Guns, Murders, and the Rule of Law: Running the Numbers

When I was eighteen years old, I went down to the government office in Olympia, Washington with my friend Steve (no, not that Steve) and signed as the character witness on his application for a concealed carry permit for his handgun. I was probably stoned at the time; I often was back then. (FYI, I grew up with guns in my house — stored in the gun locker up in the attic, but we took them out and shot targets now and then, cleaned them, took care of them. I went hunting several times as a kid.)

Steve and I are still buds, and he still carries. He even stays at my place sometimes when he’s working up here in Seattle, but he leaves the heat in his car. I guess he doesn’t feel the need to scare off the dangerous girl gangs that are forever threatening to invade my houseboat and have their way with us. (Yeah: wildest dreams.)

You won’t be surprised to hear that Steve and I have been going at it on Facebook since the Newtown horror (cordially, if you can believe that). I point to the numbers — less guns, less murders — and he points to countries like Mexico, which have gun control laws but still have high levels of gun homicide. I point out: those countries don’t have strong rule of law; corruption and criminal intimidation is rampant in the police, the judiciary, and the legislatures.

Those countries’ problem is not that they don’t (try to) control guns. It’s that they can’t control guns.

Curious as always, this led me to wonder: in countries like ours that do have a strong, well-institutionalized rule of law — countries that can control guns if they choose to — do less guns mean less gun killings?

Short answer, Yes:

firearms 3

CL is Chile. MK is Macedonia. FI is Finland. You know what US stands for.

The WJP index looked like a good measure among those I found on the web; you can choose others if you wish. I used .55 as the cutoff because it’s the line above which all European countries are included, and the resulting list seemed to consist of countries that (at least in aggregate) are fairly comparable to ours. Here’s the list:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay.

The firearms and homicide data is from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, but it’s laid out in a conveniently sortable table with a linked Google spreadsheet at this Guardian page.

Steve also pointed me toward a blog that includes, among other things, a time-series analysis of gun violence and gun restrictions in the UK. I’ll simply say: if you live in the U.S. instead of the U.K., you are 43 times as likely to die of a gunshot.

So are your children.

Cross-posted at Asymptosis.