how the United States is unique in this regard. In fact, the United States is the world leader when it comes to mass shootings. Despite having 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. is home to 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings since 1966.
A number of factors seem to contribute to this, but the high rate of gun ownership seems to play a key role. In fact, the connection between gun ownership rates and mass shooting rates isn’t unique to the U.S. Finland and Switzerland, two countries often thought of as being very safe, rank just below the U.S. in per capita gun ownership and similarly rank in the top 15 countries for mass shooters per capita.
In contrast, countries like Australia and Great Britain have done much to rein in gun ownership and mass shootings in turn. In Australia, efforts like buyback programs, extended waiting periods for gun purchases (measured in weeks, not days), a national firearms registry, limits on ammunition, and bans on many semi-automatic, self-loading rifles, and shotguns have made a huge difference. The country has had very few mass shootings since these changes were implemented in 1996, and the changes also contribute to a decline in the firearm homicide rate by 59 percent and a decline in the firearm suicide rate by 65 percent, with no corresponding non-firearm increases in either.
In addition to some of the same measures, Britain went so far as to ban private handgun ownership in 1997, buying back 162,000 firearms from private citizens. In the years immediately after the gun control measures were passed, gun violence continued to increase there for a few years, peaking in 2003–2004, but it dropped off by 53 percent in the subsequent seven years.
When the BBC suggests that mass shootings are a near-daily occurrence in the United States, it’s not just making the point that the rate is high, but also that the country stands alone in that regard. There are, in fact, places in the world where people are shocked and surprised when mass shootings take place.