(The link to the data tables is in the right column under MORE INFORMATION)
Governments around the world rightfully arm their police and military forces. Paramilitary organizations and criminal organizations, such as rebels, terrorist groups, and drug cartels, are also armed to the extreme detriment of society. Pinned between those two warring factions lies the ordinary citizen who wants to live in peace. What about them?
The founding fathers of America lived in a time where the king, through his might, controlled their world. Citizens of the kingdom could not worship as they chose without risk of persecution. They were subject to searches and seizures of their property, including their food, without just cause. The king’s soldiers could take over a citizen’s home and eat his food without providing any sort of compensation. Citizens could be arrested, held, even convicted without charge or fair trial. With only the king in mind, the government levied with no benefit to the citizen who paid. The king did not allow the citizens the right to gather and voice their grievances, nor could they publish any challenge to the king’s authority. Granted to man by God, the king took all these liberties away.
The framers of the Constitution of the United States remedied all these injustices with the first ten amendments to the document. Within those ten amendments, America’s founding fathers gave America’s citizens a very grave right, the right to bear arms and then to organize as a militia, a reserve of armed citizens, to ensure our freedoms are secure. The Second Amendment was not included in the Constitution to satisfy the needs of hunters and sportsman. Its sole purpose is to guarantee that the citizens of a free state own the ability to resist tyranny.
Recent tragic events in the United States have again placed our Second Amendment rights at the center of the spotlight. People are honestly questioning whether our right to bear arms has become an anachronism, an unnecessary liberty. Is America’s gun culture at the root of our violent society? Will regulating and confiscating firearms make our country a safer place for our children? Arguments on both side of the debate are heartfelt, emotional, and filled with anecdotal evidence… but what are the facts?
For the purpose of this essay, I gathered twenty-one categories of demographic data for one hundred and seventy-four countries across the globe, and then examined the per capita rate of violent deaths and suicides and per capita private firearm ownership across various like groups. I gleaned this information from reputable databases such as those produced by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Central Intelligence Agency. I treat each country as a though they are a unique clinical trial, a liberty experiment, and attempt to find trends through the use of averages. The results were both startling and sobering.
THE GLOBAL AVERAGES
For the 174 countries I examined, the average rate of violent deaths and suicides is 21.46 deaths per 100,000 in population, the average gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is $14,663, and the number of privately held firearms is 10.14 per 100 in population.
Using the State of the World Liberty Index, I then divided the nations into a ‘good half’ and a ‘bad half’. For instance, the top ten in the better half of our world, in order, are: Estonia, Ireland, Canada, Switzerland, Iceland, the Bahamas, the U.K., the U.S., Cyprus, and New Zealand. The bottom ten, in order, are: North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Myanmar, Laos, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, and Equatorial Guinea.
For the 87 countries that make up the better half of our world, the average rate of violent deaths and suicides per capita drops to 18.14, while their average per capita GDP rises to $21,638 and gun ownership rises to 12.94 per 100 in population. For the 87 countries that make up the lesser half of our world, the average rate of death by violence and suicide rises to 24.88, while their GDP drops to $7,793, and gun ownership drops to 7.30.
For the top ten countries on the Liberty Index, the average rate of death by violence drops to 12.98, the GDP rises to $35,500, and the rate of privately held firearms rises to 28.39. For the bottom ten countries on the Liberty Index, the average rate of death by violence actually drops a bit to 21.14, the GDP drops to $5,110, and the rate of privately owned firearms drops to 4.88.
THE MAGIC OF MONEY
When looking at the raw data, I saw a magic point at which GDP significantly affected the risks of death by violence and suicide. The average risk of death by violence and suicide in the 43 countries that have per capita GDPs above $23,000 is less than half that of the average risk of the 131 countries with GDPs below $23,000. Yet these wealthy nations citizens own firearms at 2.5 times the rate of the poor nations. This leads me to believe that, in general terms, the risk of death by violence and suicide is coupled to available resources, not guns.
THE PRICE OF SAFETY
23 of the 40 safest nations on earth are Muslim. The safest place, as far as risk of death by violence and suicide is concerned, is the United Arab Emirates, yet their citizens own a lot of firearms. The average violent death and suicide rates for the 40 safest countries is an amazingly low 5.62 deaths per 100,000 citizens. Their average rate of citizen owned firearms is double that of the 40 most violent counties. If we extract just the Muslim countries from this list, the death rate drops to 5.00 even though their average GDP is only $18,178! How is this accomplished? Authoritarian rule. Muslim countries generally deny their citizens those rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. In Muslim societies women and children have no rights and they persecute minority religions. Statistically they are ‘safer’, but at a real cost to liberty and freedom.
THE FOUR GREAT POWERS
Our world has four great powers: The United States, China, Russia, and the sum of Islamic countries. Nobody else really has any say about anything. The citizens of China, Russia, and Islam all live under authoritarian rule. Only the United States is considered a nation where its citizens enjoy freedom and liberty. Despite low gun ownership, Russia leads the charge when it comes to death by violence and suicide at a whopping 39.70 deaths per 100,000 in population. Russia’s violent death rate is 2.4 times that of the United States, yet U.S. citizens own 10 times the firearms! The citizens of Islam own twice as many firearms as the Chinese, yet have a lower rate of violent deaths and suicides.
LIBERTY VERSUS TYRANNY
There are 43 countries on Earth where citizens have the freedom to live largely as they choose. Their average per capita GDP is $30,221, their average rate of death by violence and suicide is 17.72 per 100,000, and their average rate of privately held firearms is 16.18 per 100. Of those 43 nations, 38 are predominantly Christian, while none are Muslim. The United States of America has been their champion for the last century. The United States’ GDP is $48,300 and its death rate is 16.74. This implies the U.S., through the use of the liberties guaranteed in its constitution, is doing a bit better than the average free country.
There are 54 authoritarian governments on Earth. Their average GDP is $10,224, their average rate of death by violence and suicide is 22.58, and their rate of gun ownership is 7.57. Of those 54 nations, 26 are Muslim. The aggregate of Islam (all 43 countries) has a GDP of $11,481 and a death rate of 12.76. This implies that Islam, through application of its religious law, is better at controlling the rate of violent deaths and suicides than other forms of authoritarian regimes. Islam also outperforms free states that value liberty and freedom.
FREE NATIONS, GUNS AND VIOLENCE
Of all the statistics, this one most surprised me. There are 43 countries that, by nature of their government and people, are considered ‘free.’ Their average rate of death by violence and suicide is 17.72, their average per capita GDP is $30,221, and their average rate of citizen owned firearms is 16.18 per 100. Those nations whose population owns more than 16 firearms per 100 citizens have a death by violence and suicide rate of 13.97. Those nations who own fewer than 16 firearms per 100 citizens have a death by violence and suicide rate of 19.73. The disarmed citizens die by violence at a rate 41% higher, on average, than the armed citizens. This finding not only decouples the citizens right to bear arms and high violence rates, it implies that citizen owned firearms play a role in reducing death by violence and suicide rates.
ANECDOTES ARE DANGEROUS AND FOOLISH
The United States is often compared to the United Kingdom in the argument to restrict private gun ownership. The citizens of the U.K. do not own guns, and their death by violence and suicide rate is about half of the U.S. When people use this comparison, in their desire to win the argument, they ignore that the U.S. death by violence and suicide rate is lower than Finland, Belgium, Estonia, South Korea, and Japan. The citizens of the U.S. own more guns than those countries, too.
Recently I had a naturopath barge into my pharmacy while I was administering influenza vaccines to patients. She chastised me, as though she were an ‘expert’, because the preservative in the vaccine, thimerosal, contains 25mcg of mercury. She was angry that I administered a flu shot to a woman who was breastfeeding. Her evidence? Her son had some sort of developmental problem. She threw all clinical and pharmacologic data out the window. It did not matter to her that the negligible amount of mercury from the vaccine would be rapidly excreted in the mother’s stool, the post-vaccine breast-milk exposure of mercury to the child would be virtually nil, and all the good clinical data from around the globe demonstrated no statistical link for her claim. She knew it in her heart! I had doomed that breastfed child to some horrible future and she was mad as hell. It does not matter to her that the flu has already killed six people in Washington State, including a twelve-year old boy. Based on this interaction, I must suspect all naturopaths are loons. Actually, here I base my opinion on twenty-five years of dealing with naturopaths, but you get the point. Anecdotes and testimonials are useless if the truth is what you want.
The number of firearms owned by private, law-abiding citizens around the globe does not adversely affect the rate of death by violence and suicide. In fact, data implies that the right to bear arms may actually enhance overall social safety. However, resources, religion, and liberty all play a huge role in a society’s level of violence. Both China and Islam use oppression and conformity to achieve a peaceful society for nearly three billion people. In those societies individuals are not free to look left or to look right. The United States of America leads the free world with the Christian ideals of freedom and liberty for just over one billion people. The free world has a slightly higher risk of death by violence and suicide. I accept that risk, for I cherish my God-given liberties and my right to defend them if need be. The remaining three billion people on Earth are condemned to a life of violence and poverty with no means to defend themselves because they do not have any guns.