America has been horrified by what seems like an especially bad day of shootings: There were active shooters in schools in Arizona and Texas. And there were reports of a shooting at a Kentucky college, although those appear to have been a false alarm.
But here's what makes America's gun violence truly horrifying: School shootings, as horrific as they are, are only a tiny fraction of all gun-related deaths in the US every day. Based on 2013 data, there are approximately 92 gun deaths on average each day in America — about 30 per day are homicides, and roughly 58 are suicides. So the shootings in Arizona and Texas would only account for about 6 percent of gun homicides and 2 percent of all gun deaths on the average American day.
But we have been desensitized to the number of shootings that occur. Gun violence only seems to get attention when it happens in a school, or when the body count is horrifically high. Shootings rarely get attention from national news media and the public when they happen in the neighborhoods and streets of cities like Chicago and Baltimore, even though these more common events absolutely dwarf the number of people who die in mass shootings and school shootings each year.
Take mass shootings as one example: Under the broadest definition of mass shootings (in which four or more people are shot), these incidents killed about 500 Americans in 2013. That's just a fraction of total gun homicides: more than 11,200 that year. And firearm suicides killed even more: nearly 21,200 Americans.
When you look at all these numbers, you quickly come to realize that America is a country uniquely drenched in bloody gun violence every single day.
While the total number of homicides is dropping, along with all crime, the reality is no other developed nation deals with the same kind of gun-related bloodshed that the US does: America has nearly six times the number of gun homicides as Canada, more than seven times as many as Sweden, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany, according to UN data compiled by the Guardian. (These gun deaths are a big reason the US has a much higher overall homicide rate, which includes non-gun deaths, than other developed nations.)
America also has way more guns. According to a 2007 estimate, the number of civilian-owned firearms in the US was 88.8 guns per 100 people, meaning there was almost one privately owned gun per American and more than one per American adult. The world's second-ranked country was Yemen, a quasi-failed state torn by civil war, where there were 54.8 guns per 100 people.
These two issues — the numbers of guns and of gun deaths — are linked: Reviews of the empirical research by the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center have consistently found that when controlling for variables such as socioeconomic factors and other crime, places with more guns have more gun deaths.
So if you're horrified by the fact there were two school shootings today, and that a third seemed totally possible, it should terrify you even more that these shootings, as horrible as they are, only make up a fraction of the gun violence we can expect on the typical American day.
That's not because America is a uniquely unlucky country. It's because we've decided to have a culture, laws, and policies that are accepting of easy access to an abundance of guns — to, as all the data and research show, very deadly results.