How U.S. gun control compares to the rest of the world

How U.S. gun control compares to the rest of the world

The U.S.’s lax gun control laws may negatively affect other countries



How U.S. gun control compares to the rest of the world

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article first published on June 24, 2015.

The shooting in Virginia that wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, as well as the shooting in a San Francisco UPS facility that left four dead on the very same day, have generated — yet again — the standard set of responses in the wake of a mass shooting in the United States.

The details of any such tragedy often emerge slowly, but a few points can be made. While deaths from mass shootings are a relatively small part of the overall homicidal violence in America, they are particularly wrenching. The problem is worse in the U.S. than in most other industrialized nations. And it is getting worse.

The political overlay of the Virginia shooting also carries a particular social harm. Any thought that guns can play a helpful role in reducing tyranny in a democratic country like the United States should quickly be dispelled. Hopefully, that message will penetrate everyone from the NRA leadership and Sen. Rand Paul to anyone on the opposite end of the political spectrum who doesn’t like the current developments of Republican rule.

I’ve been researching gun violence — and what can be done to prevent it — in the U.S. for 25 years. The fact is that if the NRA claim that guns helped reduce crime were true, the U.S. would have the lowest homicide rate among industrialized nations instead of the highest one — and by a wide margin.

The U.S. is by far the world leader in the number of guns in civilian hands. The stricter gun laws of other “advanced countries” have restrained homicidal violence, suicides and gun accidents — even when, in some cases, laws were introduced over massive protests from their armed citizens.

The state of gun control in the US

Eighteen states in the U.S. and a number of cities including Chicago, New York and San Francisco have tried to reduce the unlawful use of guns as well as gun accidents by adopting laws to keep guns safely stored when they are not in use. Safe storage is a common form of gun regulation in nations with stricter gun regulations.

The NRA has been battling such laws for years. But that effort was dealt a blow in June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court – over a strident dissent by Justices Thomas and Scalia — refused to consider the San Francisco law that required guns not in use be stored safely. This was a positive step because hundreds of thousands of guns are stolen every year, and good public policy must try to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children.

The dissenters were alarmed by the thought that a gun stored in a safe would not be immediately available for use, but they seemed unaware of how unusual it is that a gun is helpful when someone is under attack.

Statistics show only the tiniest fraction of victims of violent crime are able to use a gun in their defense. Over the period from 2007 to 2011, roughly six million nonfatal violent crimes occurred each year. Yet data from the National Crime Victimization Survey show that 99.2 percent of victims in these incidents did not protect themselves with a gun — this in a country with roughly 300 million guns in civilian hands.