Gun Control Debate 2013: Why is the U.S. More Violent Than Other Countries?

With gun legislation on the horizon, we may be on the tail end of the latest episode of the gun debate.

But, before the gun debate goes dormant again, we should ask ourselves: why does the U.S. have so much more gun violence than other developed nations? Other advanced economies respect human rights and the rule of law, yet they have far fewer gun-related homicides than we do. Why?

Gun control advocates often argue that the U.S. has more guns and more permissive gun laws, which is why they call for more restrictions on gun ownership. Gun rights advocates push back, often arguing that the presence of guns isn't the issue. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," so the rebuttal goes.

But, if it's not the easy access to guns that accounts for the higher rate of gun murders in the U.S., then what is the explanation?

Because the difference in gun-related homicide rates is huge. The U.S. on average has about 3 or 4 gun murders per 100,000 people. Among U.S. states, Louisiana is perhaps the worst, with 9 per capita. The safest of U.S. states states like Vermont, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Montana, and Hawaii typically have rates of gun murders that are on par with the national average for countries such as Italy, Ireland, France, and the Netherlands. But that's still higher sometimes 10 times higher than the gun murder rate for countries such as Norway, the U.K., South Korea, and Japan.

(At the risk of using Wikipedia as a source, it helpfully consolidates the international gun death numbers, the U.S. state-by-state numbers, and the international guns per capita rate.)

Why is the gun murder rate in the U.S. so much higher, and why are even the safest U.S. states still vastly more dangerous than places like the U.K. and South Korea?

I often hear people suggest that a lack of religion is to blame: "We've removed God and the Bible from society, thus removing morality as well." But, Norway, the U.K., South Korea, and Japan (especially the latter two) have less involvement with the Judeo-Christian religious tradition than the U.S. does (e.g., church attendance). So how is it they've wound up being 10 or even 100 times better at following the commandment "Thou shalt not murder" (with a gun, at least)?

Is it U.S. culture and entertainment that makes the difference? U.S. movies, music, and video games, however, are purchased all over the world, yet we still shoot people dead at higher rates than developed nations.

Why are we so much more violent which, I think you can appropriately label "immoral" when it comes to killing people with guns? How did all these countries Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Spain, and Switzerland, to name just a few wind up being so much more virtuous than us, murder-wise?

Some of these countries even have a fairly high number of guns per capita. Not as high as the U.S., of course (88 guns per 100 people), but Canada, France, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland have at least 30 guns per 100 people. How have they managed to resist the temptation to use those guns to kill people?

Maybe the U.S. just has higher rates of murder and assault in general, with or without guns? That doesn't seem to be true. Australia, England, Germany and Scotland have higher rates of assaults, but fewer murders than the U.S., and violent crime (including gun homicides) in the U.S. has been trending downward over the past couple of decades while the number of guns has gone up. Even if it were true that the U.S. has higher rates of criminal behavior in general than other countries, we'd still be left wondering why.

So, we return to the basic question for the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" claim: Why do we kill so many people with guns? If it's not the guns themselves, what is it about us, as people, that causes us to use guns with such greater immorality than others?