July 1998 Editorial
by Guest Editor John Bradbury

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 (firearm) 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 (firearm) 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 in 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.