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Our addiction to guns compared to the rest of the world

In the aftermath of the massacre in Orlando, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes today about guns. Not Omar Mateen, whose name doesn’t even appear in the column. Just guns. And people killing people with them. And not in the world. In America, which is so much more addicted to ownership and possession and use of guns than any other nation. I’ll give you a few of the numbers below, but first one that doesn’t even appear in the column but in the email Kristof sends to his regular readers. Here’s that one:

“In all of 2014, Japan had just six gun fatalities. The U.S. has more than that on average every two hours.”

Kristof didn’t need that one to make his point. Here are his bullet items:

  • More Americans have died from guns, including suicides, since just 1970 than died in all the wars in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution.
  • The Civil War marks by far the most savage period of warfare in American history. But more Americans are now killed from guns annually, again including suicides, than were killed by guns on average each year during the Civil War (when many of the deaths were from disease, not guns).
  • In the United States, more preschoolers up through age 4 are shot dead each year than police officers are.

Of course, because of Orlando and Mateen and a certain orange-haired presidential candidate whose name escapes me at the moment, a lot of Americans are being asked to consider whether our gun violence problem is just an extension of the problem of allowing Muslims to resettle here (although, as you know, Mateen was born in the USA). So Kristof starts with a comparison between the United States and Canada, which allows him to address the Muslim angle. The column begins:

Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20.

Canada has a much smaller population, of course, and the criteria researchers used for each country are slightly different, but that still says something important about public safety.

Could it be, as Donald Trump suggests, that the peril comes from admitting Muslims? On the contrary, Canadians are safe despite having been far more hospitable to Muslim refugees: Canada has admitted more than 27,000 Syrian refugees since November, some 10 times the number the United States has.

More broadly, Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.

Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Andrew Lewis on 06/16/2016 - 05:09 pm.

    Mixing rates and raw numbers

    Kristof commits at least 2 of my least favorite data analysis sins, mixing rates with raw numbers and applying arbitrary thresholds. He even admits it, but doesn’t let it derail his conclusion.

    Raw numbers that should probably be corrected for population and definitely for criteria:
    Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20.

    Arbitrary 7 month threshold:
    Canada has admitted more than 27,000 Syrian refugees since November, some 10 times the number the United States has.

    And the 3 bullet points are comparisons of things that are not comparable.

    This is a list of surprising facts, not evidence that increased gun ownership causes more violence. If all the analysis out there is incomprehensible, we won’t get intelligent reform, we’ll get stupid reform supported by gullible stupid people.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/16/2016 - 08:51 pm.

      Comparison Challenges

      Both the far right and far left are guilty of the number games. It is important to read these reports / opinions carefully.

      What I also find fascinating is the attempt to compare America to other countries in general. Our society of self focused, strong willed, out spoken “cowboys” who are willing to get involved around the world is SO DIFFERENT from many countries. I think “gun ownership” is one factor among dozens that make us unique and unfortunately somewhat violent.

      I mean just look at the movies we flock to in droves… They made the career of Bruce Willis, Arnold, Stallone, etc…

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/17/2016 - 07:18 am.

    “The 2nd Amendment is a political right”

    Here’s a very interesting video that will answer the question about Americans and guns. It’s Newt Gingrich giving a speech to the NRA convention and discussing the historical significance of guns and why they play such an important role to most Americans.

    It’s one of the best political speeches by a historian I’ve ever seen.

    Here’s a taste:

    “The right to bear arms is not about hunting. It’s not about target practice … The right to bear arms is a political right designed to safeguard freedom so that no government can take away from you the rights that God has given you, and it was written by people who had spent their lifetime fighting the greatest empire in the world and they knew that if they had not had the right to bear arms, they would have been enslaved. And they did not want us to be enslaved. And that is why they guaranteed us the right to protect ourselves. It is a political right of the deepest importance to the survival of freedom in America.”

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/17/2016 - 10:18 am.

      What Arms

      The question is what arms? Is it okay if I want to buy a heat seeking missile?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/17/2016 - 10:40 am.

      The problem is

      that the historian turned politician Gingrinch is ignoring history.
      For the first 250 years of this republic, the Second Amendment was interpreted as referring to the right of STATES to form militias, so that they could put down slave rebellions and repel invasions from neighboring states. It’s only in the last 20 years or so that it has been (re)interpreted as referring to the right of -individuals- to own and use guns.
      The Second Amendment refers to ‘the people’, a collective noun.
      The Framers were quite literate; when they wished to refer to individuals and their rights and responsibilities they said so.
      For instance, in Article 1:
      “No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained the age of twenty-five years ….”

  3. Submitted by Steven Bailey on 06/17/2016 - 09:01 am.

    Michael Moore nailed it

    The other year Michael Moore cut through all the numbers and all the mythology in one statement “guns don’t kill people Americans kill people”. We are an incredibly violent society. We are a society with no cohesiveness made up of groups that share nothing except for contempt for each other. I have no hope in our capacity to solve any of our serious problems.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 06/17/2016 - 08:47 am.

    The second amendment should have mentioned along with the right to bear arms goes the need for responsibility and common sense. As proven daily not everyone is capable of responsibility and common sense.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/17/2016 - 09:05 am.

      Responsibility and Common Sense

      That probably was what the drafters were getting at when they referred to a “well-regulated militia.” I don’t think they anticipated that would mean that every troubled soul with a Visa card could pick up an AR 15 and some ammo for an evening’s fun.

      • Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 06/17/2016 - 12:57 pm.

        No one should be able to purchase a military-style weapon. Period. As Paul Udstrand points out in a blog series and a MinnPost article today, the only way to control “the crazies” who buy assault weapons and shoot up theaters and clubs and elementary schools in the United States is to ban the sale of those weapons to everybody. Not ownership. Ban sales and encourage people to turn in the assault weapons they mistakenly think will protect them.

        Just because a reasonable tactic like that wouldn’t solve the whole problem doesn’t mean we can’t try to make a dent in the problem.


        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/17/2016 - 02:42 pm.


          I understand that the man who designed the AR-15 intended it only for military use. He did not own one of his own.

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/17/2016 - 08:54 am.

    Cause and effect

    The idea of “gun ownership” is quite meaningless when one considers it. Because without any law or requirement of registering guns by their owners, all that really counts is gun possession and control (as they say” possession in 9 points of the law.”). There are no “gun owners” in America; there are only those who “possess and control” guns, and these include 3 year olds and terrorists bent on mass murder.

    What makes the US unique is not widespread “gun ownership” but “gun fetish” , which psychologists would no doubt attribute to deep-seated fear or terror. Americans have become the most fearful people in the world, mostly of dangers that are so remote as to be nonexistent. “Fear itself.” This can no longer be said to apply to “gun possession” where anyone can get possession of a gun at any moment. If we lived in a rational society, our political leaders would be able to regulate and control this out of control gun possession. But we’re not. Instead, our political leaders are demagogues who have exploited mass irrationality and hysteria to convince the public that their gun fetishism can be regarded as a sacred political right that protects them from their government. This sophistry has blinded the public from seeing how their government might actually better protect them from the real dangers they have good reasons to fear.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/17/2016 - 09:28 am.

      When seconds count

      the government is only minutes away.

      Or as in the case of Orlando, three hours.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/17/2016 - 10:42 am.


        If a dozen of the patrons had also had military weapons NO ONE would have been left alive.
        On the other hand, if military weapons were not available for purchase by private citizens, many fewer people would have been killed.

      • Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 06/17/2016 - 12:59 pm.

        Dennis, please get your facts straight: The police were at The Pulse quickly. They just did what cops are supposed to do: they tried to talk to the guy during a lull, which took the better part of three hours.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/17/2016 - 01:16 pm.

    Matched cities

    As an approximation to a controlled experiment, there are two pairs of American and Canadian cities which are located on opposite sides of the border and demographically similar.
    Vancouver is about 120 miles from Seattle and slightly bigger (and at least as cosmopolitan).
    Gun ownership and related death is much lower in Vancouver.
    An even better example are the cities of Detroit and Windsor. To get from one to the other one just takes a bridge or tunnel to the other side of the river. Many people commute from one city to the other — I remember driving from Detroit to a restaurant in Windsor for dinner. Again, gun ownership and usage is much lower in Windsor.
    So, the difference is cultural, not geographic or demographic.
    And Canada has as much of a frontier history as we do.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/18/2016 - 05:50 pm.

    Comparisons aren’t really necessary

    It’s nice to see Kristof arguing for some kind of gun control but we tend stall out on this debate because we begin with the premise that we have prove we have a problem as if gun violence could be an illusion of some kind or a figment of our imagination.

    Actual comparisons with other countries can be tricky, for instance the US isn’t the most violent nation in the world (even among countries that aren’t at war) depending on what types of violence your comparing. One form of violence we absolutely experience at the highest rate in the world are these mass shootings and massacres. By every conceivable measurement we suffer more fatalities and injuries as well as raw numbers of such attacks than any other county in the world.

    But here’s the thing: Does that really matter? In some ways comparative arguments are a form of fallacy. Does having a lower of rate of something than another country make whatever rate you have acceptable? Have Canadians decided that their rates of mass shooting are acceptable because they’re lower than those in the US? On the contrary.

    The question that really matters isn’t what our rates of gun violence or mass shootings are compared to other counties, the question is whether or not our rates of gun violence and mass shootings are acceptable to us, regardless of how they compare to other countries. I don’t think we need to look at any other countries in order to decide that 49 dead in a night club, and 20 children dead in an elementary school, etc. etc. etc. is unacceptable. You don’t start with the premise that mass murder might be acceptable and work backwards with arguments to justify stopping them. Mass murder is inherently unacceptable regardless of numbers of any kind and numbers cannot make mass murder acceptable. Common sense and basic principles of civilization and human decency dictate that mass murder is unacceptable and we have a legal and moral responsibility to prevent it to the best of our ability.

  8. Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/18/2016 - 08:20 pm.

    Japan: Twice the suicide rate of the U.S.

    Yes, countries with minimal guns have minimal gun deaths. They may not have minimal deaths, but the deaths are not gun deaths, and that is what really counts. Land locked states with few lakes have fewer drownings than Minnesota.

    I am certain that those who like to quote US gun deaths, are fully aware that 2/3 of those gun deaths are suicides. What gun law could address the mental illness issues at play in these suicides? With nearly no civilian gun ownership, the rate of suicide in Japan is nearly twice that of the U.S. Let’s not pretend that guns cause suicide or that reduction of guns is a suicide solution.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/20/2016 - 12:28 pm.

      Made Your Bed, Rest Your Head

      There are cultural differences between Japan and the US regarding suicide. Without the Christian tradition against suicide, the Japanese are far more likely to see suicide as a solution. The fact that Japanese life insurance companies are more willing to pay out in such cases is also a factor.

      Substitution of suicide methods is also rare. Studies have shown that putting barriers in place to access to lethal means–locking the gun up, keeping ammunition out of the house–are effective at preventing suicide. The people who do substitute are likely to pick less lethal, and hence, less successful, methods.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/20/2016 - 02:28 pm.

        Dead is Dead

        In Japan, twice the suicide rate is achieved by what you would call “less lethal” methods. While rare in the U.S., detergent suicide is common in Japan. But dead is dead, and the fact that people in Japan have no access to guns is not keeping them safe from suicide.

        Restricting access from guns does not deal with the root cause of suicide. Unless you are dealing with the root cause of a problem, you are not attacking the problem.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/20/2016 - 02:55 pm.

          “Restricting access from guns”

          Would restricting access to guns eliminate suicides? No. Would it eliminate many, if not most, of them? Probably, if the conclusions by clinicians who have studied this issue is anything to go by..

          Here’s the real issue: 49 people died in a nightclub in Orlando, and it wasn’t because they committed suicide. They died because a very disturbed individual was able to buy a gun capable of firing lethal rounds very quickly. Twenty children and six adults in an elementary school in Connecticut died because a different disturbed individual got his hands on potent weaponry quite easily.

          Do I need to recite a litany of mass shootings to make my point? You can talk all you want about how gun restrictions won’t prevent deaths by suicide, but that is an entirely different issue It is absurd to dismiss a remedy because it doesn’t prevent all evils from happening. Dead is dead, but that is no reason to shrug our shoulders and talk about “dealing with the root cause.”

          • Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/20/2016 - 04:05 pm.

            Again, “studies have shown”

            The largest mass killings in the U.S. and in the world don’t involve firearms; 911, Oklahoma City, Bath Schooling Massacre – NO firearms.

            The attack on Columbine High School was planned mainly as a bomb attack. The perpetrators planned to shoot people fleeing explosions/fires. Fortunately, their big bombs failed, like the propane bottle bombs they placed in the school cafeteria. Between myself and my immediate neighbors, there is about 100 pounds of propane unsecured in our backyards.

            There is a reason to talk about root causes; that is how problems get addressed.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/21/2016 - 09:27 am.

              Studies Are Showing

              You left out a few: Virginia Tech. Luby’s in Killeen Texas, the Mc Donald’s in San Ysidro, etc., etc. Guns were used in Columbine, whatever the plans of the killers may have been. You also left out the many shootings of people in groups too small to garner national media attention. Thirty-six people every day are killed by guns in homicides (that excludes suicides).

              “There is a reason to talk about root causes; that is how problems get addressed.” That is also how solutions get avoided. A psychologist once told me that it is inaccurate to speak of a “cure” for most mental disorders. We can manage the symptoms, even make it seem like they have gone away, but a cure for something like depression just isn’t there.

              • Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/21/2016 - 09:57 am.

                All Smaller

                I mentioned only the largest mass killings to illustrate that guns are not used in the largest mass killings; keeping guns from mass killers does not prevent mass killings, just like keeping guns from people in Japan does not keep them from killing themselves in great numbers.

                According to the Denver Post regarding the Columbine killings, “Had two jumbo propane bombs stuffed into duffel bags gone off at Columbine High School at 11:17 a.m. April 20, 1999, nearly 500 students in the cafeteria would have died or been maimed, investigators determined.”


                Dave Cullen did a lot of research and wrote a book about Columbine.

                “(Names deleted) planned Columbine primarily as a bombing. It was to begin with the eruption of two big propane bombs in the cafeteria. They then intended to open fire at fleeing survivors. They also loaded their cars with bombs and gasoline, set to detonate about 40 minutes later. These are the official police (sheriff’s) photos of the big bombs. They all failed. (Only the pipe bombs worked.) Captions appear under each photo.”


                No one in this conversation mentioned a cure, but abating the problem comes from understanding it.

                • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 06/21/2016 - 02:49 pm.

                  Other things need to be understood as well

                  The reality is that it is a lot harder to build a functioning bomb and get it to the proper location without detection than it is to get a gun and start shooting. Columbine testifies to that, as does Times Square or the airplane shoe bomber or any number of examples where people have tried to build bombs and they’ve failed to work or been foiled by others.

                  And if you want to talk about suicide, reducing access to firearms would make a huge difference. Suicides by firearm represent a little over half of the such fatalities, but less than 10% of the attempts, indicating the high lethality of that method. And fewer than 10% of people who survive an attempt go on to die from a subsequent attempt. Forcing people to switch methods would make a major impact.

                  It all comes down to how we balance a view of the Second Amendment versus what is happening in our society.

                  • Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/27/2016 - 09:46 am.

                    The Lesson of Columbine is how easy it is to deliver and place bombs. Thankfully, most of them did not detonate due to the ineptitude of the high school perpetrators.

                    Regarding suicide, Japan achieves twice the rate of the U.S. while rarely using guns. They use other lethal methods. Taking guns away doesn’t address the motivations for suicide. Will people motivated to take their own life just give up because their method of choice is unavailable? Optimistic and unrealistic.

  9. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 06/21/2016 - 10:51 am.

    Is there a fungus among us?

    Why do we ‘grow’ so many or even few minds that kill with no known reason?

    Could it be that the very nature of a nation which admires power and money – too often its top priority – and always with a competitive motive too; thus breeding a form of success that casts a few outside the circle of capitalism’s success but who admire same but can’t achieve it…who have not reached that particular form of public recognition, brood away be it a form of self-centered doubt gone astray… until a certain sickness of the mind creates fear of not being recognized, not achieving and blame it all on others too often nameless but now tragically, dead?

    Such a distorted mindset desires the same public recognition, however superficially, or a times dangerously…and those few react…and do the blame game to satisfy their damaged souls whatever way to put it?

    Certainly it’s not ‘something in the water – not in the nature of capitalism but a corrupted form of same that comes with the territory so to speak?

    Could say making a killing in the market or the drive for winning over losing has been well established , reflected by our present ambitious political climate as winning no matter what or how; winning by any means?

    Who knows what drives a few to fear, then hate others when they cannot achieve ‘success’?

    The gun is just the present object in varied forms used to be instant ‘infamous’ which is so grossly distorted in the process…so why we experience indiscriminate public killings, massacres more that other nations; or need more guns than other?

    It has to be more deeply embedded here than profiling one sick person…. and lately too often the repetition of same?

    No blame game here but do wonder if some of our value systems are not so great either at times…is there a fungus among us, who knows?

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/21/2016 - 11:19 am.

      The Stage

      Killers lust for the stage the media provides and the media lusts for the stories the killers provide; it is a sick and symbiotic relationship that needs intervention.

      I don’t want to see his face, know his name, or hear his story. Nor do I want to consider his personal agenda; whatever his grievance, his hateful act has done nothing to solve it. The act of one individual is meaningless; he can claim allegiance, but he speaks for no one but himself.

      Let’s talk about how to close the stage.

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