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Guns Make Us Safer

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Guns and gun owners are a hot topic. A maniac massacred 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, and now, according to the wise and virtuous, something must be done about crime, particularly violent crime, in the United States. The number one target is gun owners, and the number one solution is more gun control.

There is no doubt that the United States has a lot of crime. The numbers don’t lie. But how many people know that England — the country with which the United States is tirelessly compared — has an overall crime rate, including its violent crime rate, higher than the United States? The European Union actually considers the United Kingdom the most violent country in Europe.

How can this be?

After a mass killing in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996 the British government passed legislation virtually abolishing private firearm ownership. The number of legal gun owners at the time was estimated at about 1 in 60 Britons. Following the 1997 legislation, no one but the occasional farmer who has jumped through every bureaucratic hoop under the sun owns any type of gun at all.

The result is plain to see: In every category, crime has increased in that country. Homicides, sexual assaults, muggings, robbery, burglary — you name it. Crime has become worse since guns were banned. Even the number of firearms-related crimes spiked. Ask Piers Morgan how this could possibly happen, and he’ll most assuredly tell you that his country’s gun laws have nothing to do with it. Yet apparently gun laws have everything to do with crime and violence in the United States.

How convenient.

A tactic typically employed by anti-gun commentators is to constantly remind people that homicides remain higher — far higher — in the United States than in Britain. This is true. The homicide rate in the United States is approximately 5 per 100,000 residents, compared with approximately 1.5 per 100,000 residents in the United Kingdom. The reason, chant President Obama’s supporters and the media’s talking heads, is that we have guns.

A more honest and thorough look at these two countries’ homicide rates suggests a different conclusion. If we break down those figures we find that of approximately 16,000 homicides committed in this country every year, about two-thirds are committed with firearms. That leaves around 5,000 murders involving weapons other than firearms, or sometimes no weapons at all.

More people are beaten to death with baseball bats, hammers, and even their attackers’ bare hands in the United States each year than are killed in total in England. Would any reasonable person conclude that the cause is the overabundance of baseball bats, hammers, and bare hands in the United States?

In the United Kingdom, there are approximately 1,200 homicides per year. Of these, less than a hundred — the actual number is somewhere between 30 and 80 — are committed with firearms. That leaves around 1,100 homicides committed with some other weapon or no weapon at all.

“Aha!” shouts the gun-control crowd, “There are hardly any gun-related homicides in England. Gun control works!” That hardly matters to the much, much larger number of people in that country murdered by other means.

Still, the question persists: Do more guns mean more crime, and specifically, more homicides?

Switzerland has the best-armed citizenry in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of its citizens are required by law to keep assault rifles in their homes, as part of the country’s militia. Millions more private citizens, amounting to about 30 percent of the population, own an assortment of other firearms.

And Switzerland has the lowest crime rate — including homicides — in Europe. Admittedly, it has more shootings, but you are far, far safer in pro-gun Switzerland than you are in anti-gun Britain. If the gun-control “logic” is sound, this simply should not be the case.

Back in the United States, the parts of the country where legal gun ownership is prevalent are typically the areas with the least crime and violence. New Hampshire has the same gun-ownership rate as Switzerland, and a comparable crime rate; there were 17 murders in the state in 2011 and just 169 violent crimes per 100,000 people — compared with about 800 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the United Kingdom. In Vermont, any U.S. citizen can carry a firearm, but crime is virtually unheard of. Wyoming has the highest gun-ownership rate in the country — 60 percent — and a homicide rate of just 3 per 100,000.

In Fairfax County, Virginia — in a state where approximately 35 percent of homes have at least one firearm and residents can legally carry a concealed firearm — the homicide rate is less than 1 per 100,000. Meanwhile, across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., where draconian gun laws make it difficult to legally own a gun and impossible to legally carry one — the violent crime rate is a startling 1,300 per 100,000 people, and the homicide rate is a terrifying 17 per 100,000!

Comparisons between different countries provide few if any conclusions about what public policies ought to be pursued, but we do know that nowhere have laws restricting people’s access to firearms led to a more peaceful society. If anything, these laws make things worse for everyone.

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    Scott McPherson is policy adviser at The Future of Freedom Foundation. An advocate of the Free State Project, he lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.