Dispelling the Myth that More Guns = More Murders


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Aside from their inability or unwillingness to read and comprehend the plain language of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, proponents of more restrictive gun control laws rely on a bald-faced lie to support their efforts to disarm law-abiding citizens.

That lie, of course, is the claim that possession of more guns  by private, law-abiding citizens results in more violent crime and, in particular, more murders … and the corollary thereto, that reducing the number of guns in the possession of such citizens will reduce violent crime and murder.

Despite the strident bleating of gun control advocates, the truth of the matter is that denying law-abiding citizens access to firearms does not result in a decrease in murders or other violent crimes.  In fact, world-wide statistics demonstrate conclusively that the opposite is true.

It is understandable that mass murders like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, arouse the passions … and fears … of, well, just about everyone.  Nevertheless, public policy ought not be driven by the irrational fears generated by such aberrational events.  And make no mistake, mass murder in the US is aberrational.

Gun control advocates cite in support of their efforts to impose new restrictions on personal gun ownership the fact that the US has the highest number of guns per person of any country in the world and that the homicide rate in this country is the highest in the world.  The first of these claims is true;  the second is demonstrably false.  Some gun control advocates are more honest (and more accurate), claiming only that the US has the highest murder rate among “western countries” (also false), or among “developed nations” (also false), or at least that it is higher than the counties of Europe which have strict gun controls (which is largely, though not entirely, true).

The problem with all of these claims, even with respect to those countries which have stricter gun controls and a lower murder rate, is that it fails to properly correlate the two key statistics (number of guns and number of murders) and also fails to take into consideration other factors which are essential to a full and complete understanding of the gun control issue and what, if anything, should (and can constitutionally) be done about it.

So, what are the true facts about gun ownership and murder rates around the world?

First, it is true that the US has the world’s highest per capita ownership of firearms.  As of 2007, Americans owned, on average, nearly one firearm each;  or to be more precise, 88.8 firearms per 100 residents.  In fact, Americans own, on average, more than twice as many guns per person as the citizens of all but three other countries in the world.  See note 1 below.

Second, and on the other hand, the US ranks only 14th in the world in number of firearms related homicides (at 3.7 per 100,000 population per year).  This is not even the highest rate on the North American continent (Mexico coming in at 10.00, despite having only roughly 1/6 the number of guns per person as the US).  See Note 2 below. 

Third, and more significantly, when considering intentional homicides by all means, the US ranks 102nd out of 206 countries in the world (as of 2012).  The intentional homicide rate in the US is approximately 4.8 per 100,000 population per year.  This is less than 1/20 of the intentional homicide rate of the country with the highest rate in the world (Honduras at 91.6).  Honduras, by the way, has less than 7% of the number of guns per person as the US.  See Note 3 below.

Other “western” or “developed” countries with higher intentional homicide rates than the US include Mexico and Greenland, as well as virtually every country in Central & South America and the Caribbean.  It is true that most European countries, including all of those in Western Europe, have lower intentional homicide rates that the US.

Nevertheless, these statistics alone belie the claim that more guns equal more murders.  Otherwise, the US, which has nearly twice as many guns per capita as any other country, would also have twice as many intentional homicides per capita as any other country.  Not even close.

However, to truly evaluate the claim that “more guns = more murders”, there is one more correlation which must be considered — that is, the rate of homicides per firearm in each country.  Finding this statistic proved elusive.  In fact, I could not find it anywhere, so had to do the calculations myself.   I had what I considered sufficient statistics for 173 countries and the chart I produced is here:

Murders per 1000 guns

Now, if “more guns = more murders” and “fewer guns = fewer murders”, then the countries of the world which have the highest per capita gun ownership should have the highest per gun murder rates.  As you can see by reviewing my chart, this is not only NOT true, there is a very strong NEGATIVE correlation.  That is, for the most part, the countries with the highest per capita gun ownership tend to have the lowest per gun murder rates!

The US, with by far the most guns and the highest per capita gun ownership, ranks 81st in the world, averaging 146.35 murders per 1000 guns.  None of the other top 16 countries in the world in per capita gun ownership ranks in the top 100 in murders per gun — see list here:

Top 16 Countries in Per Capita Gun Ownership with Ranking in Murders per 1000 Guns

On the other hand, of the 15 countries with the highest murder rates, only one (Brazil, which is 12th in murders per 1000 guns and 75th in gun ownership) is in the top 100 countries in the world in terms of highest gun ownership.  Every other country with the 14 highest murder rates per 1000 guns ranks 102nd or below in gun ownership.

The only logical conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that it is neither the presence nor absence of guns which determines the rate at which people will kill each other.  There are obviously other factors involved, but what these facts unequivocally do show is that when people want to kill other people, they will find a way to do so, even if they do not have ready access to firearms.

Furthermore, the aberrational occurrence of mass or spree murders correlates with neither the rate of gun ownership nor the normal murder rates per gun or per capita.

The worst mass murder in modern history (not counting, of course, state sanctioned or military mass murders, a wholly different subject) occurred in the country which ranks 164th in murders per 1000 guns and which otherwise has a murder rate of just 0.6 per 100,000 people.  This, of course, was the 2011 killing of 77 people in Norway, 69 of whom were shot by firearms and 8 of whom were killed by a bomb.  The nut-ball who committed these murders, by the way, was a self-styled anti-Muslim militant, though his targets were not particularly Muslims.

The worst mass murder ever in an American school occurred in 1927 in Bath, Michigan, when 44 people, including 38 elementary school students, were killed by three bombs set off in the school.  This particular killer used no firearms at all.  Only the fact that most of the explosives he had placed in the school failed to detonate prevented a much higher death toll.

In the US, there are other factors involved in both the general and firearms murder rates, including “The Insane War on Drugs” and gang warfare problems.  The rate homicides resulting from these two issues are unlikely in the extreme to be reduced by further restrictions on the possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens.

Retired Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a nominal Republican but at heart a Libertarian, issued a statement after the Sandy Hook murders in which he said, in part:

“… do we really want to live in a world of police checkpoints, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, X-ray scanners, and warrantless physical searches?  We see this culture in our airports: witness the shabby spectacle of once proud, happy Americans shuffling through long lines while uniformed TSA agents bark orders.  This is the world of government provided “security,” a world far too many Americans now seem to accept or even endorse.  School shootings, no matter how horrific, do not justify creating an Orwellian surveillance state in America.

“Do we really believe government can provide total security?  Do we want to involuntarily commit every disaffected, disturbed, or alienated person who fantasizes about violence?  Or can we accept that liberty is more important than the illusion of state-provided security? Government cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such a fictional place.  Only a totalitarian society would even claim absolute safety as a worthy ideal, because it would require total state control over its citizens’ lives.  We shouldn’t settle for substituting one type of violence for another.  Government role is to protect liberty, not to pursue unobtainable safety.

“Our freedoms as Americans preceded gun control laws, the TSA, or the Department of Homeland Security.  Freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference, not by safety. It is easy to clamor for government security when terrible things happen; but liberty is given true meaning when we support it without exception, and we will be safer for it. ”  (emphasis added)   See Note 4 below.

Americans of all political persuasions should take his words to heart.

_______________________________________________________

Note 1:  For the Wikipedia article “Number of guns per capita by country”, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_guns_per_capita_by_country

Note 2:  For the Wikipedia article “List of countries by firearm-related death rate”, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate

Note 3:  For the Wikipedia article List of countries by intentional homicide rate”, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

Note 4:  For the full text of Ron Paul’s statement, see his webpage here:

http://www.ronpaul.com/2012-12-25/ron-paul-seeking-total-security-leads-to-a-totalitarian-society/

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7 thoughts on “Dispelling the Myth that More Guns = More Murders

  1. I don’t think it is true that a claim of “more guns = more murders” necessarily means that there should be “more murders per gun”. The slope of the murders versus guns line could be different for different countries/regions. But, as long as it is positive (i.e. increase in available guns leads to an increase in gun violence), then the “more guns = more murders” claim could be true.

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  3. Thanks for the comment Craig. The essence of my point is that if the murder rate was dependent solely on the number of guns, then the murder rate per gun should be the same everywhere; and thus, the more guns, the more murders and the fewer guns, the fewer murders. In truth, however, there are many other factors involved, which is why there are so many countries in the world with much smaller numbers of guns/people that nevertheless have much higher murder rates than the US. It is NOT simply a function of access to guns and limiting access to guns by law-abiding citizens is not going to solve the problem. And that’s not even taking into consideration how often law-abiding citizens use guns in defense of themselves, their families, their homes or even other people (reliable statistics on the frequency with which this occurs are hard to come by — estimates of how often this happens in the US range from a modest handful to more than 2 million).

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  7. Thanks for the kind comments; glad to hear you enjoy my efforts. Have been busy in a trial, so haven’t had time for blogging recently, but will be resuming again in a week or two.

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