How long will it take? The shootings in Colorado Springs and San Bernadino and the countless others that have happened in recent years (Roseburg, Chattanooga, Charleston, Isla Vista, and Ft. Hood to name a few) demonstrate that gun control is leading to homicide in America. Period.
Americans own a ridiculous amount of guns. A 2012 Congressional Research Service report put out an estimate that there were 310 million civilian guns in 2009: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns. The US had a population of about 307 million people in the US in 2009. Yep, that means that there would have been more guns than people in America. Another stat: a 2004 survey concludes that 65 percent of America’s guns are in the hands of 20 percent of gun owners.
Gun crime is more prevalent in the United States than in other rich countries. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that there were 29.7 gun homicides per million people in the US in 2012, whereas Canada only had 5.1 per million and Australia only had 1.4 per million. Why’s that, you ask? The US has many more guns per capita than any other country. The population of the US makes up 4.43% of the global population, but the number of US civilian-owned guns represents 42% of civilian-owned guns worldwide, according to the UNODC.
Contrary to public opinion, gun homicides actually are declining. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has gathered that gun homicides have fallen 39% and non-fatal firearm crimes have fallen 69% between 1993 and 2011. A 2013 Pew poll also found that 56% of people think gun crime is more common than it was 20 years ago and only 12% accurately said it was less common.
This is a good development, but it does not excuse the fact that guns are still a serious threat in America and the only way to make any change here is to take direct action and implement legislation. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. And simply hoping that twenty more years will bring another decline in gun homicides is also not a viable option and not enough.
What’s my reasoning behind this? The Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center has found that developed countries with more guns generally have more homicide, that states within the US with more guns have more homicide, and that people with access to guns — particularly women — are more vulnerable to homicide than those who do not have access. Now, correlation does not always imply causation. And there may very well be other factors that make areas with more guns more prone to murder. But this finding holds up in several studies, and David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said in his book Private Guns, Public Health, “Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide.”
The relationship between gun prevalence and suicide is also extremely prevalent – in fact it is even stronger than the relationship between guns and homicide, according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center’s Means Matter. People who die from suicide are more likely to live in homes with guns than people who just attempted suicide. States with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun suicide. Again, this does not necessarily prove causality. But, one of the main counter-arguments that people in rural areas are both likelier to own guns and likelier to be depressed does not check out – depression actually is not higher in rural areas. But the correlation-causation theory here is very much plausible. Studies suggest that suicide attempts using guns are fatal in the vast majority of cases, while attempts using cuts or poisoning are only fatal 6%-7% of the time.
There’s also evidence that gun control can reduce suicide rates. A buyback program that took 20% of Australia’s guns off the street wound up reducing firearm suicides by 74%. When Israeli Defense Forces stopped letting soldiers bring guns home over the weekend, the suicide rate fell 40%. Firearm suicides are also less common in US states that require a check if potential gun purchasers are mentally ill or criminal fugitives.
Gun control views are not being shifted my mass shootings, Pew found in 2012. This is alarming. When any American has a risk of being killed simply by walking into a public place, you know there is a serious problem in our country. This is literally a matter of life and death. Thoughts and prayers are not enough.