The Impact of Gun Control on the Homicide and Sucide Rates Worldwide

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Introduction

In 1787 as the founding fathers of the United States wrote the U.S. Constitution, they made sure to include the “right to bear arms” as the Second Amendment. Since then, the people of the United States have associated guns with liberty (Sernau 2012: 127). As the years have passed gun control has become a hot political topic because firearms have become more and more advanced with the ability to fire “more rounds, more quickly, with more penetrating power” (Sernau 2012: 125).

The presence of a gun in the house is twenty-two times more likely to be used against a family member, rather than an intruder, whether it is an accident, an act of domestic violence, or in the event of suicide. In 2004 alone, guns were used to murder 9,484 Americans, compared to the country with the second most amount of Canada with 200. Gun related homicides claimed the lives of 194 Germans, 60 Spainards, 39 British citizens, 35 Austrailians, and 17 people from Finland in that same year. While America consistently headlines the news because of gun violence, many other countries struggle with mass shootings and gun related homicides; and although violence will always be prevalent, stricter gun control laws are associated with lower homicide and suicide rates, and fewer gun related accidents.

America

In an article titled, “Effect of Gun Culture and Firearm Laws on Gun Violence and Mass Shootings in the United States: a Multilevel Quantitative Analysis” by Frederic Lemieux, a mass shooting is defined as “when four or more people are killed by one or more murder(s) in a particular location with no cooling-off period between the murders. Mass killings are different from spree killings and serial murders because spree killings involve multiple locations and serial murders usually involve a cooling off period with only about one victim at a time. In the introduction of his article, Lemieux notes that in the United States, at least 78 public mass shootings occurred between the years 1983 and 2012, killing more than 540 people and injuring around 480.

Lemieux also included that the frequency of these shootings became closer in those last 5 years and since his article has been written, public mass shootings have made the news numerous more times. Lemieux acknowledges the two starkly different sides of the gun control debate in America- those that believe it is a constitutional right and the Second Amendment should be protected versus those that believe there should be greater restrictions to gun access, like background checks, and limits to the types of firearms available, like military weapons and assault rifles. On page 76 of his article, Lemieux writes,

Moreover, politicians are facing a strong firearms lobby through gun enthusiast associations that fund and endorse political candidates. For example, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which boasts millions of members, uses a scorecard system to rate politicians’ positions on gun control. To illustrate the power of this system, in 1996, the members of congress who opposed gun control sponsored a bill that succeeded in limiting federal government research on the health implications of firearms by restricting the funding for National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This quote supports Sernau’s idea that “a long U.S. history of associating guns with liberty, coupled with a powerful gun lobby, makes this [a more reasoned approach to weapons regulation] unlikely (2012: 127).

Later on in his article, Lemieux discusses the Federal Assault Weapons Ban from 1994 to 2004. This was a bill passed by U.S. Congress that restricted military grade weapons and the capacity of gun magazines. Lemieux states, “During the 10-year-long ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines, total mass shootings, total victims and total injuries and fatalities were substantially lower than during the 10- year periods that preceded and succeeded the gun ban.” The article also brings up the point that the argument of harsher punishments for those that commit firearm related crimes would perhaps be ineffective.

A “vast majority” of mass shooters are “ready to die” with 17 percent fighting police to the death and 52 percent committing suicide. Lemieux also found that 56 percent of shooters clearly had a known mental illness and some of those also grew up in homes with domestic violence or an intense divorce/custody battle. Another point Lemieux makes is that it is more effective to target laws towards the limitation of ammunition rather than certain types of weapons. This is because the lower the ammunition, the less the capacity to fire is and the more the shooter has to reload the weapon, giving more time for victims to run in between, and resulting in fewer victims. (Lemieux 2014: 74-91)

Mexico

Mexico is the only country in the world, other than the United States to guarantee the “right to bear arms” (Lemieux 2014: 76). Other countries consider the ability to own a gun a privilege that must be granted with permission from the state and with a valid driver’s license (Lemieux2014: 76). In 1994 in the United States, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed that limited public access to military weapons and reduced the ammunition capacity of gun magazines. This ban, however, expired in 2004. In an article titled, “Exporting the Second Amendment: U.S. Assault Weapons and the Homicide Rate in Mexico,” Luke Chicoine states that in the first four years after the U.S. Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired, the homicide rate in Mexico increased by 45 percent (2011: 1). In the same amount of time, over 60,000 firearms that were recovered in Mexico were traced back to the United States and were estimated to be responsible for 16.4 percent of the increase in homicides over those four years (Chicoine 2011:1).

Luke Chicoine took an interesting approach in his study, where he researched the relationship between types of firearms available and homicide rate, rather than firearm prevalence and homicide rate. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban specifically made AR-15s, AK-47s, MAC-10s and TEC-9s illegal. In the four years before the bill was signed and the ban was put into place, Mexico’s homicide rate increased by about 23%. In the 10 years that the ban was in effect, homicide rates declined, but as mentioned earlier, the homicide rates increased by 45% in four years once the ban expired. Chicoine says this is due to three reasons, the first being that the expiration of the ban increased U.S. production of the previously illegal weapons. The second reason is that these firearms were then trafficked into and sold in Mexico. Finally, Chicoine states that the availability of the weapons is what increased violence in Mexico. (Chicoine 2011: 1-3)

Brazil

Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig published “Evaluating Gun Policy: Effects on Crime and Violence” and asserted that many civilians that do possess a firearm do so for safety and protection reasons (2003: 2). Sernau, however, gives an example of how this could be an issue. In Brazil, women were known to carry handguns in their purses while shopping to protect against thieves. This was effective in reducing supermarket theft, but crossfire could be deadly and purse snatchers that were successful ended up with money and the gun.

In 2007 an article called “Reductions in Firearm-Related Mortality and Hospitalizations in Brazil After Gun Control” was published claiming to prove that gun control reduces violence. The World Health Organization asserted that approximately 45,000 Brazilians are murdered every year which evens out to about one every twelve minutes. Homicide is the leading cause of death for certain people groups with firearms being responsible for 90% of the murders. In 2003 Brazil implemented many new measures in attempt to reduce firearm related deaths and injuries. These measures included controlling “the flow of firearms into the country, made it illegal to own guns that are not registered or to carry guns outside of one’s home or business, instituted background checks for gun purchases, and raised the minimum age for gun purchase to twenty-five.” The government also imposed new fines and punishments for anyone found in violation of the laws and began a nationwide disarmament. Following this legislation, the firearm related mortality rate declined for the first time in more than a decade, by 8 percent. Firearm related hospitalizations also decreased for the first time by 4.6 percent after the new gun control laws were put into place (de Fátima Marinho de Souza et al. 2007: 575).

Canada

In 1978 the Criminal Law Amendment Act went into effect in Canada. This law required that citizens obtain a certificate in order to purchase a firearm, made it illegal to sell firearms to anyone under 16 or convicted of a violent offense in the last five years, and restricted the use of semi-automatic rifles. This law also required a permit to sell firearms and increased the penalty of firearm related offenses. Dr. David Lester, the author of the article “Gun Availability and the Use of Guns for Suicide and Homicide in Canada,” studied firearm related homicides and suicides for about seven years leading up to the passage of The Criminal Law Amendment Act and for about 18 years after as well. Lester found that after stricter gun control laws were passed, both the firearm related suicide and homicide rates decreased. However, there was no decrease in the overall suicide and homicide rates. Frederic Lemieux backs up Dr. Lester’s findings and states, “On the other hand, both international and national multivariate analyses show that gun control legislation reduces overall fatalities related to firearms. This correlation is true for Canada.” (Lester 2000:186).

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Nigeria

In his textbook, Global Problems The Search for Equity, Peace, and Sustainability, Sernau discusses Lagos, Nigeria, Africa’s largest city, and how it is ridden with crime (2012:128). There is a group called Sword of the Lord Guards, in Lagos, that carries around machetes and rides around town with machetes. The Guards look to stop crime and will charge at those who are heavily armed, counting on God to protect them from bullets. In another article, titled “Proliferation of Illegal Arms and Ethno-Religious Violence in Nigeria,” Mike Okira includes an excerpt from Fleshman, “In July 2001, the US government estimated that small arms are fuelling conflicts in 22 African countries that have taken 7 to 8 million lives.

In Africa guns are not just the weapons of choice but weapons of mass destruction.” In this article Okira talks about the various war-torn countries surrounding Nigeria and how Nigeria provides a place for refugees from these countries to stay. However, the refugees that seek asylum in Nigeria often bring in firearms. Sometimes the refugees sell the firearms for money, but regardless the firearms enter the country illegally. Okira notes that there are over 1000 other smuggling routes for firearms into Nigeria. Sernau claims that the kind of urban violence that Nigeria is ridden with, is probably due to poverty and inequality, and especially poverty amongst the rich. Adding firearms into the mix of Nigeria’s urban violence certainly makes the violence more deadly, especially when the Sword of the Lord Guards in Nigeria “often hack suspects to death.” (Sernau 2012:128) (Okira: 77).

Great Britain

On March 13, 1996 Thomas Hamilton, who was 43 years old, walked into a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland. With him, he carried four legally owned handguns and 743 rounds of ammunition. Hamilton then killed 16 students and their teacher before committing suicide and the event went down in history as “the Dunblane massacre.” In his book, Policymaking and Peace: A Multinational Anthology, Stuart Nagel describes the aftermath of the Dunblane massacre, “Although gun ownership had never been a prominent element in British culture, Dunblane confirmed a general sense that the UK had drifted far from the public ideal of a nonviolent society where the police did not need to be armed. The cry for action had never been so intense.” About 10 years earlier, Great Britain saw another massacre in the Thames Valley near London. A man named Michael Ryan killed 14 people and injured 14 more, with an AK-47 and three pistols, before committing suicide. Nagel mentions that the availability of higher powered weapons leads to more deaths because the weapons are able to kill more people, quicker. He writes,

“Where assailants were previously limited to slower, manually operated guns, all too often they now use automatic rifles and pistols. The effects of this increase in firepower are all too obvious, in country after country, incidents that previously would have led to injury now end in murder, and where they might have ended in murder they now can lead to outright massacres.”

Nagel then compares Britain’s firearm statistics to the United States. In one decade, Britain averaged about 60 murders with a firearm annually compared to America’s average of 20,000 murders with a firearm. Also, Great Britain averaged about 3500 crimes involving a handgun in one year whereas America averaged about 20,000. The book fails to acknowledge the difference in populations between Great Britain and America, but still the results are drastic.

After the massacre in the Thames Valley and the Dunblane massacre, Great Britain changed their gun laws. Now, If someone in the United Kingdom wanted access to a gun, they must possess a Shotgun Certificate or a Firearm certificate. Also, machine guns, pepper spray, semi-automatic, and pump action rifles are banned. Any firearm with a barrel less than 30 centimeters is also prohibited.

The average police officer in the United Kingdom does not even carry a gun, just a baton. Recently in England, a police officer named TIm Andrews responded to what he thought was a drunk driving accident. Upon arrival however he found a man bleeding on the ground, and witness shouting that the attackers have “gone down there.” When Andrews and his colleagues followed the shouts they found a man with knives in both hands and two other men with knives, carrying out what he described as a terrorist attack. Because Andrews and his fellow officers with him only carried batons, he pressed his emergency button to call for armed back up. When the attackers began to pursue Andrews, he and the other officers ran, but when armed backup arrived, they found him stabbing yet another man repeatedly. Andrews shouted for the armed officer to shoot the attacker, which the officer did after offering a warning. (Hickey 2013: 1) (Dearden 2019: 1).

Although this terrorist attack was not executed with guns, it is interesting to see how a government with strict gun control laws handles a violent attack. The idea of a typical officer not carrying a gun but having armed backup officers if needed is interesting, however this news article begs the question if all police should carry guns. Maybe Andrews would have been able to stop one of the attacks sooner as well as prevent another attack if he had been armed.

Australia

In 1996, in Port Arthur, Australia, a man used a firearm to kill 35 people and hurt 37 others (Lemieux 2014: 77). This event became known as the Port Arthur massacre and led to strict gun control laws throughout Australia. Rebecca Peters and Charles Watson wrote an article called, “A Breakthrough in Gun Control in Australia After the Port Arthur Massacre,” in which they discuss how Australia’s gun laws swiftly changed after the massacre in 1996. Prime Minister John Howard quickly looked for his fellow conservatives to support his plans for change and ease the minds of the Australian people. A few weeks after the massacre, Howard put into action a 10 point plan with some of the major changes being, “The sale and ownership of every gun must be registered in a national database.

Anyone who wants to own a gun must prove they have a genuine reason; ‘self defense’ is not a genuine reason. Uniform and strict gun storage requirements will be instituted.” Other major reform that Howard instituted required that anyone wishing to purchase a gun take a safety training course and go through a 28 day waiting period. Putting into action a total ban on semiautomatic weapons, Howards last point was, “Owners of prohibited weapons will have 12 months to surrender them for fair compensation, funded out in the increase of the medicare levy,” following this with, “After the amnesty, penalties for illegal ownership will be severe.” (Peters et al. 1996: 253-254).

Later on in his article, Lemieux discusses several studies and the statistics they found regarding firearms before and after the gun reform in Australia. Following stricter gun laws, the rate of firearm related homicides dropped by 7.5 percent and firearm related suicides of men dropped by 59 percent in just the first eight years after the laws went into effect. The overall firearm suicide rate for men also dropped by about 24 percent which “suggests no substitution effect.” Lemieux also detailed research done surrounding the gun buyback programs in Australia after the massacre. The gun buybacks were found to reduce firearm related suicides by about 80 percent with the homicide rates falling in a similar fashion. A study also found that in the 18 years leading up to gun reform in Australia there were 13 mass shootings, but afterwards there were none for 10.5 years. (Lemieux 2014: 77)

Gun rights versus gun control is a very controversial topic in most of the world, but especially in the United States of America. This paper details seven nations and their gun control laws. Other countries have been quick to reform firearm laws after tragic events like mass shootings, but the United States maintains the Second Amendment is an integral part of the rights of the American people. Mexico also has embedded in their constitution the right to bear arms, and Nigeria has no strict laws concerning firearms.

Multiple pieces of peer-reviewed literature contend that statistics like suicide rates and homicide rates involving firearms have decreased after reforming gun laws. This is true for countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Violence, including gun violence, is a global issue and will always be prevalent, however, stricter gun control laws help reduce the rates of firearm related suicides and firearm related homicides. Bans on semiautomatic weapons have proved numerous times, in multiple nations, to be helpful in lowering the casualty rate as well as lowering the capacity of ammunition. Gun reform has shown to be helpful in many nations and should be considered by other nations to decrease statistics of firearm related deaths.

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