England’s left-of-center Guardian newspaper has charted gun ownership in over 170 countries. They use data from the Small Arms Survey, which looks at private ownership of guns in various nations. The Guardian then compares firearm ownership to homicide rates—though they only look at homicides with firearms, not the total homicide rate.
Their data shows the United States has 88.8 guns for every 100 people, with a firearm homicide rate by firearm of 2.97 per 100,000 people. The unspoken theory is that reduced ownership of firearms results in fewer murders by firearms—whether it results in more murders by other means is not addressed. (Note: all gun ownership numbers are per 100 people, while homicide rates are per 100,000.)
How does gun ownership correlate with murder by firearms internationally? Argentina is at 3.02, with only 10.2 firearms per 100. The Bahamas has gun ownership of only 5.3, but has 15.37 firearm homicides. Bangladesh has gun ownership below 0.5, yet their death rate by firearms is still 1.1. In Barbados, gun ownership is only 7.8, but the homicide rate is 2.99. In Belize there is only 1 firearm for every ten people, yet the firearm homicide rate is 21.82.
Canada has a relatively high fire ownership rate (30.8), yet a low death-by-firearm rate (0.51). Chile has 10.7 weapons per 100 people, yet a firearm homicide rate of 2.16 per 100,000. Colombia has only 5.9 guns per 100 people, yet the firearm homicide rate is 27.09. Costa Rica has a firearm homicide rate of 4.59, well above the US, but a gun ownership rate of 9.9 per 100, well below the US. Croatia and Cyprus have relatively high gun ownership rates (21.7 and 36.4 respectively), but relatively low firearm homicide rates: 0.39 and 0.46.
Ecuador has an ownership rate of just 1.3, but the firearm homicide rate is more than four times higher than the United States;—12.73. In El Salvador the ownership rate is just 5.8, but the firearm homicide rate is 39.9. Finland and France both have relatively high gun ownership rates by international standards, and very low firearm homicide rates: 0.45 and 0.06. Ditto for Germany with 30.3 firearms per 100, but a firearm homicide rate of 0.19.The same is true for Greece with 22.5, but 0.26 firearm homicides.
New Zealand has a firearm ownership rate of 22.6 per 100, but the homicide rate is only 0.16. In contrast, Nicaragua has only 7.7 guns per 100, yet the firearm homicide rate is 5.92. In Norway, 31.3 weapons per 100 people are in private hands, yet the homicide rate by firearms is just 0.05. Panama has a firearm ownership rate well below the US, 21.7%, but a homicide rate well above the US; 16.18. In Serbia, 37.8 people per 100 have a firearm, but the homicide rate is 0.46. South Africa has only 12.7 guns per 100 people but 17.03 is the firearm homicide rate. Sweden and Switzerland have relatively high gun ownership rates—31.6 and 45.7—and have relatively low firearm homicide rates—0.41 and 0.77.
The Guardian’s report is skewed, because it only looks at homicides by firearms, instead of total homicides from all causes. We see that some nations have very low rates of gun ownership, yet high rates of murder by firearm. Other countries have relatively high rates of gun ownership, yet very low rates of firearm related homicides.
So, how do international homicides rates, from all causes, compare with the presence of guns? I took the numbers the Guardian published, regarding the presence of guns in a society and compared them to homicide rates per country. When I combined the two listsm I had data for 169 nations.
The 10 nations with the highest number of privately-owned guns averaged 44.14 firearms per 100 population. Their homicide rate per 100,000 population averaged 2.41. The 10 nations with lowest firearm ownership rates had only 0.44 firearms per 100 population but their homicide rate was 8.96. While the top 10 gun-owning countries have ownership rates 10 times higher than the 10 least armed nations, their homicide rate is 4 times lower. Out of the 169 nations surveyed here, the United States is first in gun ownership, but 86 of these nations have homicides rates higher than the United States.
I then looked at the 25 nations with the highest ownership of guns, versus the 25 with the lowest. The top 25 nations had 33.47 weapons per 100 people with a homicide rate of 1.7 per 100,000 people. The 25 least-armed nations had 0.64 guns per 100 people with a homicide rate of 10.45—more than five times as deadly as the 25 nations with the most guns.
Next, I looked at the 50 nations with the highest number of guns in comparison with the 50 with the lowest. The top 50 averaged 24.79 weapons, with a homicide rate of 5.88. In comparison, the 50 least-armed nations averaged 1.01 firearms per 100 with a homicide rate of 12.17—still more than double their more heavily armed counterparts.
I then looked at nations with 40 or more guns per 100 people. There are 4 such countries (US, Switzerland, Finland, and Yemen). They average 58.64 firearms per 100 people, with an average homicide rate of 2.85.
Next I took all nations in 30-39% range of gun ownership. There are 12 such nations with an average ownership rate of 32.59 per 100, and an average homicide rate of just 1.48 per 100,000. A further 11 nations have gun ownership rates between 20-29%; their average homicide rate is 3.39. There are 34 nations with between 10 and 19 guns per 100 people; averaging 14.2 guns per 100 with a homicide rate of 9.9. 108 nations have gun ownership rates below 10 per 100 people, averaging 3.53 firearms per 100, they also average 12.92 homicides per 100,000.
The trend seems to be that nations with lower homicide rates have a higher proliferation of guns—the reverse of what is often claimed in the media.
We can also come at this by viewing homicide rates first. The 10 nations with the highest homicide rates in the world, averaging 50.67 per 100,000, have 6.84 guns per 100 people. The ten nations with the lowest homicide rates—just 0.5 per 100,000—have gun rates of 20.39 per 100 people. While the “armed” nations have more than triple the number of privately-held firearms, their homicides rates are just 1/100th those found in the 10 least-armed nations.
The 25 most deadly nations—with an average of 39.88 homicides per 100,000—have a gun proliferation rate 4.89 per 100. The 25 least deadly nations —0.77 per 100,000—have guns rates of 17.43 per 100.
While it would be stupid to say that gun ownership is the only factor influencing homicide rates, it would be even more stupid to claim that the numbers show that gun ownership increases homicides. The evidence does NOT support that when we look at international data.
For the data on the US states see our follow-up article here.
For the data on the US states see our follow-up article here.