Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's Not JUST Ownership

We at the Egg believe, as we wrote a few days ago, that only the most dramatic revision of America's laws will  serve to protect our citizens from death by gunfire.  The big picture is pretty clear:  Americans have the highest per-capita rate of gun ownership in the world.  Although our rate of firearms homicide pales beside those of many other nations, it is by far the highest in what is sometimes, and confusingly, called "the West" -- a cluster of generally prosperous nations with shared histories and cultures.

But it is important to see that reducing murders by gunfire is not as simple as reducing the number of guns.  Much as we might wish it were, the relationship of ownership to homicide is not simple and linear.

A few days ago, we linked to this chart from The Guardian.  It aggregates data on gun ownership and gun violence worldwide, along with the source of the information (which is not equally available for all nations).  The chart is fascinating to read, but even more interesting if -- as The Guardian permits -- you download it and manipulate the data a little bit.

We are not spreadsheet masters, so we haven't done very much.  We encourage readers more adept than ourselves to experiment.

One thing that comes out clearly, though, is that Latin America and the Caribbean are some of the most dangerous places in the world.  This is actually surprising to us; we have traveled a fair bit in those regions, and although you can't miss the signs of endemic violence (notably in Haiti, Colombia, and Peru during the Shining Path years), we didn't realize how outsized the rates are.  A few African countries are in this elite class, and again we are surprised to see that South Africa is more dangerous, by this measure, than Sierra Leone.

Here are the top 25 nations, ranked by homicide rates per 100,000 people.

Country/Territory
% of homicides by firearm
Number of homicides by firearm
Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop
Rank by rate of ownership
Average firearms per 100 people
Honduras
83.4
5201
68.43
88
6.2
El Salvador
76.9
2446
39.9
92
5.8
Jamaica
75.6
1080
39.4
74
8.1
Venezuela
79.5
11115
38.97
59
10.7
Guatemala
84
5009
34.81
49
13.1
Saint Kitts and Nevis
85
17
32.44


Trinidad and Tobago
72.1
365
27.31
129
1.6
Colombia
81.1
12539
27.09
91
5.9
Belize
52.3
68
21.82
62
10
Puerto Rico
94.8
692
18.3


Brazil
70.8
34678
18.1
75
8
South Africa
45
8319
17.03
50
12.7
Dominican Republic
65.5
1618
16.3
99
5.1
Panama
75
569
16.18
26
21.7
Bahamas
61.2
52
15.37
98
5.3
Ecuador
68.7
1790
12.73
142
1.3
Guyana
61.3
85
11.46
45
14.6
Mexico
54.9
11309
9.97
42
15
Philippines
49.9
7349
8.93
105
4.7
Paraguay
56.1
466
7.35
37
17
Anguilla
24
1
7.14


Nicaragua
42.1
338
5.92
77
7.7
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
30
6
5.49


Zimbabwe
65.6
598
4.78
106
4.4



These are not, generally speaking, places which one naturally associates with the rule of law.  On the other hand, only a few -- Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines -- are engaged in sustained battle with

Likely more shocking is the place of the United States, which -- were we to continue this chart -- would come in at #29, between Barbados and the West Bank.  Of "developed" nations -- let's define them as "places where you might choose t have surgery" -- only South Africa exceeds our rate of gun murder.  Most of us do not think of ourselves as living in a nation as lawless and violent as those in the Third World, but the numbers suggest strongly that we do.

Here's our immediate geographical neighborhood, three large and economically complex North American nations.

Country/Territory
% of homicides by firearm
Number of homicides by firearm
Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop
Rank by rate of ownership
Average firearms per 100 people
Mexico
54.9
11309
9.97
42
15
U. S. A.
60
9146
2.97
1
88.8
Canada
32
173
0.51
13
30.8

This chart should give some comfort to the NRA.  Of the three amigos, Mexico has the lowest rate of gun ownership and the highest rate of gun homicides.  On the other hand, Mexico is in the midst of a long drug war characterized by over-the-top violence, which probably skews the numbers.

The contrast between the U.S. and Canada is interesting, though.  We have almost three times as many civilian guns per person as our polite neighbor -- but they are used to commit murder six times as often. We are, in other words, twice as violent as a very similar nation on our borders.  Why?  Perhaps is is a function of our higher population density, perhaps of our greater proximity to the violence of Latin America.  Or perhaps the greater concentration of guns in our nation creates some sort of geometric multiplier effect.

Here are the nations that many Americans think of, rightly or wrongly, as our cultural peer group -- the large European nations, Canada and ANZUS.

Country/Territory
% of homicides by firearm
Number of homicides by firearm
Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop
Rank by rate of ownership
Average firearms per 100 people
U. S.
60
9146
2.97
1
88.8
Switzerland
72.2
57
0.77
3
45.7
Italy
66.7
417
0.71
55
11.9
Belgium
39.5
70
0.68
34
17.2
Luxembourg
42.9
3
0.62
41
15.3
Canada
32
173
0.51
13
30.8
Ireland
42
21
0.48
70
8.6
Finland
19.8
24
0.45
4
45.3
Portugal
33.8
44
0.41
72
8.5
Sweden
33.9
37
0.41
10
31.6
Netherlands
30.7
55
0.33
112
3.9
Northern Ireland
4.5
5
0.28
25
21.9
Denmark
31.9
15
0.27
54
12
Austria
29.5
18
0.22
14
30.4
Spain
21.8
90
0.2
61
10.4
Germany
26.3
158
0.19
15
30.3
New Zealand
13.5
7
0.16
22
22.6
Australia
11.5
30
0.14
42
15
England and Wales
6.6
41
0.07
88
6.2
France
9.6
35
0.06
12
31.2
Norway
8.1
2
0.05
11
31.3


It raises any number of questions.  Why are Finns, with the same rate of gun ownership, so much less likely to shoot each other than the Swiss?  What are the non-gun weapons used by the English and Northern Irish to commit their murders?  (And yes, we do see that Britain's severe restrictions on ownership support the argument that, deprived of their guns, people will continue to murder each other by slower and less efficient means.)

But the biggest questions are these:  (1) What are the French and Norwegians, with relatively high rates of gun ownership doing that so effectively prevents those guns from being used to kill people?  And (2) what, apart from its colossal world-beating rates of gun ownership, is the United States doing wrong?

3 comments:

Turnip Ghost said...

Which people are more likely to kill or be killed in the USA? Compare rural with urban; Black with White; immigrant or born in the US; male vs. female; those 18-35 vs. 50+. What can these data reveal?

Father Anonymous said...

Do you have that data? If so, please forward me a link so that I can take a look, because I'm very curious.

Although I wouldn't want to limit the discussion to the US, there are certain specific things about out country (not just the 2nd Amendment) which may make the situation here distinctive.

For instance, my assumption, based on absolutely no facts at all, is that most gun crimes take place in cities, simply because of population density -- but also with guns purchased in more rural areas. This is one of the reasons that, in a big country, local gun laws aren't much help, and the question needs to taken up by the federal government.

Father Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.