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Idea that ‘guns make a nation safer’ is debunked in study

REUTERS/Joshua Lott
The United States has the highest firearm-related death rate: 10.2 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The idea that “guns make a nation safer” is not true, according to a study published today in The American Journal of Medicine.

In fact, the study found just the opposite: Countries with a low rate of gun ownership have significantly fewer gun-related deaths than those with a high rate.

Furthermore, more guns did not equal less crime.

For the study, Dr. Sripal Banglore of New York University’s Lagone Medical Center and Dr. Franz Messerli of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons analyzed data for 27 developed countries. Only countries with available data on gun ownership and not currently involved in a civil war were included.

The data used in the analysis was collected from various sources, including the Small Arms Survey, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Surveys of Crime Trends.

U.S. leads in gun ownership — and gun deaths

The analysis found that the United States has far and away the highest rate of gun ownership, with 88.8 privately owned guns for every 100 people (“almost as many guns as it has people,” Bangalore and Messerli note). The country with the next highest rate is Switzerland, with 45.7 guns per 100 people.

The United States also has the highest firearm-related death rate: 10.2 deaths per 100,000 residents. Switzerland has the third highest rate: 3.84 per 100,000.

At the other end of the spectrum are Japan and the Netherlands. Japan has a gun-ownership rate of 0.6 guns per 100 people, while the Netherlands’ rate is 3.9.

Those two countries also had two of the lowest death-by-gun rates: 0.06/100,000 for Japan and 0.46/100,000 for the Netherlands.

The United Kingdom also ranked low on both lists. It has a gun-ownership rate of 6.2 per 100 people and a gun-death rate of 0.25 per 100,000.

The only country that was a bit of an outlier was South Africa. It had a relatively low gun ownership rate of 12.5/100, but a high (the second-highest, just below the U.S.) gun-related death rate of 9.41/100,000.

Other findings

Bangalore and Messerli also analyzed the data to determine whether possessing guns would make a country safer in terms of its overall crime rate.

Their conclusion: “There was no significant correlation between guns per capita per country and crime rate, arguing against the notion of more guns translating into less crime.”

The researchers did find a positive correlation between a country’s mental-illness burden — specifically, the prevalence of major depression — and its firearm-related deaths. In general, the more people suffering with depression, the greater the firearm death rate.

But that correlation was not nearly as strong as the one with gun ownership.

Furthermore, the study found no significant correlation between a country’s mental-illness burden and its overall crime rate.

A vicious cycle

“Although correlation is not synonymous with causation,” write Bangalore and Messerli, “it seems conceivable that abundant gun availability facilitates firearm-related deaths. Conversely, high crime rates may instigate widespread anxiety and fear, thereby motivating people to arm themselves and give rise to increased gun ownership, which, in turn, increases availability. The resulting vicious cycle could, bit-by-bit, lead to the polarized status that is now the case with the US.”

“Regardless of exact cause and effect, however,” they add, “the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis purporting to show that countries with the higher gun ownership are safer than those with low gun ownership.”

The editors of The American Journal of Medicine decided to publish the study today, two days earlier than originally scheduled, so that journalists could use its findings when reporting on the mass shooting that occurred Monday at the Washington Navy Yard.

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 09/18/2013 - 09:09 am.

    Queue the pro-gun histrionics

    Get ready for a slew of posts that denigrate the research, the researchers, and anyone who attempts to look at this issue from a data-driven perspective.

    To the article, I am curious to know if they were able to drill down into the type of guns owned by the populations in question, like handguns, shotguns, rifles, etc, and if the type of weapon owned had an impact on the overall gun-related death rate.

  2. Submitted by Brenden Schaaf on 09/18/2013 - 10:52 am.

    Doesn’t matter what the studies say

    It doesn’t matter if guns make a nation more or less safe because gun ownership is constitutionally protected. So until someone comes up with a way to pass an amendment reversing that guns are here to stay.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/18/2013 - 02:12 pm.

      Histrionics, take one

      Are you saying that the Constitution prohibits any restrictions on gun ownership? There are a number of other constitutionally protected rights that have limitations on them–are you saying that’s not allowed?

      The issue of why an unsafe nation doesn’t matter to you can be left for another time.

      • Submitted by Brenden Schaaf on 09/18/2013 - 07:39 pm.

        Please don’t read into my post what you *think* I’m saying

        No, I’m not saying that the Constitution prohibits any restrictions on gun ownership. I also never said that an “unsafe nation doesn’t matter” to me.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/18/2013 - 11:14 am.

    I’d rather

    the U.S. government be more concerned with my freedom than with my safety.

    Private citizens are not allowed to own firearms in China or Cuba for example (with some exceptions for hunting clubs reserved for the elite).

    The freedom to choose to arm and defend myself is not only my constitutional right, it’s a human right; a human right denied to citizens in totalitarian states.

  4. Submitted by Josh Kingston on 09/18/2013 - 02:40 pm.

    Guns per person?

    The study shows 88.8 guns per 100 people but I don’t see anything about guns per person. I know very few people that own guns, but the few that do collect them and have more than a dozen. I’d be curious to see how those statistics would change if it were actually 88 people out of 100 that have a gun. More crime? Less crime?

  5. Submitted by jody rooney on 09/18/2013 - 03:21 pm.

    And Mr. Tester why would you be in a position to defend

    yourself with a gun.

    Let me say as a 63 year old woman who has been in threatening situations I have never needed a gun. I think guns (except hunting rifles) are for people who don’t have the brains to do something else.

    And since this is a family news paper I think men are compensating and women own them because they think they will be more like men which generally makes them viewed as more successful.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/18/2013 - 03:57 pm.

      Hoplophobia

      When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

      I don’t know what you’d call the 12-year girl who shot an intruder while she was home alone, but I don’t think she lacked for brains to do something else.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpFp3LF7ykg

      You sound like you have issues with weapons. They call it Hoplophobia.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/18/2013 - 03:40 pm.

    It’s a pointless debate…

    …but, regarding gun ownership and “totalitarian states,” Mr. Tester needs to get out more.

    Canadians have no constitutional right to bear arms, though gun ownership is allowed (and fairly heavily regulated).

    Australians have no right to own a gun, though once again, gun ownership is allowed and fairly heavily regulated.

    In Israel, civilian gun ownership is neither a right nor automatically approved.

    The Swiss do not have a constitutional right to bear arms, but the fact that Switzerland practices universal conscription somewhat offsets that fact. Swiss males are required to keep their selective-fire combat rifles and semi-auto handguns at home, though a recent change in the law now allows those weapons to be stored in military arsenals. Gun owners are legally responsible for 3rd-party access and usage of their weapons.

    England generally prohibits the possession of pistols, though long arms may be privately owned.

    Mr. Tester will have a hard time convincing anyone outside of the right wing fringe that the countries listed are “totalitarian states.”

  7. Submitted by charles thompson on 09/18/2013 - 09:24 pm.

    guns

    All – Yes it is good to see Dennis is back to work. My question is don’t we have a sufficient supply of firearms already? Does my weapon have to match my ensemble? Is my arsenal putting on weight? Are they coming for my bullets? Vis a vis the criminal element the rural population has them outgunned. Cities are a problem because nobody shoots straight. America. Love it or leave it.

  8. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 09/19/2013 - 06:59 am.

    Question.

    Do you believe the military and police should have a monopoly of armed violence?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2013 - 09:53 am.

      As opposed to what?

      A free market in armed violence?

      • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 09/23/2013 - 06:56 am.

        It’s a direct question.

        One with a Yes or No answer.

        Do you believe the military and police should have a monopoly of armed violence?

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/23/2013 - 10:59 pm.

          Absolutely not!

          I think every man, woman and child in this country should practice armed violence each and every day, preferably on each other! After all, it’s the American Way!

          (Sarcasm hat now removed)

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 09/23/2013 - 09:33 pm.

      I’ll bite.

      Not the military and not the police, but the *government*, assuming that we are talking about a constitutionally multi-party republic, should, in my opinion, have the sole power to determine when violence is legally justified and when it is not. The government should indeed monopolize this power: not the military, not the police, and not private citizens. The government, again assuming that we are talking about a constitutionally multi-party republic, should also have the sole power to determine who has the right to carry ranged lethal weapons and under what conditions they are legal to use. This is not an unusual idea; many constitutional, multi-party republics are responsibly governed in this manner.

      The Second Amendment should never be interpreted to mean that any group of individual citizens, however defined, has the right of violent insurrection against our constitutional government. In my opinion, if a constitution includes a loophole this outrageous, it can hardly even be considered to be in force. The Second Amendment should be interpreted to mean that individual citizens have the right to defend themselves when they are attacked, but the details of this principle should be written into laws with careful consideration of the best scientific knowledge we have of what best promotes peace, public safety, and absolutely minimal casualties. The study published by the American Journal of Medicine is a good example of the research we should be considering.

      We are free not because many of us own guns, and certainly not because a few of us own massive stockpiles of them. We are free because we are a constitutional, multi-party republic, and because many of us vote and quite a few of us even inform ourselves beforehand. If we are no longer a constitutional, multi-party republic, we won’t necessarily turn back into one by arming ourselves and killing each other. This would require rebuilding a consensus about what it means to be a constitutional, multi-party republic, a consensus that I fear we are losing as thousands of frighteningly ignorant US-Americans arm themselves for a second Civil War.

  9. Submitted by erich oelschlegel on 09/20/2013 - 07:38 am.

    where is this study?

    the article says the study was published, but i could not find a link to it in the article itself.

  10. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/21/2013 - 03:27 pm.

    So, we could be safe from guns, but not safe.

    Conclusion from the linked study, “The number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death in a given country”. Duh.

    There is no incidence of children choking on cherry tomatoes where cherry tomatoes are not available. Duh.

    There are about 20,000 suicides by firearm per year in the USA; for reference, there are about 11,000 firearm homicides annually. If all firearms were seized, setting aside for the moment how that might be accomplished, how many suicides would be prevented? Looking to Japan, another modern and industrialized nation, provides a handy reference. Without private firearm ownership and firearm suicide being extremely rare, Japan has a suicide rate about twice that of the USA. The Japanese have devised other suicide methods, some of which greatly endanger others.

    Yes, the lack of firearms in Japan greatly limits firearm suicides.

  11. Submitted by Manny Laureano on 09/21/2013 - 08:46 pm.

    Harvard Study believes otherwise

    Harvard University doesn’t share the same opinion as your study.

    I’m going with Harvard and common sense rather than emotion wrapped in hope that your belief is sustained.

    http://www.smallgovtimes.com/article/harvard-study-reveals-gun-control-counterproductive/

    If you want to read the entire study at your leisure, it is linked at HotAir.com

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/25/2013 - 01:39 pm.

      Apples and oranges

      If you had read the Harvard study, rather than relying on the triumphal gloss on it from right-wing websites, you would see that it refers to all forms of violence, not just gun violence. The study referenced in this post just talks about gun violence.

      “Safer from gun violence” is a subset of “safer.” I suspect it’s a lot easier to avoid knife fights than it is to avoid an insane person with a shotgun coming in to your workplace.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/25/2013 - 04:25 pm.

        Is Safety Not the Concern?

        And it is a lot less easy to avoid a bomb blast than “an insane person with a shotgun coming”. Yet, I hear no calls for the banning of the materials readily available for making a bomb.

        The seldom mentioned detail regarding the Columbine killings is the propane cannister bombs that the killers brought to school. After they were unsuccessful in detonating their bombs, they opened fire on their school mates.

        When guns get singled out in conversations of safety, it becomes clear that gun control is more important than public safety. And, children are merely tools of the gan ban agenda.

  12. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/23/2013 - 08:48 am.

    As Susan Perry So Aptly Points Out Only Two Days Later …

    “Don’t Confuse Correlation and Causation”

    Unless, of course, it supports your position.

    http://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2013/09/sheriff-staneks-marijuana-comments-confuse-correlation-and-causation

    • Submitted by Chris Clarke on 09/24/2013 - 12:43 am.

      Is that not…

      Game, set and match? I believe it is.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/25/2013 - 01:33 pm.

      And be sure you don’t read the article!

      “Regardless of exact cause and effect, however,” they add, “the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis purporting to show that countries with the higher gun ownership are safer than those with low gun ownership.”

      The article speculates on causation, but explicitly declines to draw conclusions in that regard. All it does is say that a gun owning nation is not a safer nation.

  13. Submitted by Steve Rose on 09/25/2013 - 04:35 pm.

    But of course, it debunks nothing

    because it fails to account for the lives saved by the defensive use of firearms, arguably the most potent defensive weapon known to man. All those unnamed guys standing around the President have one.

    With no personal ownership of guns in Japan, they still hit a suicide rate twice that of the U.S. It shows that people motivated to harm themselves or others will find a way.

  14. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 09/25/2013 - 07:44 pm.

    re: checks and balances.

    Mr. Jacobsen wrote:

    “The Second Amendment should never be interpreted to mean that any group of individual citizens, however defined, has the right of violent insurrection against our constitutional government.”

    Tell that to the leftists who are in power now – the same leftists descended from the ’60’s radicals who liked to quote from the Declaration of Independence:

    “…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

    “We are free not because many of us own guns, and certainly not because a few of us own massive stockpiles of them. We are free because we are a constitutional, multi-party republic, and because many of us vote and quite a few of us even inform ourselves beforehand.”

    Have you ever read Federalist 46? Begin with the paragraph that begins with “[e]xtravagant as the supposition is, let it however be made. Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed…”. You, Susan Perry, Pat Berg and the rest may learn something from Mr. Madison.

    The German Jews trusted their Weimar Republic, thought they were assimilated, and Germany was at the heart of civilized Europe. Didn’t work out.

    Arms in civilian possession is a check against unlimited power by the government. Betcha my co-religionists in Poland and the Ukraine wouldn’t have minded having some crates of Mosins and 7.62x54R. You can’t stop government-sanctioned murderers by throwing copies of Dostoyevsky or your MPR program guide at them.

    Susan Perry’s attempt at extrapolating one study to prove an assertion is a failure. Guns in civilian possession guarantees there will be no genocides such as those perpetrated by the National Socialists and the Ustasche; or tens of millions slaughtered by leftist authoritarian governments.

    • Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 02/16/2014 - 08:13 pm.

      Two more examples…

      In the history of our own constitutional multi-party republic, there was only one occasion on which gun-wielding insurrectionists tried to challenge the authority of the central government. It was called the Civil War.

      The insurrectionists lost.

      So I’m not sure where your confidence comes from when you claim: “Guns in civilian possession guarantees there will be no genocides such as those perpetrated by the National Socialists and the Ustasche; or tens of millions slaughtered by leftist authoritarian governments.”

      Moreover, as white European settlers rapidly conquered North America, quite a few Native Americans seized all the guns they could get their hands on to defend themselves. But that didn’t stop the US government from waging genocidal war against them, did it? Nor did it stop this government, all too often, from winning.

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