DEAR AMERICA: Here's Why Everyone Thinks You Have A Problem With Guns

child toy gun

America is truly an exceptional nation. 

It’s not because of our education system, our economy or our scientific establishment. 

No, America is really only exceptional when it comes to the number of guns, the frequency of gun murders, and the shockingly high number of annual gun deaths.

Other countries don’t have the problems that the United States do. Other industrialized countries don’t have tens of thousands of gun deaths per year, or regular mass shootings, or a population as armed as it is violent. 

Other countries don’t have America’s gun problem. 

Here, we take a look at the data that shows why America is so unlike the rest of the world when it comes to the popularity and the abuse of guns. We’ll look at the role that policy makers play in the gun control debate, and we’ll look at what can be done. 

It isn’t pretty, but it’s important. Hundreds of thousands of American lives hang in the balance. 

When Americans kill one another, they usually use a gun. In fact, Americans use guns to murder each other twice as often as they use any other murder weapons.

In 2015, it is projected that for the first time in decades more people will die by guns than by motor vehicles.

At the current rate, 339,000 Americans will die by guns over the next 10 years. That is roughly equivalent to the current population of Tampa, Florida.

As the national rate of gun ownership declines... do both the violent crime and murder rate. Violence peaked when gun ownership peaked, in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Notice how the drop in gun ownership is driven largely by the drop in pistol and shotgun ownership.

But after years on the decline, gun ownership is once again on the rise.

Gun ownership in the U.S. is becoming increasingly consolidated to a minority of households. Household ownership is decreasing even faster than personal ownership.

The South has the most gun owners by far, followed by the Midwest and West. The Northeast has the fewest guns per capita.

The South also has the highest rate of assault deaths by far, followed by the Midwest and West. The Northeast has the lowest rate of assault deaths.

The states with the loosest regulation of firearms — congregated in the south and southwest — also have the highest number of annual deaths by gun.

When Americans try to maim or kill, they prefer guns. It makes sense that states with the most guns have abnormally high assault rates.

While this may already look bad, the U.S. looks even worse when compared to the rest of the world.

America has far more assault deaths per capita than other industrialized nations.

It doesn't help that the U.S. has more guns per capita than any other nation.

U.S. civilians control a vast plurality of the world's supply of civilian firearms. There are a shocking 270 million guns in civilian hands in the United States.

Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. is an extreme outlier. This chart shows that the more guns a country has, the more gun deaths a country has. The U.S. takes this relationship to the extreme.

This chart of industrialized nations shows that the U.S. and Mexico — a nation currently engulfed in a widespread, anarchic drug cartel war — stand alone when it comes to gun ownership and gun homicide.

Here's a look by the Small Arms Survey at the relationship between a country's homicide rate and that country's gun homicide rate. You'll notice that for the most part, the non-firearm homicide rate remains roughly even regardless of the total homicide rate. The main driver of the high homicide rate in certain nations is due to gun homicides.

The U.S. has pretty unique gun laws. U.S. federal law says almost anyone can buy a gun, provided they are of age, the gun is not an assault rifle or machine gun, and they are not a felon, fugitive, or non-citizen.

In the U.K., handguns are illegal and a person needs to get a certificate — and prove they have a good reason — to own a rifle or shotgun. Anyone convicted of a crime cannot touch a gun for 5 years. There are 0.07 gun homicides per every 100,000 people.

In Canada, a person must wait 60 days to buy a gun. A person applying for a mandatory licence must take a training course, notify next-of-kin, have several references and pass a rigorous background check. There are 0.5 gun homicides per every 100,000 people.

In Japan, touching a gun without a licence can result in 10 years in prison. To obtain a rifle or shotgun, a citizen must undergo an exhaustive application process involving several exams, health tests, police authorization, background checks, and the installation of a safe. There are 122 million people in Japan. In 2008, there were 11 gun homicides. In 2006 there were 2.

Australia is an interesting case. Following the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, which left 35 people dead, the Conservative-led government banned all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and mandated licensing involving background checks and waiting periods. The government also instituted a gun buyback program, where 650,000 weapons were voluntarily handed in for $360 million.

The result? A major drop in gun deaths, suicides, and homicides. Australia had 30 gun homicides in 2010, 0.13 gun deaths for each 100,000 people.

In contrast, the U.S. has a gun homicide rate of 3 per 100,000 — six times as large as Canada, 23 times as large as Australia, 43 times as large as the U.K., and more than 300 times as large as Japan.

How did it get to this point?

When it comes down to it, the gun debate is a one-sided argument in Washington. There isn't even a token opposition to the juggernaut gun lobby.

The gun lobby — led by the NRA — has spent $15 on elections for every $1 spent by the gun control lobby.

The NRA claims more than 3 million members. Although that's roughly 1 per cent of the country, the active membership claims a lot of electoral influence.

The NRA also gets a significant amount of money from the gun industry in the form of donations, contributions and fundraising assistance.

The NRA also used its influence to gut the ability of the CDC from doing any sort of research on the impact of firearms on human injury and death, deliberately making it harder to conduct scientific research.

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre has claimed that gun-free school zones make children sitting targets, thus teachers should be armed.

But children are already pretty safe in schools as is. A very small number of the 30,000 annual gun deaths take place in schools.

In fact, children are safest within gun-free school zones.

So are we really sure its guns that are causing America's violence epidemic? Could it be violent video games?

First of all, it's pretty clear that there's no correlation between video game sales and the youth crime rate, despite what many will say.

Here's a chart showing what a hypothetical correlation between video game consumption and gun murders should look like.

By the Washington Post's Max Fisher.

But here's what that correlation actually looks like. There isn't a link between gun murders and video games.

Could it be violence in the media?

A landmark 1986 paper by Steven Messner — which originally set out to prove violent media was linked to real-world violence — found that exposure to television was actually consistently was linked to reduced real-world violence across the board.

Revisiting this chart, it's abundantly clear. Countries with high murder rates have them because of a high gun murder rate. It's the guns.

So what can we do to fix this gun violence epidemic?

Many people advocated for the reinstatement of the assault weapon ban, as assault weapons are frequently used in many of the worst mass shootings.

Generally, when Americans kill they usually use a handgun.

But a survey of mass shooting incidents found that more than twice as many people shot and significantly more people killed when an assault weapon was used. However, the proposed assault weapon ban was dropped from the reform package after it became clear it wouldn't pass the Senate.

Other proposals included a ban on high capacity magazines, like the one used at the mass shooting that left former Rep. Gabby Giffords wounded. This too was dropped from the reform package.

You'd think it would be reasonable to ensure that everyone buying a gun is subject to the same rules, but the motion to require background checks on gun show purchases failed in the Senate, 6 votes shy of hitting the mandatory 60 votes.

So what's going to happen?

Probably nothing. If the most rudimentary possible reforms are shut down immediately because there are not 60 votes for gun control, then there's really no hope for federal reforms.

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