Forget what you think you know about guns

July 22, 2013

I've learned at least one thing in 40 years of journalism. If you want to stir the pot, write something controversial about kids or pets. Those two facets of society are considered sacred.

Now, guns will get added to the list. I write this after reading the comments posted about a recent editorial against a new gun shop in West Rehoboth.

Trying to get through the hype, I did some research on the subject. Not being a gun owner, I had some pre-conceived ideas that gun violence is out of control. Although gun crimes certainly grab the headlines, they constitute a small percentage of all crime.

What I learned in a nutshell about guns in the United States:

• The majority of people own guns.

• Gun ownership is the highest in the world.

• Although high, the homicide rate by gun ranks 28th in the world. The majority of murders are committed using a handgun.

• The vast majority of crime does not involve a firearm.

• There are more guns than cars.

• Twice as many people commit suicide using a gun than are murdered with a gun.

According to groups that keep count of guns, the United States has more firearms per capita than any other country. We are so far out front with nearly 90 guns per 100 residents that the second and third place countries own just half as many – Yemen with 55 per 100 residents and Switzerland with 46 guns per 100 residents.

The University of Sydney School of Public Health has the U.S. rate as 101.5 guns per 100 people, meaning a lot of people own more than one gun.

Coincidentally, our neighbor to the north, Canada, posts numbers of 31 guns per 100 residents.

Switzerland is unique when it comes to guns. Firearms are part of the culture; all males are issued guns and trained how to use them. All males are considered part of a reserve militia until they are in their 30s.

Even with all those guns, Switzerland's gun crime numbers are so low, they don't keep records.

While most people assume that the U.S. must have the highest murder-by-gun rate in the world, it's not the case. In fact, while 60 percent of all U.S. homicides involve guns, that rate ranks 28th in the world. Nearly 95 percent of all murders in Jamaica are committed using a firearm with similar numbers in Honduras and El Salvador.

It's hard to believe, but according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, residents in the U.S. own about 40 percent of all civilian-owned firearms in the world. Nearly 62 percent of U.S. households own a gun. Once again, that means that a lot of people own more than one gun.

So the question is: Does that lead to more crime, or deter crime? You be the judge.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the homicide rate dropped to its lowest level in four decades in 2010 at 4.8 per 100,000 people.

According to the U.S. Crime Victimization Survey, there were more than 467,000 victims of gun violence: 68 percent of murders, 41 percent of robberies and 21 percent of aggravated assaults were committed with guns.

The survey found that of the 19 million crime victims in the U.S. in 2010, 3.8 million people were victims of violent crime. And, another surprising fact, only about 7 percent of those violent crimes were committed with a firearm, a number that has not changed for about a decade.

On the subject of gun control, one of the arguments I hear is that cars kill far more people than guns, yet no one talks about strict regulations on driving.

I've never bought into that argument, but it's true that many more people die each year from traffic crashes. In 2011, more than 32,000 people lost their lives on the nation's highways – that's 89 people a day. Although the rate has been decreasing, it's still 10 deaths per 100,000 people. Ironically, at least according to my research, there are fewer registered vehicles in the U.S. than firearms. Estimates are there are about 290 million to 310 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S.; there are about 254 million registered vehicles.

However, to muddy the waters a little, there are 12 states – including Maryland and Virginia – where more people die from gun deaths than motor vehicle accidents, according to the Violence Policy Center. But, reading the fine print, those gun deaths include homicide, suicide and accidental fatal shootings.

And – another amazing fact – according to the University of Sydney School of Public Health, gun suicide in the U.S. is about double the homicide rate. In 2011, about 8,600 more people committed suicide using a firearm than were murdered with a gun: 19,766 compared to 11,101.

You don't see the same attention paid to suicide. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people die each year from smoking, alcohol and drug abuse and complications from obesity. I don't see state governments paying nearly the same attention to these issues as they do to gun issues.

It's like peeling back a giant onion. The more you peel, the closer you get to seeing the real picture about guns in America.


  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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