Do readily available guns make a society more safe as citizens are better able to protect themselves and deter wrongdoers, or, do more guns make a society more violent and dangerous?
Well, there’s a world of information to look at to get answers. Literally. For many years now, some countries, such as England, Singapore, and New Zealand, have made it all but impossible for their citizens to lawfully own and possess let alone use a loaded firearm. Other countries, like the United States, Israel, and Bulgaria have made it only moderately cumbersome for a citizen to lawfully obtain the right to own and possess a loaded firearm. Do the strict gun control countries enjoy lower rates of crime or higher?
As I set out to investigate the relationship between the freedom to carry firearms and violent crime, I could not find a source that gauged a nation’s freedom to possess firearms and correlated it to crime in that country. I did, however, locate FreeExistence.org’s excellent analysis and index by country of “Gun Freedom.” I also found several sources that provided statistics on serious crime, by nation, but nothing correlating the two. Until now. I put the two together. Kinda like the chocolate mixed with peanut butter, but on a sortable spreadsheet and without calories.
I reviewed and correlated over 40 countries, primarily though not exclusively developed OECD states. Some of the results stunned me.
Importantly given the current debate in DC, though the United States is rated as having the highest Gun Freedom Index (“GFI”) among countries at 6.8 out of a scale of 10, the United States is not the most violent amongst developed countries. Not even close. In fact, the United States did not even make the top twelve “worst” crime countries – by number of instances or by weighted – the Dirty Dozen.
The big stunner? That would be who tops the ranking of the Dirty Dozen serious crime list: BELGIUM. Really. Home of the Enlightened Eurocrat and a nanny-state-appropriate 3.0 GFI. Worse crime than South Africa. Spain finished second, also ahead of South Africa. In fact the Dirty Dozen hosts several additional big name, nanny-state, gun control elite: Sweden, England, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and France rank higher than the United States for serious crime, both by the number of instances and also when violent crime is heavily weighted (murder, rape and robbery).
Eight of the twelve worst countries for serious crime feature highly restrictive gun control laws (GFI≤3.0). See below. Four of the twelve “best” countries with the lowest serious crime rates have comparatively loose controls (GFI>4.0) (If my suspicions are correct and India substantially under-reports serious crime, then Bulgaria makes the top-twelve list of safest countries with the second highest GFI=6.5).
The facts worldwide appear to support the contention that in countries where lawful citizens have surrendered their guns and right to bear arms, crime is typically higher, not lower.
Method: The Gun Freedom Index comes from the folks at FreeExistence.org whose methodology for ranking appears straightforward and well thought out (check out their Freedom Meta Index also). The crime statistics come predominantly from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (“UNODC”), though for some developing countries, particularly South Africa, e.g. UNI and ASR, I used other sources as the UNODC reports lacked data for many developing countries. After a moderate search effort, I could not find further statistics on Brazil. For the OECD countries, I relied upon a UK Civitas Institute report that conveniently listed the UNODC crime rates for those countries (which reduced the number of countries I had to look up in each of the UNODC reports). The “Total” column is simply the summed rates for all five crime categories. For the weighted total score, upon which the rankings are based, I multiplied the murder rate by twenty, the rape rate by ten, robbery by five, and no increase for assault or burglary, and then summed those for the total. Finally, a few disclaimers – I’m not claiming gun control causes crime, but it appears there’s evidence that instances of rape, robbery, assault, and burglary are higher in countries where lawful citizens are less likely to own a firearm and/or have one readily accessible. There are clearly numerous factors, such as culture and poverty, associated with crime and violence. Also, I’m not a statistician so I haven’t tried any regression analyses or other number plumbing.
This analysis did not include most of the countries in the world. Of the approximately 200 countries on this globe, I looked at less than fifty. I focused on the most economically developed countries (the OECD states), a few well-known additional countries like Russia, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil and India, and a few with wide-ranging GFIs, e.g. Bulgaria with its 6.5 GFI and Liberia with its low 1.5 GFI. For what its worth, to the extent I reviewed them, many of the “other” countries in the developing world had very high murder rates compared to the above nations, to the extent there was data. It appeared most countries reported murders, which were consistently high across the developing nations, but few reported statistics for other crimes (which explains the gaps in data above for Argentina and Nicaragua and the absence of data beyond murders for Brazil, Honduras, and Liberia).
From interviews and anecdotal news coverage, it appears crime reported from India to the UN is understated. Government travel advisories and many reports of brutal rape and of the necessity of hiring private security coming from India to view these rock-bottom crime numbers as highly reliable.
East Asia is safe.
Similarly, Brazil either does not disclose its crime numbers or makes no effort to aggregate its numbers. Travel advisories and news reports indicate significant levels of robbery and burglary in Brazil, consistent with the high murder rate reported.
Nicaragua and Argentina made the list of the Dirty Dozen even without my being able to locate any data on their burglary rates and scoring them a “zero” in that category.
Russia’s high murder rate was a surprise – more than double the rate of the US.
Kenya was also odd – one of the worst reported murder rates in the world, but minimal crime in all other categories, such that it made the top “safe” countries notwithstanding the tremendous murder rate. Again, it could be that Kenya is not as diligent in reporting or recording other categories of crime. Numerous developing nations reported information on their murder rates only to UNODC.