Following a recent discussion over the pros and cons of gun control measures (and the wider question of whether guns actually make a location safer), I feel compelled to offer up a few facts…
Data collected from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC for short) reveals that the USA had the highest homicide rate per 100,000 people of developed nations, circa 2015, with a figure of 4.88 homicides. How does this compare to other developed nations? We’ll look at a set of countries for a fair comparison.
2. Belgium: 1.95 homicides per 100,000 people (again, circa 2015, which will be the case unless stated).
3. Canada: (2012) 1.68 per 100,000.
4. France: 1.58.
5. Romania: 1.49.
6. Sweden: 1.15.
7. Denmark: 0.99.
8. Australia: 0.98.
9. United Kingdom (2014): 0.92
10. Germany: 0.85.
11. Italy: 0.78.
12. South Korea (2014): 0.74.
13. Spain: 0.66.
14. Republic of Ireland: 0.64.
15. Japan (2014): 0.31.
So the homicide in the USA is nearly three times higher than that of Canada’s, more than five times higher than in the UK, and fifteen times higher than Japan’s.
Of course, it’s not necessarily as simple as ‘more guns = more homicides’. With that in mind, what percentage of homicides in these countries are carried out by firearms?
Well, as of 2014, the USA had 3.6 firearm homicides per 100,000 people. Granted, the total figure for homicides is from 2015, however, as the FBI’s own data shows, firearm homicides have consistently remained by far the highest percentage of total homicides. 3.6 is approximately 74% of 4.88 – it is actually more likely that the percentage is closer to 65%, accounting for a direct comparison of total homicides in 2014, versus firearm homicides in 2014. Nevertheless, a clear majority of US homicides are carried out with a firearm.
The second country on the list is Belgium. Belgium recorded 1.95 homicides per 100,000 in 2015, as of 2010 guns could be attributed to 0.33 homicides per 100,000 people.
In Canada (though we must again allow for a margin of error, as the homicide by gun figures are from 2013), the figure stands at 0.38 of 1.68. This is around 22%. Therefore, Canada has not only a much lower homicide rate, but also a much lower homicide rate involving guns. Canada, co-incidentally, has more stringent laws surrounding guns than the USA does.
Up next is France. France is yet another nation to put into place more rigid gun control measures. 0.21 firearm homicides in France in 2012, meaning just over 13% of homicides involved guns.
Romania is next on that list and has some of the strictest laws on gun ownership of anywhere in the world. In 2012 0.04 per 100,000 people were killed in homicides by guns. Again, there is likely to be a small discrepancy in the numbers, as we’re comparing different years, but this is also likely to be nominal. With these figures, 2.7% of homicides in Romania involved firearms.
Is a pattern emerging yet? Canada, France and Romania all have tighter laws regarding firearms, all have lower overall homicide rates and all have lower homicide rates involving firearms. Let’s pick a few more countries shall we?
Contrary to popular belief and misconceptions, firearms can be owned in the UK. There are are however, tight rules on what sort of firearms are available and how to go about obtaining a licence for them. As of 2011 (we must again allow a small fudge factor) 0.06 homicides involved guns – meaning roughly 6.5% of homicides in the UK involved guns.
The data from Japan is from 2008 and so somewhat dated compared to other nations, but shows a homicide from guns as zero. In reality there will be a small number, but if Japan’s recent record is anything to go by, it may well not even make double digits. Japan has incredibly strict laws on guns, amounting to more or less a complete ban.
By now the pattern is clear. Countries with stronger gun control laws have fewer homicides with or without guns. In fact, with 3.66 per 100,000 homicides involving guns in the USA, there are less homicides in total in the UK, France and Japan combined.
What about other forms of Violence?
One popular piece of misdirection is to distract from the homicide figures to focus on other crimes. ‘Guns reduce incidences of robbery, assault, rape etc.’ Quite why homicide is ignored when it is arguably the most serious of all violent crimes is beyond me, but nevertheless, is there any truth to this claim?
Let’s start with robbery. In 2014 the USA actually scored better than several of the other nations listed, but also much worse than several others. The USA had nearly double the robbery rate per 100,000 people of the UK and Germany, 40% more than Canada, and far more than Japan. It fared better than Belgium, France and Spain. In 2016, 41% of all robberies in the USA involved firearms. In the UK, the broad trend of robbery with firearms shows a decline. In Canada, the percentage of robberies with guns is roughly 20%, or half that of the USA.
It has long been regarded by people who have studied the crime of robbery that, even if removing guns from the equation did not reduce the number of robberies, it would almost certainly reduce the number of fatal incidents when robberies do occur. The presence of guns as a deterrent is an idea which is clearly not working.
Which brings up an interesting point. The pro-gun side (or, more precisely, the anti-regulation side, as you can be pro-gun but also in favour of stronger regulations) often argues that easier access to guns can save lives. Statistically speaking, this is not true of the USA, as the earlier link demonstrates. There’s no evidence to suggest an increased presence of guns on the streets reduces violent crime, and plenty to suggest that ease of access to guns plays a massive part in the homicide rate – itself the most serious and violent of all crimes.
For instance, when considering another violent, serious crime – rape – is the USA better or worse than the other comparison nations? As per 2010, the answer was generally worse. The USA had a marginally lower rape rate than Australia (27.3 compared to 28.6) and a much higher rate than Germany (9.4), Spain (3.4) and Japan (1.0).
Guns clearly contribute to higher homicide rates, and countries that have taken steps to introduce stricter controls have lower homicide rates. As already mentioned, the combined rate of total homicides across several nations is lower than the homicide rate with only firearms in the USA. The rate of robbery is, by and large, an inconsistent mixture of results, with some countries with tighter gun controls faring worse than the USA, and some faring better. However, there is a much higher likelihood of a robbery turning deadly where guns are involved. The USA also has a bigger problem with rape.
Freedoms and Rights
One argument I have been presented with, more than once, is the idea that a gun offers freedom, and that living in countries with tougher gun laws equates to not being free. To me, this is reflective of a very different mind set when it comes to guns, based on history. As you will see, the weaponry available during the time of the American Revolution was very different to the weapons of today. It was felt that an armed populace would keep the government in check, but back then, the weaponry available to both the armed forces and the civilian population was very similar. Flash forward to today, and the armed forces of the USA have access not only to superior weaponry, but vastly superior training, and are far more disciplined than the average citizen when it comes to using these weapons. This is to say nothing of the presence of tanks, warplanes and drones.
If the US government decided to become a tyrannical dictatorship tomorrow, complete with the backing of the police and military, would the presence of a semi-armed population, many of whom would lack the training and discipline of the average soldier, really make a difference (even with the generous assumption that every US citizen with a gun would take up arms against their government)?
The equation of guns = freedom is, in my humble opinion, a dangerous one. It has moved from a healthy respect for a deadly weapon, to one that borders on worship. It has reached a level where to even hint at tightening laws is seen as blasphemy, just as daring to suggest the Constitution (written to reflect different types of weapons) is fallible is treated as blasphemy. The irony is, the Constitution has been amended before, to reflect changing political, social and cultural forces.
Meanwhile, to suggest we are not free here in the UK is to commit a very obvious fallacy. We can and do hold local and general elections on a regular basis. We can hold protests. We can criticise our government and political parties. We can hold referendums. It’s my suggestion to those who think that the gun is the only mean to uphold freedom, to stop and consider that freedom cannot be defined by the barrel of a deadly weapon.