In the wake of Anders Behring Breiviks attacks in Norway there have been numerous posts on various blogs concerning gun laws, mostly right wing Americans saying how wider gun ownership would have prevented Breivik killing more than a few people, because someone would have pulled out a handgun and shot him. There is a notable example from Michael Reagan (Yup son of the president of the same surname) here:
Now the severe naiveté such comments demonstrate, suggests that the gun lobby in America has not understood this particular individual well. It seems certain to me that if he had felt that he was likely to encounter greater firepower in opposition to him, and had lived in a market where guns are more freely available, (such as the US,) that he would have protected himself with body armour (I don’t know if he did or did not in this case anyhow) and would have almost certainly acquired a bigger and more devastating arsenal. This individual wanted to make a point, a very disturbed point, but a point nonetheless. To think that had he been in the US he would not have compensated for his environment, suggests a simplistic view concerning the thinking and behaviour of psychopaths. It also suggests a wilful ignorance of the number of ’massacres’ the US has suffered, historically e.g. Columbine and Virginia Tech the latter of which cost 32 lives. (How many guns would the $300,000 Breivik claims to have spent buy.)
In various places I have also encountered the claim that Gun ownership makes people in the US Safe, and that following the 1996 Dunblaine shooting in Britain, when stricter gun controls were introduced, crime went up. Which is hogwash the numbers changed because more things were being counted as crimes, and it was a specific Jump over a specific time period. I.e leading up to the full introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in April 2002.
It did lead me to wonder what the actual differences in crime rates were between the US and the UK, (Partly because I know the UK statistics to a degree, but also because UK vs US gun laws are like chalk and cheese) so I had a look. Now it is easy to compare some things, murder for instance, it’s quite hard to have discrepancies in figures about how many people died because someone did something really unpleasant to them. (I suppose some of the more obscure poisons, and tricky hospital deaths might slip through but it is generally quite clear cut.) However other offences can be quite different, in what follows for instance I have not included a comparison for rape figures since there are wide discrepancies in reporting numbers. Other areas are problematic in other ways since the same crimes are not always counted in the same way or same place. I.e. Larceny does not appear to include handling stolen goods in the US, it might but the definition is not clear. Aggravated assault in the US system doesn’t seem to have an equivalent in the British system, so I had to add assaults involving guns and other weapons together.
So here comes the caution, the following only suggest equivalency as best as I can manage, ultimately however it is the numbers of deaths from guns which is most alarming, and ironically concrete. The remainder simply supports the idea that it’s the guns which make dangerous people lethal, rather than protect the harmless people. In this context I include all gun related deaths, including suicides and accidents.
US Firearms related Deaths: 100 per million
US Murder rate: 54 per million
US Suicide rate: 17 per million
US Burglaries: 2,199,125
93.6% involving entry
No of US households: 117 181 000
1.87% of households burgled or attempted
1.75% Successfully burgled.
US Vehicle Theft 794,616
2588 per million
Larceny thefts 6,327,230
(Does not appear to include
handling stolen goods)
20,609 per million
US Robbery (ie theft with
Threat of violence) 408,217
1330 per million
US Aggravated Assault 806,843
2628 per million
UK Firearms Related Deaths 1 per million
UK Murder Rate 13 per million
UK Suicide Rate 11 Per Million.
UK Burglaries 745,000
60.6% involving entry
UK No Of Households 24 140 000
3.08% burgled or attempted burgled
1.866% successfully burgled
Vehicle theft UK 94,000
1464 per million
Taking from a vehicle 313,474
Other theft 1,078,818
UK Total equivalent to US Larceny 1,392,292
(Includes Handling stolen goods)
21,753 per million
Robbery (I.e. theft
with threat of violence) 75,105
1173 per million
Assault involving a weapon
(Equivalent to US aggravated
12,978 Knives and other sharp implements.
329 per million.
Which all provide interesting comparisons, Americans are 100 times more likely to be shot than Britons one way or another. About 4 times more likely to be murdered, and half as likely again to commit suicide, (Usually with a gun.) Americans are marginally less likely to be Burgled, but Britons are better at stopping burglars from gaining entry. (More practice perhaps?) Americans are however 7 times more likely to be assaulted with a weapon
The British are almost half as likely to have their cars stolen, compared to Americans, but the two nations have roughly equivalent rates of other theft though Americans seem marginally less likely be victim to this. Though this assumes that the American figures do include handling stolen goods, if they do not include these figures, then the position would probably be reversed. Americans however are slightly more likely to be robbed.
So overall US Gun Laws, and the high US incarceration rates (The US imprisons more of it’s citizens than any other nation on earth, including China.) do not seem to inhibit property crime to any appreciable degree when compared to virtual absence of guns in the UK, and a more evidence based approach to sentencing. In the specific cases of Car theft, Murder and assault with weapons it might be argued US policy enables them, rather than discourages them.
I rather think that in the US Breivik’s psychotic break, might well have been even more deadly, not less so.
The data above was drawn from the sources below.