The American Journal of Medicine fast-tracked releasing their study that correlates per capita gun ownership rates of death by firearms. The Guardian presumptuously titled their article, “High gun ownership makes countries less safe”. The study doesn’t correlate with safety in any way; the numbers simply tell the story of gun-related deaths per capita. If you dive deeper into the study, you see plenty of ways to spin the numbers if you have an agenda. Here are three ways you can read into the same numbers:
1. Iceland and Sweden are super dangerous.
These countries must be steeped in anarchy! Their crime rates sit above 13,000 crimes per 100,000 (17,154 for Iceland and 13,461 for Sweden), therefore they must be completely unsafe for travelers. In reality, the rate of violent crime in Iceland is one of the lowest in the world, with a homicide rate at 1.8 per 100,000. The country ranks 15th in the world on gun ownership. Wouldn’t this mean that more guns means less violent crime? Crime rates don’t necessarily mean anything is more or less dangerous. It all depends on how crime is classified, and in America, we too often classify things as crimes that shouldn’t be.
2. South Africans shoot and kill almost as many people per capita as we do.
Americans and South Africans have rates of gun deaths that are far above the other developed countries. One could make generalizations about the cultural and historical similarities we share, and there is some argument to the cultural element being a factor in gun violence. The study cites Japan as a country where there aren’t any guns and therefore not much gun violence. Instead Japan but higher rates of knife violence, and has seen an increase in knife crime in the past decade. While a country may be less violent with guns, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a trend towards another kind of violence.
3. Americans are just plain crazy, but so are our friends.
According to the numbers in the study, as a country, we are the craziest country in the world, with France, Israel, Belgium and Switzerland close behind. France got us with their former League of Nations mandates Libya and Syria. Take a look at Israel and America’s relationship and you’ll find it’s the nexus of Middle Eastern policy, Belgium heads the EU and Switzerland has our money in their banks. Why are we making decisions on global policy if we are the crazy ones?
We may never agree on a private individual’s right to own guns, but we shouldn’t color the facts inappropriately. The study correlates number of guns with incidents in gun deaths. That is true for most anything that is dangerous. The reasons for the violent gun tragedies in our American psyche are complex, and answers aren’t ever going to be clear. President Obama made another speech about how we need to take this moment to reflect, but that we should do with every tragedy. Reading into the numbers may help rally a call for action, but it’s important to remember the violence problem is not the same as the gun problem.