As the debate over gun control deteriorates into shouting matches and threats of insurrection, most of the rest of the world looks with confusion, see American culture and laws weapons so sad and strange.
U.S. gun rights advocates are correct in their assertion that the overall evidence is not immediately convincing when it comes to the relationship between levels of gun ownership and homicide. And most of the previous studies on gun legislation U.S. suggest a limited impact on rates of violence. Turns out it’s the wrong set of questions. The international evidence is clear that it takes more than weapons to cause high levels of crime, however, allow weapons intentional and unintentional violence, and large, lightly regulated gun sales lead to more killings in the Americas.
You do not have to go far in Stephen Pinker’s history of violence, the better angels of our nature, to find broad support for the idea that there are more homicides than the prevalence of firearms. In precivilization, as much as 15 percent of all violent deaths were inflicted by weapons as simple as a stone. Even today, the strongest relationship with homicide rates worldwide involves general levels of economic development, inequality and social cohesion rather than prevalence weapon.
However, if attention is restricted to developed countries, there is a link between guns and violence. A survey of academic studies at Harvard University Lisa Hepburn and David Hemenway concluded that high-income countries with more guns have more murders. Americans have the highest gun ownership in the world, with nine guns for every 10 people. The U.S. also has by far the highest level of gun violence among rich countries. In another study looking at 23 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Hemenway and a colleague found that U.S. homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than those of other high-income countries, driven by homicide rates by firearms that were 19.5 times higher.
In addition, unintentional deaths by firearms in the U.S. were more than five times higher than in other countries. Among these 23 countries, the U.S. accounted for 80 percent of all deaths by firearms, and 87 percent of all children under 15 killed by firearms were U.S. children. In 2005, 5285 children have been killed by firearms compared to 57 in Germany and not in Japan, a country with some of the toughest gun controls in the world. In America, people who live in homes with guns are more likely to be killed. Households with guns are 12 times more likely to have family members or guests killed or injured by the weapon by an intruder. And while gun-related violence is not perfect through or within rich countries, counterexamples have implications that gun rights advocates may not like. Consider Switzerland, which has the second highest rate of gun ownership among OECD countries, however, a very low overall homicide rate of one third of the OECD average. While Swiss gun-related homicides are more common than elsewhere in the OECD, it still suggests that the mere availability of firearms does not require a lot of violent crime.
However, if any country means the “well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state” of the Second Amendment of the United States, would be Switzerland. Gun ownership is required as part of compulsory military service. Increasingly, these weapons are kept in tanks, so that is not immediately available. Military service requires citizen-soldiers to attend training sessions and extensive repeated aged 20 to 50. Switzerland is a perfect example of why the culture and institutions of importance to the relationship between guns and violence.
Meanwhile, Mexico is a case study of what happens when more guns meet weaker institutions. In the four years following the passage of the U.S. assault weapons ban in 2004, 60,000 illegal weapons seized in Mexico back to the U.S. Chicoine Luke, an economist at the University of Notre Dame, estimates that the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban led to at least 2,684 additional homicides in Mexico. Similarly, a study by researchers at the University of New York found that homicides spiked in the border towns of Mexico after 2004, especially those most involved in the narcotics trade. The increase was much less dramatic in the towns bordering California, which had a statewide ban on assault weapons that remained in place after the U.S. ban expired. A study of court cases reported in their paper found that 3 percent of trafficked weapons came from California, compared to 29 percent in Arizona and 50 percent in Texas.