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More guns: Merrier or scarier?

Published on -3/14/2014, 10:00 AM

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Last time, I lamented the flood of wild claims and the drought of ethical journalism. Today, a specific.

Recently, a liberally fire-armed tea party-ish conservative sent me a photocopied page from "Chips and Ricochets" -- the January newsletter of the Kansas State Rifle Association, a National Rifle Association affiliate.

An anonymously authored, viral email titled "World Murder Statistics: Interesting Info" had been received by KSRA and dutifully reprinted. Murders per 100,000 citizens of 110 countries were cited, using World Health Organization data. Murder rates ranged from 91.6 per 100,000 for Honduras to a meager 4.2 for the U.S.

Those figures do correspond reasonably with a UN spreadsheet. (tinyurl.com/cx6uduj) The obvious goal was to "prove" more guns make us safer. Sorry, but journalistic ethics went missing.

First, with three exceptions (the U.S., South Africa and Estonia), none of the countries listed are among those considered "developed." In fact, 28 are among the "least developed." A handful are not independent countries. (tinyurl.com/karcq3q)

The email also claims "all the countries" listed other than the U.S. have "100 percent gun bans." In fact, all or nearly all have firearms regulations -- some quite restrictive -- but the broad claim is false according to data compiled at the University of Sidney. That is, most do allow private citizens to own guns. (www.gunpolicy.org/)

(Hooray for the Australian university's ethics: "In a sea of websites offering unverified, polarized opinions on gun violence, GunPolicy.org provides evidence-based, country-by-country intelligence from a broad range of official and academic sources. This university site is for researchers, officials, journalists and advocates who need accurate citations and rapid access to credible sources.")

The email said Switzerland "requires" all citizens to own guns and "has no murder occurrence." Wrong. First, all Swiss males ages 18 to 30 must enroll in military training, are issued military weapons, and often keep them at home. Other citizens might buy guns but are not required to. Second, there are murders by firearm and otherwise in Switzerland.

Despite the goal of the email (and KSRA and the NRA) in promoting more gun ownership, there are various ways of killing people. The murders noted in the email are not all by firearms.

Last year, two researchers in New York compiled a list of 27 developed countries -- including the U.S. -- citing private citizen gun ownership per 100, and total firearm deaths per 100,000. The results are consistent: The more firearms in the hands of citizens, the more firearm-related deaths. (tinyurl.com/knbyg5c and tinyurl.com/mby7d5y)

The U.S. leads all developed countries with 88.8 guns per 100 people. And, the U.S. also led in firearm deaths 10.2 per 100,000 -- including suicides and accidents. Intentional homicides (murders) in the U.S. by various means are 4.8 per 100,000.

Switzerland is second in per capita ownership with 45.7 guns per 100 -- nearly half the U.S. ratio. The Swiss rank third highest among the 27 countries in total firearm-related deaths of 3.84 per 100,000. (Not so hot.)

The Swiss do have a low rate of intentional homicides (murders) -- 0.7 per 100,000 population. However, don't tie that accomplishment simply to elevated Swiss gun ownership. Japan's citizens own fewer than one gun per 100 people, and the country averages 0.06 firearm-related deaths annually per 100,000 citizens. Eleven times fewer than the Swiss.

Just one other developed country has a higher firearm death rate than the U.S. or Switzerland: South Africa. With gun ownership of 12.7 per 100, South Africa has 9.41 firearm deaths for each 100,000 citizens -- and (as the email correctly has it) 31.8 intentional homicides. However, most South African homicides are not by firearms.

Estonia, a newly developed country also included in the email listing, has an intentional homicide rate of 5.2 per 100,000, barely more than the U.S.

Necessary disclosure. I own two old 20-gauge shotguns and two ancient .22s. Do I think the gummit is coming to git'em? No. Do I think concentration camps are being built, or already built, to herd us into? Nah. I'm not all sweaty to get an assault rifle, store up a crate of hand-grenades or seek out a surface-to-air missile launcher -- just in case the black guy Hussein Obama overthrows the Constitution and implements Sharia Law or erects a statue of Joseph Stalin on the White House lawn.

Yes, I know feverish paranoia can spice up a boring life. It's an epidemic hereabouts. But if you have the virus, be careful what you swallow, wash your brain often and -- until you're cured -- cover your mouth when you cough.

Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.

theceltic@ruraltel.net

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