The recent shootings of students Connecticut and firefighters have brought to the surface a number of well trod arguments. Among those are comparisons to the number of murders in the United States with firearms versus the number of murders in the United Kingdom with firearms. The comparison is staggering, both by numbers and by percentages. Over 10,000 died to firearms in the United States homicides last year, as compared to around 50 in the U.K.
Debaters are very quick to point out the stringent gun laws in the U.K. and suggest that we, in the U.S. consider similar measures. But the question is, would they be effective. The numbers certainly make it seem so.
The U.K. has a much smaller population and has never had the murder rate of the United States. The raw numbers shouldn't be anywhere near comparable as such. To better show the picture, we need to look at trends over times.
Using data from the United Nation's website, I found per capita murder rates (number of people killed in homicides per 100,000 (see the included graphic.)
Again, the raw numbers are staggering in comparison. However, one should look at how much the numbers changed. The UK gun ban was put in place in 1997. The homicide rate did not significantly drop until 2008,. In the United States, our numbers have dropped as well. The overall difference between 2001 and 2009 for the U.S. and the U.K. is an almost identical drop, .5 to .6 people murdered per 100,000.
Even if one wishes to tout the difference in our respective rates, one cannot then automatically attribute it to gun policy. How each country deals with crime has changed. Economic factors, improvements to health care (and thus emergency trauma response) or any of a number of factors could account for the difference.
The only thing that can be said to have dropped, for certain, is the amount of gun crime. Apparently, however, homicide does not require a gun.
This statistical comparison is not a rebuke of any attempt to reform gun control policy in the United States. It is not a call to inaction. It is but one thing: A note that a gun ban, even a strict one, is not an automatic boon in terms of saved lives.
The United States murder rate is at a 50 year low. I realize this matters little to those who have suffered tragedy, but to those who would write legislation or who would try to convince their congressmen to do the same, I hope that it is. And to those who would use Britain as an example, you may wish to look harder at the numbers before you suggest that they are the model of civility you hope to emulate.