Gun Violence – The U.S. vs. Everyone Else

Given the recent spate of shootings of police officers and by police officers, my mind continues to go back to the following article that I wrote about six months ago:

After yet another school shooting, I just had to ask. What’s the most effective way to limit gun violence? I am an analyst by nature, education and vocation. I am also driven by logic and reason. So I couldn’t help pulling together some numbers when the question came to me. For the most part, it’s just numbers and facts. The numbers are what they are. So bear with me and tag along if you’re interested…

To ensure that I don’t get shot by some random mentally-unbalanced person who is having a bad day, a government will generally use one of two approaches. One is to allow me to carry a gun. I can then attempt to determine when that person is about to shoot me and try to shoot him first. The other approach is to attempt to prevent either one of us from having a gun. By definition, one of those two approaches has to be better than the other.

The approach in the U.S. is the former as relatively completely unrestricted gun ownership is considered an important constitutional right. The U.S. has 89 guns per 100 residents, by far the highest rate of gun ownership of any country in the world. Serbia is the next closest at 56 and most other countries range from near zero up to 30 guns per 100 residents. In 2005, the U.S. had a firearm-related death rate of just over 10 people per 100,000 residents, about 10% lower than Mexico which is in a virtual civil war with drug cartels.

Most other developed countries use the latter approach, with nationwide laws that restrict ownership of certain types of guns, require registration, etc. Based on a simple average (because I’m too lazy to do a population-weighted average) of the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and France, the firearm-related death rate is in those countries is about 1.3 people per 100,000 residents or about 13% of the rate in the U.S.

Using this data, I can confidently forecast that barring dramatic changes, the U.S. will continue to have approximately 8.7 people per 100,000 residents die from firearms each year over and above the number that would die in similar developed countries—that’s 27,840 additional people per year based on the U.S. population of 320 million.

I know that correlation is not causation. The fact that guns are present does not by definition mean they are the cause. But what are the more logical, reasonable alternatives? Does the U.S. has eight times as many mentally ill, angry or evil people per capita as other developed countries?

Freedom can take different forms. Allowing anyone and everyone to have as many guns as they want of any type is one form of freedom. Living your life in peace with your family, without worrying about being in the wrong place when a disgruntled student, employee, shopper or former spouse cuts loose with an assault rifle, is another form of freedom.

I know the choice I would make. And when yet another inevitable shooting takes place, I’ll pause for a moment and feel sad for this year’s 27,840 unlucky U.S. residents who were born in a country where the ideology of unrestricted access to guns was considered more important than their lives.

Note:  Unfortunately, I haven’t retained the data sources, but it came from credible, publicly available sources.

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3 thoughts on “Gun Violence – The U.S. vs. Everyone Else

  1. I’ve seen your writing and comments elsewhere regarding gun ownership and gun rights. We obviously have some deep philosophical differences that won’t be resolved. However, I will make a couple observations in case my intent wasn’t clear:

    – As stated, my analysis was looking at other developed countries. I would hesitate to validate a position by saying that we’re not as bad as Honduras.
    – Without getting into state or city specific requirements, if I want a gun in the U.S., I can get one without significant difficulty. Technically, you are correct, there may be some modest restrictions and I will edit the post according. My fundamental point is that relative to other developed countries, it is very easy to acquire guns in the U.S.

    The entire point of this post is that there is an overwhelming correlation between the prevalence of guns and the amount of gun violence–that is a fact. Most developed countries have significantly lower rates of gun ownership and have fewer people dying from gun violence–that is also a fact. Until given compelling evidence otherwise, I will continue to believe that correlation equals causation in this case. And I will continue to believe that my right to freedom from gun violence is just as great as someone else’s right to relatively unrestricted gun ownership.

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  2. And again — let me ask “Are the people of Honduras undeveloped savages”?

    I actually think the people of Honduras are amazing people living with a great deal of adversity. I have a family member who has spent time there on medical missions so I’m not unfamiliar with it. However, according to the U.S. State Department:

    “Members of the Honduran National Police have been known to engage in criminal activity, including murder and car theft. The government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and police often lack vehicles or fuel to respond to calls for assistance. In practice, this means police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime, or may not respond at all. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras. The Honduran government is still in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions.

    Transnational criminal organizations also conduct narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout the country, using violence to control drug trafficking routes and carry out criminal activity. Other criminals, acting both individually and in gangs in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and other large cities, are known to commit crimes such as murder, kidnapping, extortion, carjacking, armed robbery, rape, and other aggravated assaults.”

    To use Honduras or any other third world/developing country that is ruled by thugs, the military, gangs, drug cartels or a completely powerless government as a comparable for the U.S., Canada or other European democracies is ridiculous.

    Why do you ignore the plain evidence that many other countries have higher homicide rates than America and their firearms are greatly restricted?

    You are correct that there are countries with higher death rates from gun violence than the U.S. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate
    There are twelve of them if you look at all causes: Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Jamaica, Swaziland, Guatemala, Columbia, South Africa, Brazil, Panama, Uraguay, Mexico.
    There are a lot more if you look at just the murder rate, and virtually all of them are similar to the list above–less developed countries in Central/South America, Africa and Asia with weak governments, limited rule of law, etc. I don’t know the gun laws in any of them but it doesn’t really matter. If there isn’t a capable government and rule of law, the laws are somewhat irrelevant. If those countries are your benchmark for comparison to the U.S., then you are correct that my analysis doesn’t hold. I have a higher view of the U.S. than that and think the relevant comparables are other developed countries with established democracies. That was the basis and reasoning behind my analysis.

    Could you simply list two or three gun control proposals or ideas that you support and tell how you think they will reduce violent crime/death/injury?

    I’m not a legislator or an activist and I don’t have specific proposals. I’m simply pointing out that the U.S. approach doesn’t work compared to the approach in other comparable countries and that a lot of people are dying because of it. I don’t presently live in the U.S. so I’m not “supporting” anything.

    Since you asked my opinion, I’ll give you a couple quick thoughts. We probably agree on at least one thing: State and local gun control laws don’t work. If a person can drive an hour or two to another state where the laws are different and buy a gun (whether from a store or a gun show or privately), then there is no effective gun control. If you look at the comparable countries I used in my analysis, I believe they have one thing in common–national laws. A patchwork of state laws when there are no border controls between states is useless. The only thing I think would work is national registration along with limiting the sale of certain types of firearms. Owning a gun is as big a responsibility as owning a car so why shouldn’t it be tracked and licensed as well? I am also realistic. Given the gun culture and political power of the gun lobby in the U.S., I don’t expect that any truly significant or effective reforms will happen unless something happens to dramatically change the political environment.

    I’m finished responding now. You’ve made your position clear and hopefully you understand my perspective as well. We’ll just agree to disagree.

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