One of the axioms of the gun control movement, if not the foundation on which the entire movement rests, is the idea that we have a much higher rate of gun violence than other countries because we have a much greater number of privately-owned guns. This is particularly true in the case of homicide, where other advanced, Western societies often experience the same degree of random violence, but no other country experiences violence that is as deadly as ours.
Over the last several years, our intentional homicide rate has run around 5 per 100,000. The average rate for other OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, aka, the rich countries) is between 1 and 2 per 100,000. For those numbers I randomly chose Switzerland, Sweden. France, Canada, Austria, New Zealand, Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg. Now let’s look at the per capita private ownership per 100,00 of guns in those same countries:
We have twice as many guns as Switzerland but five times as many murders. We have three times as many guns as Sweden or France but also five times as many murders and so forth. But what if we turn it around and assume that these other, relatively non-violent countries had as many guns in private hands as we do? After all, the argument is that our homicide rate is a function of how many guns are in private hands. Which means that we are assuming a causal relationship between gun ownership and intentional deaths. Wouldn’t this relationship therefore hold true no matter how many guns exist in private hands?
Triple the per capita gun ownership and homicide rates in Sweden, France or Canada, and their homicide rates which are now between 1 and 2 persons per 100,000 would move up to 4 to 6 homicide victims per 100,000, which is higher than the current murder rate in the United States. If we were to quadruple the per capita gun ownership in Belgium, which would still leave them short of the U.S. ownership rate, wouldn’t we also have to quadruple their homicide rate which would bring Belgium’s murder rate per 100,000 up to slightly less than 10? That’s twice the current U.S. rate for intentional deaths.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not just playing Peck’s bad boy with the data. I have been attacking the NRA sans cesse for their “more guns less crime” strategy. I think it’s based on bogus research, false data and worse, is actually dangerous because it makes people believe that carrying a gun will protect them from crime. The truth is that it usually ends up escalating an argument into a much worse, even fatal event. But I must point out to my friends in the gun-control community that perhaps the opposite assumption that more guns equals more violence may not necessarily be true. Australia is the only advanced country where we can analyze homicide rates before and after government intervention that led to a significant decline in civilian guns, and while the gun buy-back program appears to have made a difference in suicide rates, the evidence on homicide is somewhat mixed. Not that there hasn’t been a decline in Australian homicide after the gun buyback program in 1996-1997, but that same decline has occurred to an even greater degree in the U.S.A. without any guns being turned over to the police.
Violence is injury and guns are the most harmful way to injure someone else. We know the epidemiology of violence but somehow when we connect violence to guns, we fall back on arguments about causality that don’t seem to get us past first base. It’s a fact that Americans own more guns than anyone else and it’s a fact that’s not going to change. But gun ownership doesn’t make us more violent in and of itself and I’m not sure we yet understand how and why violence here and elsewhere is connected to using a gun.