Gun-related homicides: How New Zealand compares to US states

Jacinda Ardern has been praised by some US politicians for her swift action on gun control in the wake of the Christchurch attacks - particularly when gun violence in New Zealand pales in comparison. 

The Prime Minister announced last week a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles after a gunman opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, resulting in the deaths of 50 people. 

The alleged gunman, a 28-year-old Australian national, used primarily two assault rifles and they were purchased legally on an A Category gun licence - the standard licence held by gun owners in New Zealand.

The Government has placed an effective freeze on sales of assault rifles and military-style semi-automatic weapons, ahead of banning them almost completely when Parliament meets next month - a move that has been recognised in the US. 

"This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like," US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter, linking to an article about New Zealand banning military-style rifles "just six days" after the attack. 

"We must follow New Zealand's lead, take on the NRA [National Rifle Association - a lobby group] and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons in the United States."

Gun control in the US is a contentious issue, with the right to be armed protected under the Second Amendment in the United States Constitution. The 1791 document protects the right of US citizens to keep and bear arms - which the NRA often cites when gun control becomes a talking point. 

US federal gun laws did not change even after 27 schoolchildren and teachers were gunned down in the 2012 Sandyhook massacre. Since that 2012 event, there have been 1981 mass shootings in the United States. 

And in 2016 alone, there were 38,658 firearm deaths in the country - 22,938 of which were suicides and 14,415 homicides. 

The US is a much larger country than New Zealand, with a population of around 327 million. But even US states with a similar population to New Zealand have had far more people killed because of gun violence. 

In the US state of Louisiana, with 4.7 million people, 526 people died in a gun-related homicide in 2016, according to statistics gathered by 24/7 Wall St from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which track the number of gun-related deaths in each US state. 

In New Zealand, also with 4.7 million people, just nine people died in a gun-related homicide that year, New Zealand police statistics show. In fact, more people were killed in New Zealand after being stabbed (15 people in 2016). 

Over a 10-year period, New Zealand's total number of gun-related homicides hardly compared to Louisiana's: 73 people died in New Zealand in a gun-related incident from 2007 to 2016 - significantly less than Louisiana's 2016 total.  

An armed policewoman standing guard outside the Linwood Mosque in Christchurch after 50 people were killed on March 15.
An armed policewoman standing guard outside the Linwood Mosque in Christchurch after 50 people were killed on March 15. Photo credit: Getty

Even the small east-coast US state of Delaware, with around 967,000 people, still had a higher number of gun-related homicides in 2016 than New Zealand, with 44 people killed. 

In Delaware, gun laws do not restrict the purchasing of firearms to be subject to the requirement of a permit - that includes rifles, shotguns and handguns. However, you must be 21 to purchase a handgun and buyers must do a criminal background check.  

The US state with a noticeably lower level of gun-related homicides was Hawaii, with 22 deaths in 2016. The state does not recognise concealed carry permits issues by other states, and acquiring a firearm requires a permit issued by police. 

In the southern US state of Texas, a permit is required to carry a handgun, but there are no laws regarding possession of firearms regardless of age, and people as young as 18 can purchase a shotgun. 

The state's 'gun-friendly' laws could be why 1222 people were killed in a gun-related incident in 2016 alone. 

Gun-related homicides in 2016

(Credit: NZ police; 24/7 Wall St)

  • New Zealand: 9
  • Massachusetts: 89
  • Rhode Island: N/A
  • New York: 390
  • Hawaii: 22
  • Connecticut: 55
  • New Jersey: 297
  • Minnesota: 83
  • California: 1467
  • Maine: N/A
  • Washington: 146
  • Nebraska: 45
  • Iowa: 49
  • New Hampshire: N/A
  • Delaware: 44
  • Wisconsin: 188
  • Illinois: 944
  • Oregon: 78
  • Maryland: 436
  • Pennsylvania: 538
  • North Dakota: N/A
  • Virginia: 353
  • Texas: 1222
  • Michigan: 482
  • Florida: 992
  • Ohio: 557
  • Utah: 48
  • Kansas: 113
  • South Dakota: N/A
  • North Carolina: 558
  • Colorado: 161
  • Idaho: N/A
  • Indiana: 368
  • Georgia: 653
  • Arizona: 303
  • Nevada: 149
  • Tennessee: 434
  • Kentucky: 234
  • West Virginia: 78
  • Wyoming: N/A
  • South Carolina: 335
  • Arkansas: 182
  • New Mexico: 113
  • Missouri: 464
  • Montana: N/A
  • Oklahoma: 238
  • Louisiana: 526
  • Alabama: 454
  • Alaska: 45