Terror attacks using guns kill more people, study finds

US flag gun
The results come just days after the worst mass shooting in modern US history. Photo credit: Getty

A new study has revealed the US has the highest rates of gun use in terrorist attacks, causing more deaths than explosives.

The US research shows less than 10 percent of nearly 3000 terror attacks in Western countries over the last 14 years involved guns - but they caused 55 percent of all fatalities.

Explosives were used in 49 percent of the attacks, but each attack on average killed 0.4 people. Attacks using firearms killed 2.2 people on average.

The results, published in medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine, come just days after the worst mass shooting in modern US history.

"In the United States and other countries, government policies and legislative efforts to protect citizens from terrorism should consider the proportions and lethality of terrorist attacks committed with firearms," the study's authors wrote.

Of the 2817 attacks, 329 happened in the US. More than 20 percent of them involved guns. Most attacks took place in western Europe [2403], while 49 were recorded in Australia/New Zealand - only four of them involving firearms.

Professor Alexander Gillespie from Waikato University says it's likely there'll be changes to US laws around automatic weapons made shortly, after the powerful National Rifle Association [NRA] made a rare call for tighter rules.

"When the NRA... says they want change, members of the Republicans and the Democrats will come together relatively quickly on this one question - that making sure fully automatic weapons are kept out of the hands of civilians."

Terror graph
Photo credit: JAMA Internal Medicine

Stephen Paddock, the man who carried out the Las Vegas massacre, used devices known as 'bump stocks' to turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones.

But with little political action taken in the wake of previous mass shootings like those carried out at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, Prof Gillespie says change isn't a given.

"When you have a bad massacre, the public demand change and the politicians respond - we saw that in Britain, we saw it in Australia. What you've seen in America is unprecedented in recent history."

Australia has had no mass shootings since a crackdown on laws and a gun buyback programme in the mid-1990s.

Prof Gillespie says the new study is only a glimpse into America's gun problem.

"The vast majority of people are not killed in mass killings - the vast majority of gun deaths in America are suicides, about two-thirds of the total. We tend to focus on the spectacular, but we need to be focusing on the overall picture to make a better and safer society."

Around 12,000 people are killed in shootings every year in the US, but including suicides pushes the annual gun death toll well over 30,000.