Another day: another mass shooting in America. Today it was in Chicago. America seems to be at war with itself. These mass shootings grab the headlines, but it is homicides and suicides where the majority of the deaths occur. The graph above shows just what an outlier USA is in relation to most other developed countries. The horizontal axis shows gun ownership per one hundred people, and the vertical axis shows gun related deaths per 100,000 people. The diagonal line shows the overall trend that the more guns are owned in any given society the more people are likely to die from gun-shot wounds.
In 2014 USA had 33,599 gun deaths, while Japan had just six. As Japan has a population of 126 million, to USA’s 325 million, if American levels of gun death decreased to Japanese levels we might expect about 16 or 17 deaths per year in America, not over thirty-three thousand. We hear most in the media about mass shootings, and sometimes deaths in war, but these are tiny numbers compared with suicides and homicides. In 2016, another typical year in America, of the 33,594 gun deaths, 22,938 were suicides, 14,415 were homicides (of which only 71 were in mass shootings) and 1,305 were in other ways, including accidents and war casualties. (here)
The damage caused by guns in America is huge. It is also a political choice. America could massively reduce gun violence. It could make obtaining guns very much more difficult, as it is in most countries. In Japan getting a gun licence is extremely difficult and involves multiple layers of checks and paperwork, which clearly explains why deaths due to guns are so low in Japan. But it is not just Japan: Singapore, South Korea, Holland, UK, Chile and many countries have low rates of gun deaths, as the above graph shows.
Restricting access to guns is an obvious first step toward reducing gun violence. Reducing the extreme inequality in USA would also have an impact, as inequality generates stress, mental illness and anger. Curbing hate speech would also help. But the American constitution allows the right to free speech, which is often taken to include hate speech, and it also allows the right to bear arms. The American constitution looks hopelessly out of date.
In the recent midterm elections several significant victories were won by candidates advocating stronger gun control laws. Some, like Lucy McBath, were elected to congress, and many more to local state legislatures. They will have a long fight ahead of them to reduce gun deaths in America where the pro gun lobby is insanely powerful and well funded.
No other developed country has anything like the American levels of gun ownership and gun death. Reducing the rates of death can only be achieved by the American people making bold political choices, and that has to start with reducing access to guns.
Where access to guns is lower, of course, homicides and suicides are likely to be carried out by other methods. Many countries have higher rates of suicide than USA. All countries have much to do to change policies toward violence and self harm. However, this is not a reason not to restrict access to guns in America, but rather a reminder that all countries have much to do to reduce the causes of violence and self harm. I’ll explore some of these wider issues in a separate blog.