Monday, 17 December 2012

Some notes on gun crime and private ownership



Global statistics for private gun ownership and gun killings
 
This is a repeat I put up on my Baen's Bar writing blog: I love Lucy.
 
 
 I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting to look at some actual data. I am a career number cruncher, data analyst, and so have professional experience in numbers: numbers are real, political slogans are just bullshit.

Please remember, I am English and live in England so I have no personal axe to grind over American gun laws/ gun culture.

OK here's the data:

Who owns private guns?
Broadly speaking the first world. Gun ownership is highest in Anglic America and European countries such as France, Germany, Norway Sweden. The USA has the highest private gun ownership of any nation at 0.9 per head. In comparison, France has 0.3 per head, Sweden 0.3 and England & Wales 0.1. Brazil has only 0.1 guns per head, Mexico 0.1, Egypt 0.0
Conclusions:
1. Rich country's citizens can afford guns (see also cars, tablets and other consumer items). Mostly gun ownership correlates loosely with wealth.
2. America's gun problems will not be solved by more gun ownership. The country is saturated with private guns. People who imagine machine guns in every school will stop school killings are talking nonsense.
3. Gun ownership has nothing to do with 'freedom', however it is defined. Liberal democracies with high levels of personal rights/ freedoms vary in private ownership of firearms from 0.1 (England) to 0.9 (USA).


Where do gun killings happen?
Brazil has gun deaths of 18.1 /10p-5, Columbia 27.1, Venezuela 37.0. It drops rapidly at the fringes. For example, Argentina 3.1, Chile 2.2 (cf Spain 0.2.). In North America, Mexico is 10.0, the USA, 3.0,  Canada 0.5. Figures for Europe are England & Wales 0.1, France 0.1, Sweden 0.5. 

Conclusions:
1. Private gun ownership is not connected directly with gun crime.
2. New World culture uses guns against fellow citizens way more than the Old World. There are exceptions, eg Canada has European levels gun crime, South Africa has Americas levels.
3. One disturbing conclusion is that ex modern- world slave-economies (Brazil to USA geographically) have high gun crime. South Africa has many characteristics of an ex slave-economy.
4. More religious ceremonies won't help. Peoples of the Americas already attend far more religious ceremonies than the peoples of Europe.

My personal conclusions?
The problem the USA faces is not so much private gun ownership as such but cultural attitudes to guns. Private guns in Europe are culturally largely sports devices not weapons. England has such a low private ownership because guns are restricted to expensive sports (clay pigeon and grouse shooting) or vermin control by our tiny rural population. We have nothing to hunt and a strong anti animal-cruelty culture. French and German citizens have more to hunt and also hunt things the English wouldn't  like garden birds. Sweden has even more big game.

In the USA, many guns are man-killers bought not for sport/ vermin control but for use against fellow citizens under certain circumstances  defending myself/ my family. And that is the problem. Man-killers are easy to hand when people lose control and there is a pre-cultural attitude to see them as weapons. What is a punch up or improvised weapon fight in England leading to injuries becomes gun-deaths in the USA. You can kill people with your bare hands or a kitchen knife but you probably won't. A nutter certainly can't carry out a mass public killing with an improvised weapon. Other men take him out.

The second problem is that the words 'self-defence' means different things to different people. It's not the reasonable man that is the problem but the nutter. 

A Texan wargaming friend of mind is a gun collector and avid hunter. He's no more dangerous than the average Swede. An English wargaming friend of mine is also a gun collector. Under English law they are deactivated (military weapons). That doesn't bother him because we have nothing to hunt.

But slaughtering children from the society that 'oppresses' them is self-defence to a psycho.

Solution?
No idea. Suspect there isn't one. Not a quick fix anyway.
England's gun laws enacted by our democratic parliament are a product of English cultural attitude to guns, not the other way around.

Americans can't have gun control unless ordinary Americans change their attitude to guns and become Old Word rather than New World, but in that case gun control isn't an issue anyway. In a democracy the law reflects public opinion. It doesn't create it.

27 comments:

  1. I like what one headline today had about a mother asking for a reform to our mental health system. She stated in the story she was scared of her son but could not get him help. Often when you read these stories there is some deep rooted psychological issue that they needed help with.

    There is a huge drive to ban or put further locks on gun control. I disagree, not even from our rights in general but for the simple fact that only the criminals would be armed short of the military and law enforcement. While both do a great job, both can't be everywhere. The fact is those that are going to break the law will and will get the means to break the law any way they can.

    There is no perfect solution to be honest and I feel the most for the parents that lost their kids. Nothing is worse than the parent surviving their child's death. I saw it with my wife's sister. This is on a scale even more tragic.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The situation is Britain is that no one routinely carries guns, not citizens, crooks or police. Gangsters use guns against other gangsters and there are some immigrant communities with a gun culture.

      Carrying a gun gets you picked up immediately.

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  2. Dear Styx
    Britain also is failing dismally to deal with mental illness. The NHS will only deal with you if you are so barking that you are considered a danger to yourself and other people. You have to initially buy tretament from private hospitals who can then get the NHS to take you on.

    With regard to Britain, nobody routinely uses guns as weapons so there is an equality of non-gun use, if you see what I mean.

    The problem as I see it with the armed civilian gun is the momentary loss of control through fear, anger etc and the nutter 'defensing himself'.

    That said the school shooting is an awful tragedy. One of the children was British.

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  3. I saw a comic strip that summed it up pretty nicely. It had a man looking at two different paths. One path had a psychologist sitting atop a steep pyramid that would be very hard to climb. The other path was a gun store with a lot of welcoming signs and no obstacles to go through.

    I think you're spot on saying that there is no easy solution. Some people with agendas or political stances will use this tragedy to prove their points. If you place armed guards everywhere and have guns flooding the populace in an attempt to stop mass shooters you could end up creating a militant society. If you make all guns illegal like said above criminals aren't scared of breaking laws so they will still be armed, only preventing hunters and sportsmen and the sane law abiding from having arms.

    I think your ability to make the correlation between a persons thoughts on guns and the culture in which they live in speaks highly of you intellect. For instance I live in the southern U.S. Where I'm from it's very rural and woods and mountains everywhere. Hunting is a huge part of our culture. (mostly deer) I own three guns, two rifles and a shotgun, but when I view them I think of them as tools not weapons. If someone where to break into my house it would take me 15 minutes to open the gun safe in the attic get the appropriate ammunition and 'defend myself'. However if I lived in New York City owning 3 guns would scare most people and I would be viewed as one of those paranoid end of the world scenario preparers.

    I do believe that the quickest way to prevent future horrific events would be to offer better psychiatric help to individuals.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think you describe the issue well. A gun as sporting or farming tool is no more dangerous than any other dangerous machinery.

      But man-killers, pseudo military weapons, are bought to use against people. It's the attitude of the pruchasers that is the problem.

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  4. (I'm repeating my response on the Bar also. At least if I do this correctly)
    Dear John,

    I have only one minor objection to your (typically intelligent and professional) analysis: I think if you go to the data, you will find that the average deaths/mass killing is 4.5/event for knives and 4.7/event for guns.

    (Fire is much higher, and explosives are many times higher, but I think that something different is going on in the killer's psyche in those cases.)

    I could suggest reasons why this near-identity of effect should be so, but that doesn't matter: the data are the data (and if I'm wrong, correct me--this is the figure I'm remembering but I haven't looked it up again just now).

    My own feeling is that some people are broken. The larger the population (and very possibly the denser the population), the more incidents of this sort will be occur and be reported. This is depressing to me in a number of ways.

    I've never seen the attraction of high capacity magazines. My feeling is that if he doesn't go down in six, call in an air strike.

    As always,
    Dave

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    Replies
    1. Our experience is that there are very few mass 'nutter' killings with improvised weapons (terrorist bombs aside). I can only think of three such events in the UK in my lifetime and all involved legally owned guns.

      23 children and a woman were injured in a mass stabbing school attack in China but all survived.

      That's my point. Man-killer firearms make it very easy to kill: that's why we equip troops with them.

      Delete
  5. Hello John, I am ex military and a vintage firearms collector living in California, the US state with the most severe gun control laws as they vary here from state to state.

    I consider myself more of a collector than a shooter as buying ammunition for my old guns has become more and more expensive just to shoot at paper targets.

    Current laws make it difficult to buy even the old guns that I like to collect, but I am ok with that.

    Automatic and assault type weapons and high volume magazines are not legal here in my home state, yet criminals continue to find them and use them at will.

    By definition, criminals will disregard any laws we put up, and with over 400 million firearms in private hands in the US it may be too late to go back and criminals will have little trouble finding one if they want to either by purchasing it illegally or stealing it.

    As you said we have a problem, and the only thing I offer that might help is a focus on early mental health screening and then care, more money for education and a focus on improving /assisting parenting and family wellness.

    Our jails and prisons are filled with the under educated and mentally ill and those from from broken homes.

    This tragedy may have been avoided by a parent that may have reconsidered purchasing an assault rifle and handguns for or leaving them accessible to her known troubled son.

    Rather than blaming music, guns, movies or video games, perhaps we should be placing responsibility, with parents of troubled children that provide their children with these things that they may not be mentally competent enough to understand as unsafe or fantasy.

    Guns have become too easy to get here and are the perfect tool to kill masses with, but even with this most recent attack, the worst school killing in the US is still the Bath School in 1927 which killed 44 and the weapon was explosives, so if they are sick enough they will find a way and no law is going to stop them.

    Perhaps this tragedy will bring some attention to the mental health epidemic, but I fear the masses will just try to make this a gun thing and waste more time and money in that direction while ignoring the sickness that pulls the trigger.

    If I could ensure that no child would ever be killed by a firearm again with the surrender of my antique military rifles I would give them up in a second, but I just know that that will not be enough.

    John Dickerman
    Santa Cruz Warhammer

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    Replies
    1. Dear JD
      Yah, hunters/collectors aren't the problem.

      There may be two angles of approach. Better mental care, and a sqeezing out of pseudomilitary weapons. No one has any civilian use for a pistol or SLR.

      Delete
  6. I read somewhere that the average gun ownership in Utah was 14. That's the average. So for every newborn child someone else must have 28 guns stashed away in their house (so I assume it must be 1.4 not 14 but even so, that's a hell of a lot more guns in the average street than we have in the UK. We just don't have the need or desire to have them - so any shooting in the UK makes the national news as they are so rare.

    The right to bear arms is a fallacy. The American constitution enshrined the right to bear arms in the event of invasion - not the right to bear arms all the time. In any event, the need to bear arms is no longer required (if someone does invade the US then the huge navy. Air Force and army will probably protect you). People used to carry swords around the streets of London for protection in the 1700's but don't do so now as the need has gone away. So why do Americans keep themselves bound by a 250 year old law?

    But taking guns off people is problematic. Does the Government ban them and compensate people for taking them away? Would people willingly give them up? Probably not. So lets turn to comedian Chris Rock's solution. Don't ban guns. Just increase the price of bullets to $2000 each. You won't want to open up with your automatic rifle if its costing you the price of a Manhattan apartment to fill the magazine.

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  7. Hi guys,

    Nice to hear some intelligent discussion on a tragedy that we all agree never should have been allowed to happen. With a young family we have been devastated to hear of the latest shooting in the US.

    I have not lived in the United States but from an Australian perspective our Gun Laws in Australia are reasonably tight. For the majority of the population are viewed as tools for farmers (culling of pests, feral animals etc) or as something used by the Police or Defence forces.

    A while back our Government introduced a buy back scheme for guns including illegal assault rifles etc.. which worked well for the most part.

    The odd ecentric nutter/red neck/idiot burried their rifles in the back yard in PVC pipes.

    We do have the occasional shooting but it is mostly restricted to drug related crimes and the domestic violence.

    Legislation is great but nothing is fool proof or perfect. We have had our own massacres in Australia which again have been carried out by the mentally ill.

    How do we prevent events from happening when we have issues like:

    Weapons that are not registered.

    Mentally ill people having access to weapons.

    People that use the "right to bear arms" incase we are invaded by another country. which could be handled better with armouries holding the weapons under lock and in case of the alledged event occuring.

    Criminals with access to not just hand guns but automatic weapons that only the military should have.

    The majority of pleople have the right attitude to responsible gun ownership and the use of fire arms. While I do not see an easy answer to sit back and do nothing is worst of all.

    My apologies for the long winded reply. I hope there are not too many typos John ;)

    Best wishes to all of you and I live in hope that the world does not see its like ever again.

    Kind Regards,

    Allan Traise

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    Replies
    1. Australia, like Canada is European wrt gun crime.

      See, your pommie heritage isn't all bad. :)

      Delete
  8. To be honest, the media in Australia is going nuts, and every man and his dog are making anti gun comments to the effect that the US should follow our higher then thou example, I cringe every time I see it, this situation has nothing to do with anyone except the citizens of the US, and we do not have the right to try and change their deeply held ideas of rights and freedoms, no matter how upsetting this situation is, feel for the families of the victims and have no idea what the balance should be between freedom and safety, so I will leave it to the US citizens to decide, and will not hold it against them, whatever their decision.

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    1. I agree that this is an American issue, but outsiders can sometimes offer useful insights denied to those on the inside of a complex issue.

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  9. http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/international/assault-weapons-are-very-handy-says-us-gun-lobby-2012121853883

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    1. I love the Daily Mash.

      You need a British sense of humour though.

      Delete
  10. It is indeed a terrible tale, more so when you factor together the killing of children, so close to Christmas. The psychological scars the poor parents will have to deal with will go on for ever, rearing its ugly head every Xmas to come... it has me on the verge of tears thinking about it. Probably more so because I have young kids myself and the thought of anything happening to them is too much to consider...

    The problem as I see it, and as you allude to is quite simply the availability of guns in the US, and their acceptance within that culture, as a 'normal' item to have around the house or in the car...

    So with an easy access to dangerous weaponry, a mentally ill person has the potential ability to cause mayhem.

    Fixing mental illness is a lengthy process and there is certainly no quick fix to that.

    Which means the only real solution is to reduce gun availability.

    But even this can be further separated.

    OK so you want a weapon for self defence because your culture says you can... well, my not make it a simple handgun only like an old revolver that takes a little time to reload its cylindrical 6 shot magazine. And that's all that should be allowed, in a domestic environemt. Maybe a rifle, single shot style, if you go hunting.

    I cannot understand the need for anything more. Once you start having easy reloading weapons with a high rate of fire, then chaos will eventually ensue.

    Why a civilian should be able to get access to a machine gun, is simply beyond me.

    The US had made its bed and must lie in it. If it want to stop this occurring it must change its bed!

    In my adoptive country of NZ, there is a hunting culture, with pig and deer hunting quite commonplace out in the wilds. The greatest problems here that hit the headlines are hunters mistaking each other for prey, and shooting each other through the bush...


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  11. I'm English so the idea of anyone having high powered pistols or military rifles around the house is in the 'does not compute' category. As you say sporting or farming weapons are in a quite different category: potentially dangerous tools to be utilised with care by responsible adults - like cars or spot welders.

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