July 1998 Editorial

                            by Guest Editor John Bradbury

                                print-copy- distribute

United Nations Survey Smashes Anti-Gun Argument

We have often heard it said that the more guns there are in the
community then the more homicide, suicide and accidents will occur.
This over-worked assertion has lost considerable credibility of late.
Despite the rhetoric, a recent United Nations survey raises some big
questions about the validity of such claims.

The survey of firearms regulation involved a review of fifty countries.
The accompanying tables arise from the evaluation of figures contained
in the United Nations Secretary General's report entitled 'Measures to
Regulate Firearms' E/CN, 15/1997/4. While the analysis is ours, the
base data are theirs. The tables give readers an opportunity to judge
for themselves the fatal flaws contained in one of the anti-gun lobby's
chief arguments against private firearms ownership.

Many signs have appeared over the years to indicate that gun density
has no causative link to overall rates of homicide and or suicide.
Perhaps the strongest of these that readily comes to mind was contained
in a presentation made several years ago to a conference on homicide
conducted in Melbourne by the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Noteworthy was the fact that while the density of firearms ownership in
Western Australia was markedly lower than that of Queensland and New
South Wales,1 the homicide rate given for WA was similar to that shown
for the aforementioned states. The UN's survey figures confirm what Dr
Neal's presentation told us years ago - factors other than guns are
obviously at work.

The methodology we chose to analyse the UN data was to list, in
descending order, the highest ranked five nations in each of the
categories of overall suicide, overall homicide and firearm homicide,
and to then link these respectively to the firearm density ranking of
each of the five nations listed in the individual categories. The aim
is to highlight the relationships, if any, that homicide and suicide
supposedly have to firearm ownership density. The results are shown in
the tables.

Suicide(overall)       Suicide(firmarm)       Firearm density
1. Estonia             1. USA                 14th.  Estonia
2. Hungary             2. Finland             18th.  Hungary
3. Finland             3. Estonia             1st.   Finland
4. Belarus             4. Canada              18th   Belarus
5. Japan               5. New Zealand         27th.  Japan

Homicide(overall)      Homicide(firmarm)      Firearm density
1. South Africa        1. South Africa        7th.  South Africa
2. Jamaica             2. Brazil              21st. Jamaica
3. Brazil              3. Jamaica             Brazil(13th in ownership)
4. Estonia             4. USA                 14th. Estonia
5. Moldova             5. Zambia              24th. Moldova

New Zealand rated 2nd, Canada 4th and Australia 5th in firearm density.
No firearm density figures were given for the USA. However, the USA
ranks 11th in overall suicide, while Zambia ranks 7th and the USA 9th
in overall homicide.

It is suggested to look first at the country ranking in one of the
columns, then look at that country's corresponding ranking in the
firearm density column. The gun density ranking of Australia is shown
for comparison. It is worth noting that Australia does not qualify for
a mention in any of the first five nation rankings for either homicide
or suicide (of the nations surveyed Australia ranks 18th for homicide
and 11th for suicide overall).

The tables raise some difficult questions for the anti-gun lobby. Why
does Estonia have the highest suicide rate overall, while ranking a
mere fourteenth on the firearm density scale? Why does Hungary rank
second highest for suicide when its firearm density is down at
eighteenth and even lower than Estonia? Why does Finland with the
highest rate of gun density rank only third in suicide? If the anti-gun
lobby's claims were correct Finland should be top of the suicide list.
It is not.

All the other high suicide nations rank well down on the gun density
scale. Most telling perhaps is Japan, ranked 27th in gun density, but
nevertheless rated fifth in suicide. Obviously low gun ownership
figures do not significantly reduce the incidence of suicide. Why does
South Africa have the highest homicide rate of all the countries
surveyed when it only rates seventh down the scale of gun ownership?
Similarly, why is Jamaica ranked second highest for homicide when it
ranks at a low 21st for firearm density? The UN survey does not give
the firearm density for Brazil, but the density of firearm owners
places it well down the list in thirteenth spot. Nevertheless, it ranks
third highest for homicides. Conversely, Finland's homicide rate puts
it in sixteenth place despite occupying first position in overall
firearm density.

The reality is that the UN data pose a major difficulty for the
anti-gun lobby and its supporters by significantly undermining one of
the movement's principal arguments against private firearms ownership.
When viewed against the facts, the supposed nexus between the rate of
gun ownership and the overall incidence of both homicide and suicide
appears very dubious indeed. The two obvious stumbling blocks for the
anti-gun lobby's claims centre on Japan with the fifth highest
incidence of suicide, but a rating of 27th in overall firearm density
and Finland, rated first for density, but boasting a low homicide
ranking at sixteenth place.

It is self-evident that a range of factors completely unrelated to
firearms ownership are at work where the issues of murder and
self-destruction are concerned - something conscientious firearm owners
have known and understood for a long time. The United Nations survey
results simply reinforce what has been patently obvious to all except
the anti-gun lobby and its supporters - penalising law-abiding firearm
owners with baseless restrictions will do nothing to address the
overall incidence of either homicide or suicide.

1 Harding, R (1981). Firearms and Violence in Australian Life.
Nedlands: University of Western Australia.

Return to rants