Armed Violence  

Armed violence includes the use and misuse not only of small arms and light weapons, but also of explosives, landmines and bombs. The most common type of armed violence is gun violence, and most gun violence occurs in the context of crime—from interpersonal acts of homicide and assault, to organised drug-related violence—rather than conflict.

  • More than 526,000 people die each year by violence, with homicide accounting for roughly 75% of all violent deaths.[1]
  • UNODC puts at 468,000 the total number of intentional homicides in 2010, which equals 6.9 homicides per 100,000 people in a population.[2]
  • 58 countries have homicide rates above 10 people per 100,000; these countries account for almost two-thirds of all violent deaths.[3] 35 countries have homicide rates are above 20 people per 100,000, sometimes reaching 50 people per 100,000.[4] El Salvador was the country most affected by lethal violence in 2004–09.[5]
  • The share of homicide committed with firearms ranges from 21% in Europe to 74% in the Americas, with a world average of 43%.[6]Individual countries can have much higher proportions of homicides committed with firearms—such as Puerto Rico, where almost 92% of homicides are committed with guns.[7]
  • The global firearm stockpile is estimated at 875 million small arms and light weapons, with regulation varying dramatically among – and sometimes within – nations.
  • Nearly 75% of guns in the world (650 million) are in the hands of civilians. US citizens hold some 270 million of these: about 90 firearms for every 100 people,[8] compared to one firearm or less per 100 citizens in countries like Ghana and South Korea.[9]
Gun violence drains the budgets of health, education, social services and justice systems which may already be thinly stretched, diverting resources from other public services.

Gun violence can severely damage the wellbeing, development and security of individuals, with health consequences ranging from death, injury and impairment to chronic disease and mental disorders. In terms of human and social costs, it damages social cohesion, limits mobility, disrupts family and community life, and erodes social capital by sowing fear and insecurity.[10]

The economic and developmental costs for communities, countries and regions are far-reaching: armed violence destroys livelihoods, diverts resources from development, and discourages investment and access to credit and trade. Gun violence drains the budgets of health, education, social services and justice systems which may already be thinly stretched, diverting resources from other public services. In the US, the estimated cost of gun violence (including psychological costs and reduced quality of life) has been calculated at US$100 billion per year.[11] Brazil spends 10% of its annual GDP responding to armed violence, Venezuela some 11%, and Colombia and El Salvador each up to 25% of GDP.[12]


Resources and References

Oslo Commitments on Armed Violence and Development

Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development

International Action Network on Small Arms

International Centre for the Prevention of Crime

Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces

United Nations Organisation for Drugs and Crime

World Bank Social Cohesion and Violence Prevention webpage

Action on Armed Violence


More resources: Click here for a document with more website suggestions, articles and reports


[1] Geneva Declaration Secretariat, Global Burden of Armed Violence: Lethal Encounters (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2011), p. 70.

[2] UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Global study on homicide 2011: Trends, Contexts, Data (Vienna: UNODC, 2011), p. 19.

[3] Geneva Declaration Secretariat (2011), p. 44.

[4] UN Office on Drugs and Crime (2011), p. 20.

[5] Geneva Declaration Secretariat (2011).

[6] UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, World crime trends and emerging issues and responses in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice (Vienna: UNCCPCJ, 2012), p. 11.

[7] Small Arms Survey, “A Fatal Relationship: Guns and Deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean,” in Small Arms Survey 2012: Moving Targets (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 12.

[8] Small Arms Survey, Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 39.

[9] Small Arms Survey (2007), p. 39.

[10] Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Armed Violence Reduction: Enabling Development (Paris: OECD, 2009).

[11] P.J. Cook and J. Ludwig, Gun violence: The real costs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); T.R. Miller and M.A. Cohen, “Costs of gunshot and cut/stab wounds in the United States, with some Canadian comparisons,” Accident Analysis and Prevention 29/3 (1997), pp. 329-341.

[12] H. Waters et al, The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2004).

Image:   Salvadoran police patrolling the slum area of Soyapango, an area of San Salvador dominated by gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and M18.  (Piet den Blanken/Panos 2005)