Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bringing a Gun to a Knife Fight - A Discussion on Gun Violence, Homicide, and Statistics

Posted Jul 21, 2012 @ 11:12 AM
By Halen Allison
In response to yesterday’s tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed his desire that both President Obama and candidate Mitt Romney “stand up and tell us what they’re going to do” about guns and gun violence in America.  He went on to say:
I don’t think there’s any other developed country in the world that has remotely the problem we have. There’s no other place that allows — we have more guns than people in this country. Every place else, if there are murders, they’re generally not done with guns.
Bloomberg’s perspective is that murder in America is a gun issue, and his choice of words suggests that “civilized” nations have neither a murder problem nor a gun problem, and certainly not a murder-by-gun problem.  As with most smart-sounding sentences uttered by politicians, it’s not as simple as he would like us to believe, nor is it as terrifying.  Let's try to examine the issue objectively.
Before we look at statistics, let us first establish that people kill other people whether they live in a developed country or not.  The worldwide homicide rate per 100,000 people is 6.9 as of 2010, ranging from 87 per 100,000 people in Honduras to 0.34 in Japan.  In the US, the rate is 4.8, which does not even rank in the top 30.**
The US does have more guns per capita than any other country, however; 88 guns per 100 people.  Not quite “more guns than people,” but close enough for rhetoric’s sake.  But if, as Bloomberg suggests, the number of guns within a population is commensurate to gun violence, the US should not only have more murders overall but a higher firearm homicide rate than most any other nation.  According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the US is ranked seventh, at 2.97 firearm homicides per 100,000, far below Colombia (51.77) and Guatemala (18.5).  It appears that people are, in fact, killing other people with guns, and at a far higher rate than in the US.
Perhaps the mayor’s bone of contention is with the fact that 65% of homicides in the US are firearms related though this still doesn’t explain, if firearms mean more murders, why the murder rate in the US is fairly low overall.  And keep in mind that 35% of murders in the US are committed without firearms.  Maybe we could say that firearms are enablers, the widespread availability of which makes killing more prevalent.
But we can’t really even say that.  The Swiss, known for their affinity for firearms, are fourth in gun ownership, 45.7 per 100, yet their homicide rate is less than one per 100,000.  The Yemenis own 54.8 guns per 100 people and have a homicide rate of 4 per 100,000.  Serbians own 58.2 guns per 100 people and have virtually the same murder rate (2.2) as the Cypriots (2.0) and the latter own far less guns (36.4 per 100 people).  High gun ownership might mean a higher murder rate, but then again it might not.
Further, let’s look at Estonia.  In that country, a mere 15% of homicides are committed using firearms, but the overall homicide rate is 10.45 per 100,000.  Estonia’s non-firearm homicide rate, 8.92, is almost double the total rate in the US.  And get this: Estonia’s citizens are not legally allowed to own guns.  So instead of using firearms to kill people, they’ve gone about it the old fashioned way.
In fact, of the top 15 highest nations as ranked by overall homicide rate, more than a third of them, six, forbid their citizens from legally owning of firearms.  In some of these countries, the firearm homicide rate is lower than the non-firearm homicide rate, and in others it is not.  In a phrase, if there’s a will there’s a way.
Gun ownership and prevalence is not necessarily a predictor of gun-related homicide.  Without a doubt, guns are used in the commission of homicides, both in the US and worldwide, and regardless of whether they are legal to own or highly restricted.  But by far, the leading cause of murder, now as throughout history, is being simply killed by another person.  Maybe that’s the real issue here.
It should further be noted that mass shootings are not unique to America, as they happen all over the world.   
**The statistics used throughout are taken from multiple sources that are not always comprehensive or current.  Just remember: Stats can be made to say just about anything you want them to say.  These types of issues are rarely simply defined, and that's the larger point. 
Word of the Day: Delude (verb): To mislead the mind or judgment of; deceive.
On This Day in History: Claus Von Stauffenberg is executed in Berlin for his role in the preceding day’s plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler (1944).  The world’s lowest temperature (-128 degrees Fahrenheit) is recorded at Vostok Station in Antarctica (1983).  The space shuttle Atlantis lands, ending the space shuttle program (2011).
“After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.” – William S. Burroughs, novelist.
“Banning guns addresses a fundamental right of all Americans to feel safe.” – Senator Dianne Feinstein, politician.

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