Is America the Most Dangerous Country to Travelers for Gun Violence?

Statistics suggest violence is more prevalent, but less deadly.

Is America the most dangerous county for gun violence in the world?
Roc Canals Photography/Getty

In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, a single shooter entered a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and began what would become the single deadliest act of gun violence in modern American history. When the situation came to an end, 49 people were killed, with many more injured.

Although violence can erupt anywhere in the world, mass shootings are a unique situation that appears to affect the United States more than anywhere else in the world. These attacks often come with little warning and can appear to be completely unprovoked. With more travelers projected to travel this year, does domestic travel present a greater threat than international travel?

No matter where modern adventurers go, the best items they can pack are information and knowledge. The following attempts to answer some of the most common questions asked about gun violence in the United States.

How Many People Are Killed by Guns in the United States Every Year?

According to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control, 11,208 people in the United States were killed using a firearm. In light of all homicides, 69.5 percent were completed using a gun.

In total, the CDC found 33,636 people were killed with a firearm in the United States during the same period of time. In perspective to the total American population, 10.6 people per 100,000 were killed with a firearm in the total year. Among all injury-related deaths, firearms were attributed to 17.4 percent of reported fatalities.  

However, the number of people killed by a firearm in 2013 was lower than other forms of injury-related death in the United States. During that same period of time, more people died in automobile accidents (33,804 deaths) and due to poisoning (48,545 deaths).

How Many Mass Shootings Take Place in the United States Every Year?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as to how many mass shootings and “active shooter” situations take place in the United States. Subsequently, different organizations have conflicting definitions of what qualifies for each event.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013, an active shooter is defined as: “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” According to the 2014 report, 160 “active shooter” situations took place between 2000 and 2013, for an average of around 11 per year. Across "active shooter" events, a total of 486 people were killed, averaging to around three people per incident.

However, the widely-cited Gun Violence Archive, which is maintained by a not-for-profit corporation, claims there were over 350 “mass shootings” in the United States in 2015. The group defines a “mass shooting” as an incident where at least four people are killed or wounded, including the perpetrator. According to their data, 368 people were killed in 2015's "mass shooting" events, while 1,321 were injured.

Where Do Mass Shootings Take Place in America?

Over the past years, major shooting incidents have taken place in very high visibility areas that were once not considered targets. Movie theatres, shopping malls, and schools have all been the target of attackers in the last few years.

According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, the most shooting incidents in the United States targeted private citizens and property. Over 90 incidents between 1970 and 2014 involving a firearm targeted individuals, making up for the most shooting events. Businesses (such as shopping malls and movie theatres) were the second most popular target, with 84 incidents during the 44-year research span.

Rounding out the top five targets include police (63 incidents), government targets (24 incidents), and diplomatic incidents (21 incidents).

While educational institutions were on the list, only nine were the targets of attacks between 1970 and 2014. However, those set at schools were among the most deadly, as START lists the Columbine High School shooting as the deadliest attack in their data set. Not included is the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, as START did not qualify it for their database.

In addition, the database noted 18 shooting events targeted abortion clinics in the United States. Although 2015 set a record for guns found at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, only six shooting incidents took place at airports. Tourists were targeted in four shooting incidents.

How Does the United States Compare With the World for Shooting Incidents?

Once again, it is difficult to compare the United States with other countries for mass shooting incidents, due to the inconsistent amount of data available. However, multiple studies have helped to create an idea of how and where mass shootings take place in the world.

Citing research from the State University of New York in Oswego and Texas State University, The Wall Street Journal concluded there were 133 "mass shooting" events in the United States between 2000 and 2014, less than the number of “active shooter” events noted by the FBI during a similar time period.

More importantly, the number of mass shootings in the United States discovered by researchers exceeded all other destinations in the world. Germany was the closest nation to America for mass shootings, with six events during the research period. The rest of the world only experienced 33 mass shootings, with the United States outnumbering the world in shootings by a four-to-one ratio.

However, the shootings with the most fatalities per 100,000 in population did not happen in the United States. Research shows Norway experienced the deadliest mass shooting, with 1.3 people killed per 100,000 population in their only attack. Finland and Switzerland also experienced deadlier shootings per 100,000 population than the United States, despite having two and one incidents, respectively.

Data considered by the Crime Prevention Resource Center, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, found similar results as well: mass shootings in the United States were not the most fatal compared to total population. In a comparing the United States against Canada and the European Union, America ranked tenth in the most fatal shootings, with .089 people killed per million in mass public shootings.

When comparing the frequency of mass shooting events against the population, the United States ranked 12th the world with .078 mass shootings per one million people in the United States. Their data suggests Macedonia, Albania, and Serbia experienced the most mass shootings per one million people, each ranking above .28 incidents per 100,000.

How Can I Prepare for an Emergency When I Travel?

Before leaving for the next trip, there are many things travelers can do to prepare themselves for the worst-case scenario. First, those going abroad should consider creating a travel contingency kit to pack along in their carry-on luggage. A strong contingency kit includes copies of vital documents (including passports), flight confirmation numbers, itinerary information, and emergency contact numbers.

Next, those leaving the United States should consider signing up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Although there are many situations where the United States Embassy cannot help travelers, the STEP program can alert travelers during an emergency, allowing them to take actions to preserve their safety.

Finally, travelers should consider creating a safety plan prior to and upon arrival to their destination. Law enforcement officials recommend those caught in an attack should follow a four-step process: run, hide or fight, and tell. By following this process, those who find themselves in the midst of a situation can maximize their chances of survival.

Although nobody should ever be caught in a life-or-death situation, preparation ahead of time can mean the difference between survival and becoming a victim. By understanding where and how mass shootings take place, travelers can remain vigilant, and maintain a personal security plan no matter where they go.