Claim: Guns don’t make nations safer — But violent crime rate in gun-free UK is 4x higher than US

A study rushed to publication following the Navy Yard shooting.

The media release is below.

Click for a 2009 article pointing out that UK violent crime is 2,034 per 100,000 population. In the U.S., the statistic is 466 per 100,000.


‘Guns do not make a nation safer,’ say doctors

Countries with lower gun ownership are safer than those with higher gun ownership, reports The American Journal of Medicine

Philadelphia, PA, September 20, 2013 – A new study reports that countries with lower gun ownership are safer than those with higher gun ownership, debunking the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer. Researchers evaluated the possible associations between gun ownership rates, mental illness, and the risk of firearm-related death by studying the data for 27 developed countries. Their findings are published in the current issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

Gun ownership in the US has been a hotly debated issue for more than 200 years. A popular notion in the US, where there are almost as many guns as people, is that “guns make a nation safer,” although there has been little evidence either way. The shootings in Aurora, Tucson, Oak Creek, at Virginia Tech, among others in recent years, have demonstrated that there may be a relationship between mental illness and easy access to guns, and that lack of treatment for mental illness may be more of a pressing problem than mere availability of guns.

Ever since the second amendment stating “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” was passed in 1791, there has been a fierce debate over guns in the US. At one end is the argument that gun control laws are an infringement on the right to self-defense and on constitutional rights, and that there is no evidence that banning assault weapons would reduce crime. At the other end is the view that fewer firearms would reduce crime rates and overall lead to greater safety.

Sripal Bangalore, MD, MHA, of NYU Langone Medical Center, and Franz H. Messerli, MD, of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, examined data for 27 developed countries. The gun ownership data were obtained from the Small Arms Survey, and the data for firearm-related deaths were obtained from a European detailed mortality database (World Health Organization), the National Center for Health Statistics, and others. The crime rate was used as an indicator of safety of the nation and was obtained from the United Nations Surveys of Crime Trends.

“The gun ownership rate was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death,” says Bangalore. “Private gun ownership was highest in the US. Japan, on the other end, had an extremely low gun ownership rate. Similarly, South Africa (9.4 per 100,000) and the US (10.2 per 100,000) had extremely high firearm-related deaths, whereas the United Kingdom (0.25 per 100,000) had an extremely low rate of firearm-related deaths. There was a significant correlation between guns per head per country and the rate of firearm-related deaths with Japan being on one end of the spectrum and the US being on the other. This argues against the notion of more guns translating into less crime. South Africa was the only outlier in that the observed firearms-related death rate was several times higher than expected from gun ownership.”

The investigators also evaluated whether mental illness, and not merely the access to guns, is the driving force for criminal activities. They used age-standardized disability-adjusted life-year rates due to major depressive disorder per 100,000 inhabitants with data obtained from the World Health Organization database as a presumed indicator for mental illness burden in each country to assess whether there was a correlation between mental illness burden of a country and the crime rate in a country, but found no significant correlation between mental illness and crime rate.

Says Messerli and Bangalore, “Although correlation is not the same as causation, it seems conceivable that abundant gun availability facilitates firearm-related deaths. Conversely, high crime rates may instigate widespread anxiety and fear, thereby motivating people to arm themselves and give rise to increased gun ownership, which, in turn, increases availability. The resulting vicious cycle could, bit by bit, lead to the polarized status that is now the case with the US.” They conclude that, “Regardless of exact cause and effect, the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that countries with higher gun ownership are safer than those with low gun ownership.”


22 thoughts on “Claim: Guns don’t make nations safer — But violent crime rate in gun-free UK is 4x higher than US”

  1. The budget crisis doesn’t make the major networks every year, but having relied on the federal budget for my paycheck for the last 11 years, I can assure you it is an annual dog and pony show. I have to go around and make sure the people working for me have contingencies in place in case the pay check just doesn’t show up on October 1st. No expenditures can be planned or counted on between October and January just in case they drag it out like usual. It’s practically a regularly scheduled event that those of us who actually depend on the budget to do are jobs have worked around so long it’s boring. They only let the lay people in on it when they need something to blame the other side for.

  2. Exactly. Fear is, primarily, the tool of dictators and despots. This morning, here in the U.S.A., the fear projection services; ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and FOX (MSNBC excluded because noone watches it) began wailing about the government shut down looming on the horizon.

  3. How can numbers be racist?

    If his numbers are wrong, show us. If not then don;t make accusation because someone posts facts.

    And how exactly do you know what causes the violence?

    Do non-black communities with similar levels of poverty show similar levels of violence? I think not.

  4. Just reading the article it struck me…Isn’t fear a wonderful tool? I think most, in this forum, recognise that fear is the tool most often used to propogate change. Whether it is Human caused global warming/climate change/extreme weather, salt, guns, DDT, CFC’s, etc… Well, you get the picture. It is about fear and manipulation to move the masses in a desired direction. I’m not making light of what happened at the DC Naval Yard, far from it, but the thought about fear being a tool, a weapon some would say (like a gun), struck me and seemed pertinant to this conversation.


  5. Howdy Justathought
    I don’t have precise numbers handy but I do know that roughly 60% of gun deaths in the US are suicide and only something like 10% of gun deaths are justifiable homicides. Most of those are in response to a threat with a gun.
    I would agree that we have a violence problem and our violence problem is probably more severe than in, say, the UK because more of our criminals do have guns. The problem has far more to do with willingness to use the guns than having them — thus N. Dakota vs Chicago — and more about willingness to use them than legal bans — thus Arizona vs Mexico.

  6. Ross,
    What a bunch of racist nonsense. Correlation does not mean causation. Most of the black-on-black violence is due to poverty and hopelessness. What causes so many black people to be caught up in those circumstances is a different topic.

  7. Notice that the article talks about death and not murder vs. justifiable killings, i.e. self protection. If the articles logic were used in the following manner, than countries that still use beasts of burden and no cars for transportation would show less death by car wrecks, see problem solved for car wrecks. What an absurd argument that this study proposes. As usual, the liberals believe that all death is the same as long as it is for their cause which is to disarm a free people. If I am ever put into the position to defend the life of an innocent person I will shoot the perpetrator anytime that it is necessary.

  8. Howdy Bob
    Violence and gun crimes occur across the social and economic spectrum of the US — the Menendez brothers murdered their parents with shotguns, and they are not black and at the time were not poor.
    But violence worldwide, it seems to me, focuses where there is least hope. In the US, that’s among young men in poor families without stable father figures and among the young women who grow up with them. These families are disproportionately black, with Hispanics as the next ethnic group, then whites and then Asians. Surprise, surprise: in the US, at least, that’s also roughly the order in which ethnic groups are represented as both killers and victims.
    A middle-class American experiences violent crime and gun crime at European levels even though many, many middle-class families own firearms. Especially in rural states, where many families have them both for hunting and against possible intruders.

  9. It appears to me that, in the US, there is an inverse relationship between gun ownership and violent crime. Whether that applies to the rest of the world, I neither know nor care, but I expect a similar inverse relationship in a number of countries.

  10. It’s impossible to compare stats in different countries. We have different problems and different criteria for measuring things. What might be considered violent crime in one country is a misdemeanor in another. eg sex with a 14 year old might be legal in one country and rape (violent crime) in another.

    The UK has a major drink problem which is the root of much violence and young men are the most likely to be victims and perps. We don’t have an armed police force so fights are less easy to break up. However, murder is lower here than in the US and there are less deaths from gunshots (not all guns banned) for all reasons per capita than are accidentally shot in the US.

    Apples and oranges.

  11. “The USA in its current incarnation was founded and populated by people from all over the world specifically because they wanted to get away from all those other, more virtuous countries we’re being compared to.” And still do. Apparently the US’s exploitation of illegal aliens, lack of universal health coverage, racism and capitalism are STILL better than those socialist paradises in the Third World and one or two in Europe as well. Our most downtrodden class status looks better to some people than anything they expect to achieve in Latin America or China.

  12. The whole X country is better than Y country argument is ridiculous, single-variable claptrap in the first place. It’s meant to draw people’s attention away from the real heart of the issue, gun restriction laws are illegal. That’s the bottom line. Those who don’t like that are free to pursue a constitutional amendment. Otherwise, The USA in its current incarnation was founded and populated by people from all over the world specifically because they wanted to get away from all those other, more virtuous countries we’re being compared to. If the availability of guns leads to more “gun violence” then that’s the price we pay for the freedom to own guns. KKK and Westboro baptist rallies are the price we pay for the freedom to assemble. The proliferation of cults is the price we pay for freedom of religion. The question of wether the pros of freedom outweigh the cons is ideological in nature and attempts to make it sound scientific are no better than wearing a pair of thick glasses you don’t need because you think it makes you look smart.

  13. ‘Ever since the second amendment stating “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” was passed in 1791, there has been a fierce debate over guns in the US.’ As Gamecock notes, this is blatantly false. The debate over private ownership of firearms is relatively recent, coinciding with the “progressive” influence in politics. (“Progressives” were the big movers of both Prohibiton and the narcotics laws of the early 20thC.)
    I’m ready to believe that firearms deaths are higher in most countries with more firearms. Motor vehicle deaths in African villages are relatively few too. It’s a valid point, though it’s weaker than the grabbers like to make it seem.
    Violent crime and homicide are different things. We need to be careful about comparing violent crime to homicide and even comparing violent crime rates to violent crime rates because the definitions are sometimes different.
    A large but so far undefinable number of potential violent crimes in the US are broken up when the intended victim shows a firearm. Intended victims in the UK or France almost never have means of defense.
    It’s been noted repeatedly that two heavily armed countries, Switzerland and Israel, have low crime rates. They are smaller countries with very different cultures; comparisons between them and the US need to be taken with grains of salt.

  14. His main figures that he’s touting, “firearm related death” includes suicides. The most likely person that you are going to fatally shoot is yourself by at least a factor of ten.

    To compare, the rate of subway-related suicides in Houston is precisely zero. This says nothing of the mental health of our city, but the fact that we have no subways. On the other hand, Japan has had such a rash of subway-suicides that they will actually charge your next of kin to repair the car and track because the suicides were eating too far into their budget..

    The correct measurement is TOTAL CRIME or TOTAL SUICIDES. His conclusion is almost tautological. If there are no guns, then there are no gun crimes. However, it is also trivial because no one cares about gun crimes. They care about total violent crimes. It doesn’t matter if you are held up with a pistol, knife, or nunchuck, you have still been robbed.

  15. I’ll think about it when the top level politicians and lobbyist start to lead by example. The Obama girls are rightly protected by armed guards, why shouldn’t my children be?

  16. Politically Incorrect Truth:

    Guns don’t cause murders, blacks do.

    In Chicago, of the murders solved, 88% of the perps. are black males as are 80% of the victims. Whites commit 2% of the murders and almost 100% of their victims are white. However, the statistics for the perps. are not very good since so few murders in Chicago are solved.


    The AJM study compares the USA with countries which are almost entirely white and, like studies of this kind, ignores Switzerland where gun ownership among adult males is nearly 100%. In Vermont which has no gun laws (and almost no blacks) and almost universal gun ownership, the murder rate is the lowest in the USA while it is highest in The South.

  17. My rights are not subject to statistics or the results of a survey.

    “Gun ownership in the US has been a hotly debated issue for more than 200 years.” No it hasn’t.

    The AJM report is pure BS. John Lott has debunked this many times.

    “Countries with lower gun ownership are safer than those with higher gun ownership, reports The American Journal of Medicine”

    Ahhh, yes, take the case of Switzerland. Highest gun ownership in the world; lowest crime rate in the world.

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