DEAR AMERICA: Here's why everyone thinks you have a problem with guns

The community of Charleston, South Carolina, is still reeling after another mass shooting in America.

Former US President Barack Obama delivered a moving eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people who was gunned down last week at an historically African-American church in Charleston.

This became an all-too-common routine for Obama: He had to make a speech regarding a mass shooting at least once every year since taking office in 2009. But no meaningful gun-related legislation has passed through Congress during Obama’s term in office.

Over the past 2.5 years — since Obama first pushed new gun measures in the wake of the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut — the gun debate has become perhaps more polarising than ever before. But what is clear is that other countries don’t have the problems that the United States does. Other industrialized countries don’t have tens of thousands of gun deaths per year, regular mass shootings, or a population as armed as it is violent. 

“This type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said the day after 21-year old Dylann Roof allegedly shot nine people to death in the Charleston church.

Other countries don’t have America’s gun problem. 

Here, we take a look at the data that shows why America is so unlike the rest of the world when it comes to the popularity and the abuse of guns. We’ll look at the role that policy-makers play in the gun control debate, and we’ll look at what can be done (if anything). 

It isn’t pretty, but it’s important. Hundreds of thousands of American lives hang in the balance. 

Editor’s note: Walter Hickey contributed to this post.

When Americans kill one another, they usually use a gun. In 2013, firearms were used as the murder weapon in 68% of all homicides.

More than 6 in 10 Americans think having a gun in their home makes it a safer place, including 81% of Republicans.

At the current rate, 339,000 Americans will die by guns by the early 2020s. That is roughly equivalent to the current population of Tampa, Florida.

As the national rate of gun ownership declines ...

... so do both the violent crime and murder rate. Violence peaked when gun ownership peaked, in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Notice how the drop in gun ownership is driven largely by the drop in pistol and shotgun ownership.

But after years on the decline, gun ownership is once again on the rise.

Roughly 44% of American households have guns.

The South has the most gun owners by far, followed by the Midwest and West. The Northeast has the fewest guns per capita.

The South also has the highest rate of assault deaths by far, followed by the Midwest and West. The Northeast has the lowest rate of assault deaths.

The states with the loosest regulation of firearms -- congregated in the south and southwest of the US -- also have the highest number of annual deaths by gun.

The previous map bears an eerie resemblance to this one, which shows each state's stance on the concealed carry of firearms.

When Americans try to maim or kill, they prefer guns. It makes sense that states with the most guns have abnormally high assault rates.

Though this may already look bad, the U.S. looks even worse when compared to the rest of the world.

America has far more assault deaths per capita than other industrialized nations.

It doesn't help that the U.S. has more guns per capita than any other nation.

U.S. civilians control a vast plurality of the world's supply of civilian firearms. There are a shocking 270 million guns in civilian hands in the United States.

Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. is an extreme outlier. This chart shows that the more guns a country has, the more gun deaths a country has. The U.S. takes this relationship to the extreme.

This chart of industrialized nations shows that the U.S. and Mexico stand alone when it comes to gun ownership and gun homicide.

Here's a look by the Small Arms Survey at the relationship between a country's homicide rate and that country's gun homicide rate. You'll notice that for the most part, the non-firearm homicide rate remains roughly even regardless of the total homicide rate. The main driver of the high homicide rate in certain nations is due to gun homicides.

The U.S. has pretty unique gun laws. U.S. federal law says almost anyone can buy a gun, provided they are of age, the gun is not an assault rifle or machine gun, and they are not a felon, fugitive, or non-citizen.

In the U.K., handguns are illegal and a person needs to get a certificate -- and prove they have a good reason -- to own a rifle or shotgun. Anyone convicted of a crime cannot touch a gun for 5 years. There are 0.07 gun homicides per every 100,000 people.

In Canada, a person must wait 60 days to buy a gun. A person applying for a mandatory licence must take a training course, notify next-of-kin, have several references and pass a rigorous background check. There are 0.5 gun homicides per every 100,000 people.

In Japan, touching a gun without a licence can result in 10 years in prison. To obtain a rifle or shotgun, a citizen must undergo an exhaustive application process involving several exams, health tests, police authorization, background checks, and the installation of a safe. There are 122 million people in Japan. In 2008, there were 11 gun homicides. In 2006 there were 2.

Australia is an interesting case. Following the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, which left 35 people dead, the Conservative-led government banned all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and mandated licensing involving background checks and waiting periods. The government also instituted a gun buyback program, where 650,000 weapons were voluntarily handed in for $360 million.

Scene from the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996

The result? A major drop in gun deaths, suicides, and homicides. Australia had 30 gun homicides in 2010, 0.13 gun deaths for each 100,000 people.

In contrast, the U.S. has a gun homicide rate of nearly 4 per 100,000.

How did it get to this point?

When it comes down to it, the gun debate is a one-sided argument in Washington. There isn't even a token opposition to the juggernaut gun lobby.

The NRA claims more than 3 million members. Although that's roughly 1 per cent of the country, the active membership claims a lot of electoral influence.

The NRA also gets a significant amount of money from the gun industry in the form of donations, contributions and fundraising assistance.

The NRA also used its influence to gut the ability of the CDC from doing any sort of research on the impact of firearms on human injury and death, deliberately making it harder to conduct scientific research.

Furthermore, since the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, research has shown that more Americans are in favour of protecting the rights of gun owners than instituting gun control laws

In fact, since 2012, 9% more Americans say gun ownership protects them from being the victims of crime.

Republicans and African-Americans are the two groups who most believe gun ownership protects them from being victims of crime.

Incidentally, as the debate over gun control gets more heated, the sale of firearms goes up, as evidenced by the increase in sales of Smith & Wesson products. The explanation? If you perceive is a risk you will not be able to buy guns in the near future, then you buy your guns now.

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre has claimed that gun-free school zones make children sitting targets, thus teachers should be armed.

But children are already pretty safe in schools as is. A very small number of the 30,000 annual gun deaths take place in schools.

In fact, children are safest within gun-free school zones.

So are we really sure its guns that are causing America's violence epidemic? Could it be violent video games?

The IMR displays a meter showing the gun's progress with internal bullet generation.

First of all, it's pretty clear that there's no correlation between video game sales and the youth crime rate, despite what many will say.

Here's a chart showing what a hypothetical correlation between video game consumption and gun murders should look like.

By the Washington Post's Max Fisher.

But here's what that correlation actually looks like. There isn't a link between gun murders and video games.

Could it be violence in the media?

Actually, probably not. There's just no evidence to support that. A 2008 paper by American University professors Joanne Savage and Christina Yancey found, 'A review of both aggregate studies and experimental evidence does not provide support for the supposition that exposure to media violence causes criminally violent behaviour.'

'The study of most consequence for violent crime policy,' they wrote, 'actually found that exposure to media violence was significantly negatively related to violent crime rates at the aggregate level.'

'Most studies on which reviewers have been relying for their conclusions are decades old and they do not employ modern statistical methods to estimate effects,' they wrote. 'Programs such as Batman and Bonanza were used as the high-violence shows.'

A landmark 1986 paper by Steven Messner -- which originally set out to prove violent media was linked to real-world violence -- found that exposure to television was actually consistently was linked to reduced real-world violence across the board.

Revisiting this chart, it's abundantly clear. Countries with high murder rates have them because of a high gun murder rate. It's the guns.

So what can we do to fix this gun violence epidemic?

Many people advocated for the reinstatement of the assault weapon ban, as assault weapons are frequently used in many of the worst mass shootings.

Generally, when Americans kill they usually use a handgun.

But a survey of mass shooting incidents found that more than twice as many people were shot and significantly more people killed when an assault weapon was used. However, the reinstatement of the assault-weapon ban was dropped from the Senate's 2013 reform package after it became clear it wouldn't pass.

Other proposals included a ban on high capacity magazines, like the one used at the mass shooting that left former Rep. Gabby Giffords wounded. This too was dropped from the 2013 reform package.

A 1999 study of recent ATF investigations found rampant abuse of the 'gun show loophole' -- in which a person who cannot buy a gun does so at a gun show, where background checks aren't necessary.

The motion to require background checks on gun show purchases failed in the Senate, six votes shy of hitting the mandatory 60 votes to move forward on debate.

So what's going to happen?

Dylann Roof with a confederate flag and a gun

Probably nothing. History has proven that mass shootings do little to move the needle when it comes to gun control.

That is despite the fact that mass shootings have become more common in recent years. From 2000 - 2007, an average of 6.4 mass shootings happened each year. From 2007 - 2014, an average of 16.4 mass shootings happened each year.

In addition, politicians have become resigned to the fact that gun control laws cannot be passed in the current political climate. Congressman Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told the Hill after the Charleston shooting that 'Congress is becoming complicit' in ignoring gun reform.

And if that is not enough, Former US President Barack Obama essentially admitted that there is nothing he can do to pass gun reform in his comments following the Charleston shooting. 'At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,' the President said. 'I say that recognising the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now, but it'd be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.'

Former US President Barack Obama.

Now Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton weighs in....

U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens to remarks at a roundtable campaign event with small businesses in Cedar Falls, Iowa, United States, May 19, 2015.

HILLARY: It's time for some 'hard truths' on guns

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