Debunking The Myth Of ‘America’s Unique Gun Problem’
Stars and stripes on gun
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Last week, Vox published an analysis of America’s “gun problem,” writing “The public and research support gun control. Here’s how it could help — and why it doesn’t pass.”

“Why is it that for all the outrage and mourning with every mass shooting, nothing seems to change? To understand that, it’s important to grasp not just the stunning statistics about gun ownership and gun violence in the United States, but also America’s unique relationship with guns — unlike that of any other developed country — and how it plays out in our politics to ensure, seemingly against all odds, that our culture and laws continue to drive the routine gun violence that marks American life,” German Lopez wrote for Vox.

The piece then listed several key components of “America’s gun problem,” which included “America’s gun problem is unique,” “more guns mean more gun deaths,” and “other developed countries have had huge successes with gun control.”

Unfortunately, these claims are based on statistical manipulation at best, and ignorance at worst.

First we must understand the basic data behind gun violence

In the United States, it is true that the vast majority of homicides are committed with firearms. According to the CDC, 75% (14,414) of homicides were committed with a firearm in 2018. The victims of these crimes are disproportionately young, male, and black, with black males making up 53% of all firearm deaths in 2019. Males between the ages of 15 and 34 amount to over 53% of all firearm deaths.

According to Statista, 6,368 murders were committed in 2019 using handguns, amounting to approximately 44% of all firearm deaths. 3,281 deaths were caused by firearms of an unknown type (over 22%). Rifles were used in 364 murders in 2019, which amounts to 2.5% of all firearm deaths. Shotguns were used in 200 murders, amounting to under 2% of firearm deaths.

More murders were committed with blunt objects, fists or feet, or knives than rifles.

“America’s gun problem is unique” and “more guns mean more gun deaths” simply isn’t true

The first section states that the supposed “gun problem” is unique to the United States, claiming that “No other developed country in the world has anywhere near the same rate of gun violence as America.”

Citing 2012 United Nations data, the article shows that the United States has 29.7 homicides by firearm per 1 million people, compared to 7.7 for Switzerland, 6.8 for Belgium, 6.2 for Luxembourg, and so on.

The section continues, adding “To understand why that is, there’s another important statistic: The US has by far the highest number of privately owned guns in the world. Estimated for 2017, the number of civilian-owned firearms in the US was 120.5 guns per 100 residents, meaning there were more firearms than people.”

“Another way of looking at that: Americans make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet they own roughly 45 percent of all the world’s privately held firearms,” Lopez adds.

These gun ownership statistics rank Yemen as the second highest rate of gun ownership, with 52.8 firearms per 100 residents. Montenegro and Serbia both have 39.1, with Canada and Uruguay having 34.7.

Lopez then claims that “gun ownership is concentrated among a minority of the US population,” with “These three basic facts demonstrat[ing] America’s unique gun culture.”

“There is a very strong correlation between gun ownership and gun violence — a relationship that researchers argue is at least partly causal,” Lopez adds.

The first “basic fact” — that the United states leads the world in terms of gun violence — relies on one important and subtle word: “developed.” Data from other sources, such as the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, show that the United States had a lower rate of violent gun deaths per 100,000 people than 10 other countries in 2017. El Salvador (43.11 violent gun deaths per 100,000 people), Venezuela (42.15), Guatemala (29.61), Honduras (24.66), Jamaica (23.57), Colombia (22.40), Brazil (21.68), The Bahamas (20.60), Belize (15.69) and Trinidad and Tobago (15.19) all rank far higher than the United States (4.43 violent gun deaths per 100,000 people). This inconvenient fact is manipulated by filtering out supposedly non-developed countries, and voila! The United States is the worst, as required.

Next, let’s look at the issue of civilian gun ownership. According to World Population Review, the United States does indeed lead the world in terms of civilian gun ownership, with 120.5 firearms per 100 people. Yemen has 52.8 firearms per 100 people, with Montenegro and Serbia both having 39.1 firearms per 100 people.

Lopez attempts to make the rate of gun ownership relevant in the next section, claiming that “No matter how you look at the data, more guns mean more gun deaths.” 

This is simply not true.

Let’s look at a few countries with very high firearm death rates. In 2021, El Salvador had 45.6 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people. Venezuela had 49.22, Guatemala had 34.1, and Honduras had 60. They each had a gun ownership rate per 100,000 people of 12, 18.5, 12.1, and 14.1 respectively.

Now, let’s look at the association between violent firearm-related deaths and the rate of gun ownership — the claim Lopez is making. In El Salvador, there are 3.8 deaths for every gun owned per 100,000 people. In Venezuela, that ratio is 2.66. In Guatemala, that ratio is 2.82. And in Honduras, that ratio is 4.26.

Given the argument that “more guns means more gun deaths,” why does the United States have 0.10 deaths for every gun owned per 100,000 people? That’s over 42 times less than Honduras. Switzerland has 0.11, and Finland has 0.10, both “developed” countries by Lopez’s definition.

While it is obviously true that the number of guns is likely to be somewhat related to the existence of violence, the claim that the number of guns is a direct cause of increased violence is false.

In fact, as gun ownership has increased, the rate of firearm homicides has steadily declined since a brief spike in the early 1990s.

Other developed countries have not had huge successes with gun control

In the fifth section, Lopez claims that developed countries have had “huge successes” with gun control, but contradicts this claim by acknowledging that there is no statistical evidence which supports this conclusion.

Lopez cites Australia as an example, which imposed a mandatory gun “buyback” program after a 1996 mass shooting.

The result: Australia’s firearm homicide rate dropped by about 42 percent in the seven years after the law passed, and its firearm suicide rate fell by 57 percent, according to one review of the evidence by Harvard researchers,” Lopez writes.

However, Lopez then adds “It’s difficult to know for sure how much of the drop in homicides and suicides was caused specifically by the gun buyback program and other legal changes. Australia’s gun deaths, for one, were already declining before the law passed,” but that some researchers “argue that the gun buyback program very likely played a role.”

The rate of gun violence in Australia — the only country Lopez discusses — was already so low that any changes — whether due to the policy or not — are not statistically significant, making it mathematically absurd that Lopez concluded that Australia’s gun control policies were examples of “huge success.”

Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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