Gun violence is a contemporary global human rights issue. Gun-related violence threatens our most fundamental human right, the right to life.

Gun violence is a daily tragedy affecting the lives of individuals around the world. More than 500 people die every day because of violence committed with firearms.

Anyone can be affected by firearm violence but in certain situations gun violence disproportionately impacts communities of colour, women and other marginalized groups in society.

Sometimes, the mere presence of firearms can make people feel threatened and fearful for their lives with severe and long-term psychological effects on individuals and whole communities.

When people are afraid of gun violence, this can also have a negative impact on people’s right to education or health care when they are too afraid to attend schools or health facilities or if these services are not fully functioning due to firearm violence in their community.   

  • Amnesty International campaigns for effective gun violence prevention laws and interventions to stop gun violence
  • Strict regulation of firearms and strategic violence reduction initiatives are the most effective way of reducing gun violence

Easy access to firearms – whether legal or illegal – is one of the main drivers of gun violence.

The state has an obligation to maximize the protection of human rights, creating the safest possible environment for the most people, especially those considered to be at the greatest risk. If a state does not exercise adequate control over the possession and use of firearms in the face of persistent gun violence, this could amount to a breach of their obligations under international human rights law.

This is why Amnesty International calls on states to fulfil their obligations to introduce and implement strict gun violence prevention laws and regulations. States also have the duty to establish measures they can use to intervene at community level to reduce and prevent gun violence in people’s daily lives.

Amnesty International campaigns for governments to use common-sense gun reform to stop gun violence and protect people’s right to life. Our human rights are not protected if our leaders fail to tackle and stop gun violence and gun deaths.

Key Facts

More than 500 people die every day from gun violence
of all homicides globally involve gun violence
1.4 million
There were 1.4 million firearm-related deaths globally between 2012 and 2016

What is gun violence?

Gun violence is violence committed with the use of firearms, for example pistols, shotguns, assault rifles or machine guns.

  • More than 500 people die every day from gun violence
  • 44% of all homicides globally involve gun violence
  • There were 1.4 million firearm-related deaths globally between 2012 and 2016

The majority of victims and perpetrators are young men, but women are particularly at risk of firearms violence perpetrated by an intimate partner. Sexual violence can also be facilitated by firearms.

How many people are injured by gunshots worldwide?

  • An estimated 2,000 people are injured by gunshots every single day
  • At least 2 million people are living with firearm injuries around the globe  

Millions of people suffer the severe and long-term psychological effects that gun violence – or the threat of gun violence – brings to individuals, families and their wider community.

In the USA, nearly 134,000 people were shot and injured by firearms in 2017.

Gunshot injuries are often life-changing and have an indelible impact on the victims’ long-term mental and physical health. Some need permanent, lifelong care, and many others lose their ability to work, particularly in physically demanding jobs. Yet programmes offering adequate long-term care, rehabilitation and job retraining are virtually non-existent. The toll that gun violence has on victims, family members and the medical services has resulted in a chronic public health crisis – with remarkably little government response. Access to affordable and quality health care services in the USA should include necessary long-term health interventions, including long-term pain management, rehabilitation and other support services, and mental health care.  

How many guns are produced every year globally?

There are 8 million new small arms and up to 15 billion rounds of ammunition produced each year.

The small arms trade is worth an estimated US$8.5 billion per year.

Gun violence can lead to a violation of the most fundamental human right – the right to life. States have an obligation to fight actual or foreseeable threats to life and should therefore take measures to protect people from gun violence.

If a state does not adequately control how private individuals own and use firearms, this could amount to a breach of their obligations under international human rights law to protect the rights to life and security of person.

Firearm violence by private actors has a strong socio-economic dimension. It is typically concentrated in low income urban neighbourhoods with high levels of crime. This often includes trafficking in illicit drugs, inadequate policing or policing which does not comply with international standards on human rights and law enforcement, and lack of access to public services.

Easy access to and proliferation of firearms in these circumstances can have an impact on the community across the full range of human rights.

Gun violence and the right to health

Firearm violence  can undermine people’s right to health. People living in communities with high levels of firearm violence can find it difficult or dangerous to access local health care facilities. The partitioning of neighbourhoods by armed criminal gangs can obstruct access, and frequent official or de facto curfews related to police interventions can close health care services.

In some instances, health-related services may avoid locating in areas of high firearm violence because of issues associated with insecurity and poor staff retention. Essential psychological support for survivors of domestic violence and provision of refuges or other safe accommodation for those leaving violent relationships are often lacking in deprived neighbourhoods blighted by firearm violence.

Gun violence causes a range of health issues throughout affected communities. Lack of day-to-day security can have profound psychological impacts, particularly for those who have witnessed shootings, as well as for family members of victims. The survivors of firearm violence can be left severely and chronically physically and psychologically debilitated, in need of long-term medical and social care.

Gun violence and the right to education

Firearm violence can disrupt the functioning of schools and make students’ journeys to and from school dangerous. Lack of state resources for education and the difficulty of recruiting and retaining teaching staff in neighbourhoods wracked by gun violence have a negative impact, undermining the right to education.

Endemic firearm violence and associated insecurity can have a particularly serious impact on children and adolescents, including by disrupting school attendance and retention, damaging the learning environment, and reducing the quality of teaching. This can in turn lead to poorer life outcomes regarding employment and income, and perpetuate cycles of deprivation, crime and violence.

Gun violence worldwide

Gun violence is particularly prevalent in the Americas where easy access to firearms, weak regulation or poor implementation of laws designed to combat firearms violence prevail. In Latin America and the Caribbean, corruption, organized crime and a dysfunctional criminal justice system further fuel the problem.

Percentage of killings committed with firearms:

El Salvador
a soldier holing a submachine gun infront of a backdrop of a hilly landscape covered in buildings
A member of the ADA (amigos dos amigos – friends of friends) criminal gang holds an Uzi submachine gun, Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 2009 ©Christian Franz Tragni/Demotix

Gun violence in the USA

Among wealthier, developed countries, the USA is an outlier when it comes to firearm violence. US governments have allowed gun violence to become a human rights crisis. Wide access to firearms and loose regulations lead to more than 39,000 men, women and children being killed with guns each year in the USA.

On average, more than 360 people in the USA are shot every day and survive – at least long enough to get to a hospital.

In 2017, some 39,773 died from gunshot injuries, an average of nearly 109 people each day. Per capita, this is significantly higher than in other industrialized countries. Firearm homicides in the USA disproportionately impact communities of colour and particularly young black men.

The USA lacks measures such as a national firearm registry.

Individuals can lawfully carry concealed firearms in public in every state in the USA and can lawfully openly carry firearms in public in most states. However, there is no nationwide uniformity in laws governing the carrying of firearms in public, and in some states there are no laws at all: 12 states allow individuals to carry concealed weapons in public without any license or permit and 30 states allow the open carrying of a handgun in public without any license or permit.

Open carrying of firearms in public, in some form, is currently allowed in 45 states. In only seven states are people required to provide a credible justification or demonstrated need to carry a concealed firearm. All 50 states and Washington, D.C. allow for some form of concealed carrying of firearms in public.

The US government is prioritizing gun ownership over basic human rights. Despite the huge number of guns in circulation and the sheer numbers of people killed by guns each year, there is a shocking lack of federal regulations that could save thousands. 

Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA

How are discrimination and gun violence connected in the USA?

In the USA, firearm homicide disproportionately impacts African American communities, particularly young black men. 14,542 people in the USA lost their lives in gun homicides in 2017. African Americans accounted for 58.5% of these nationwide, despite making up just 13% of the US population.

Firearm homicide was the leading cause of death for black men and boys aged 15-34 in 2017,  and they were more than 10 times more likely to die from firearm homicide than white men and boys of the same age group. Failure to address systemic discrimination; failure to keep firearms out of the hands of those most likely to misuse them; and a failure to invest in gun violence prevention programmes all contribute to this crisis.

Women facing domestic violence and children are also disproportionately affected.

  • In 2017, the number of children who died from firearm-related deaths in the USA rose to 1,814 from 1,637 in 2016
  • Between 2% and 7% of all injuries treated at US pediatric trauma centres are gun-related

Most children who are victims of firearm killings in the USA are from minority communities. Homicide is the second leading cause of death among black children and 65% of those killings are committed with guns.

a group of mourners gather in honour of the victims of the Parkland shooting in Florida, USA. Many of them are holding candles
Student Victoria Mondelli with her mother at a candlelight vigil on 15 February 2018, Parkland, Florida USA, in honour of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on the previous day.

Mass shootings stats USA

Mass shootings are typically defined as shootings where four or more victims are killed.

In the USA, between 2009 and 2016, there were:

mass shootings
people killed
people injured

Public mass shootings account for less than 1% of gun deaths in the USA.

However, public mass shootings have a profound emotional and psychological effect on survivors, families and communities. They have created an environment in which people feel unsafe in public places, such as churches, schools, concert venues and cinemas which impacts their human rights to religion, education and leisure.

School shootings in the USA

Between 2013 and June 2018, there were 316 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the USA.

The factors that contribute to a child picking up a gun are varied and often poorly understood. However, in the context of urban communities, youth violence can be associated with fear, need for protection, distrust of police due to entrenched discrimination and discriminatory policing, and desire for peer respect and approval, as well as involvement in criminal activities.

The solutions to addressing mass shootings in the USA are the same as those identified to prevent other forms of gun violence and include a national system of licensing and registration along with comprehensive background checks.

Activism against gun violence

a portrait of Jaclyn Corin. She has blonde hair and is wearing a blue denim jacket and a black t shirt
Jaclyn Corin is an activist against gun violence. She is a survivor of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, USA, on 14 February 2018

Seventeen people died in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on 14 February 2018. But this tragedy has united and inspired students from around the world to protest for gun reform. Many young people in the USA now believe that stricter gun control can keep them safer and their youth gun reform grassroots movement is growing. Jaclyn Corin is a survivor of the school shooting and has become a gun reform activist: 

The only way to heal was to take action

Jaclyn Corin

“I never imagined it would happen to me. Parkland was labelled the safest community in Florida, but when tragedy hit and a mass shooting took place at school, I knew the only way to heal was to take action.

When my friends and I came together, we didn’t have a plan. We literally started work on a living room floor. Being young worked in our favour. We weren’t adults trying to guess what worked for young people and we weren’t asking for permission. Other kids from across the nation saw what we were doing and felt they could do it too.

Being survivors of a school shooting meant people listened to us. We were angry and loud. The reaction to what happened to us helped build our movement faster than we could have imagined. It is amazing to see the impact we’re having, but there’s also a sense of guilt, as this has arisen out of something so horrible.

We created March For Our Lives because our friends who lost their lives would have wanted us to take action. We’re doing it for them.

The kids who are doing something to make a difference inspire me – the girl who is running for school board, or the others running March For Our Lives. It’s the people and the present that inspires me.”

How can states stop gun violence?

Effectively implemented gun regulation and violence prevention projects can stop the carnage.

As a first step, states should recognize firearm violence as a threat to people’s human rights, in particular their rights to life, to physical integrity and security of person, and to health.

Gun regulation and gun licenses 

States can set up some basic systems to regulate how private individuals can own and use firearms and ammunition to prevent them from using firearms to abuse human rights. The UN has set up international guidelines that states can put in place to incorporate into national laws on firearms control.   

These international standards recommend prohibiting any possession of firearms without a license; that states should register all firearms; and that unlicensed possession should be treated as a criminal offence.

A firearms license should be subject to certain criteria being met. For example, the applicant should undergo a comprehensive background check to identify any risk factors, such as prior criminal record – especially for violent behaviour in the home or community; history of gender-based, sexual or domestic violence; and history of problematic use of drugs/alcohol, emotional issues, mental health conditions and other circumstances which heighten the risks of the harm to self or others using firearms. Gun licenses should be time-limited and training on how to use the weapon should be mandatory. The number and type of weapons that an individual can possess should also be strictly limited in line with the principles of necessity and credible justification.

Firearms and ammunition which represent an unacceptable level of risk to public safety, including those likely to cause excessive or unintended injury, such as fully automatic firearms, semi-automatic assault rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and semi-automatic submachine guns, must be prohibited for use by private individuals.

To avoid fuelling the illicit trade in and possession of firearms, states must take proactive measures to make sure that all stocks of firearms and related ammunition, including those for use by military and law enforcement personnel, as well as those held by dealers, are kept securely.

People attend a remembrance service.
New Zealanders coming together for the National Remembrance Service on 29 March 2019 following the Christchurch terror attack, Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty people were killed and dozens injured when a gunman opened fire at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques on 15 March. The attack was the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history

How can states help communities with high levels of gun violence?

Where patterns of firearm possession and use lead to chronic insecurity, states have the obligation to protect life and ensure security for all through human rights-compliant law enforcement, community interventions, and tightening of regulations on firearms possession and use.

Initiatives should focus on those at most risk of perpetrating and being victims of gun violence – often young males growing up in deprived urban neighbourhoods.

Long-term, adequately funded, evidence-based projects, tailored towards specific social, economic and cultural contexts, and working in partnership with the affected communities, are needed to achieve sustained reductions in firearm violence.

Stopping gender-based gun violence

In 2017, some 87,000 women were intentionally killed around the world. More than half of them, 50,000 (58%) were killed by intimate partners or family members.

This means that globally, 137 women are killed by a member of their family every single day. Of the women intentionally killed in 2017, more than a third (30,000) were killed by their current or former intimate partner.

Firearms are the principal mechanism of intimate partner killings and intimidation in countries with high rates of firearm ownership.

Studies in the USA indicate that the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of women being killed by intimate partners.

Moreover, the presence of a firearm can have a disempowering and demoralizing effect on women and be used for psychological and/or sexual coercion.

States should adopt strict laws and practices to prohibit gun possession for those individuals that have a history of violence towards a family member or intimate partner.

Does gun reform work?

Yes, gun reform works. Almost all states regulate gun acquisition, possession and use in some form. Most do this by licensing users and registering firearms.

Gun reform works in parts of the world where there are strict controls on access to firearms and well enforced firearms regulations. This is the case for much of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia. For example, in Japan, South Korea and Singapore, the rate of firearm violence is extremely low.

What does Amnesty do about gun violence?

We at Amnesty International have been focusing our work on domestic gun reform and gun violence prevention by campaigning for regulations on firearm use and possession.

We support the establishment of evidence-based violence reduction programmes in communities where there is a persistently high level of firearms violence.

We’re also working to stop firearm exports to crisis zones where arms risk being used for serious human rights violations. For example, we investigated international arms exports to the Saudi Arabia/UAE led coalition and uncovered how arms were being diverted for use by militias to commit human rights abuses in the Yemeni civil war. For states parties, supplying arms for use in the Yemen conflict violates the global Arms Trade Treaty; these transfers also breach EU law, and in many instances supplier countries’ domestic law.

Along with several other organizations, we successfully campaigned for a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which became international law in 2014. Every state that has ratified the ATT must follow strict rules on international arms transfers.

We continue to campaign for the effective implementation of the ATT which will stem the flow of weapons that fuel violations in conflicts, atrocities and state repression around the world. The ATT can save lives and protect people’s human rights.

Governments have a legal obligation to protect the right to life, and accordingly a responsibility to protect people from firearms violence. We have to remind them of their duty by demanding gun reform.  

You can stand up and remind our leaders of their obligation to keep us safe. You can play a crucial role in campaigning and protesting against gun violence. By getting involved, you can make it clear to governments that poor regulation of the possession and use of guns leads to violence and that they must tackle this now through strict controls on guns and effective interventions in communities suffering high levels of gun violence.

You have the power to tell governments that by using gun laws, we can all live safely and without fear – which is our right.

Check if your country is signed up to the Arms Trade Treaty and tell them to do so now if they aren’t!

Governments have a legal obligation to protect the right to life, and accordingly a responsibility to protect people from firearms violence. We have to remind them of their duty by demanding gun reform.  

You can stand up and remind our leaders of their obligation to keep us safe. You can play a crucial role in campaigning and protesting against gun violence. By getting involved, you can make it clear to governments that poor regulation of the possession and use of guns leads to violence and that they must tackle this now through strict controls on guns and effective interventions in communities suffering high levels of gun violence.

You have the power to tell governments that by using gun laws, we can all live safely and without fear – which is our right.  

Check if your country is signed up to the Arms Trade Treaty and tell them to do so now if they aren’t!