Compare the rate of murder by gun in the United States to the rate in any other advanced industrial nation, and you're forced to draw one of two conclusions: Either there are far more homicidal people in this country than just about anyplace else on Earth, or far more guns.
We must either be home to more people who succumb to murderous rage or who kill out of the coldest of calculations, or it's easier to pick up a gun and start shooting here than in any comparable country.
And yet, I've never heard even the staunchest gun advocate make the case that Americans are inherently more homicidal than everyone else. They repeat ad nauseum that people, not guns, kill people; but they don't argue that there's something about Americans that make them kill more than their counterparts in other nations.
Meanwhile, look at the numbers. In the United States, there are 3.2 gun homicides per 100,000 residents every year. Switzerland has the next highest rate of any advanced Western democracy, at 0.7 per 100,000. After Switzerland, the rate drops to 0.5 in Ireland and Canada; 0.4 in Sweden and Finland; 0.2 in New Zealand, Spain and Germany; 0.1 in France, Britain and Australia; and a flat 0 in Japan.
Want to argue that we have 32 times the rate of dangerous mental illness that they have in Australia? That Americans are 16 times more murderous than Spaniards or Germans? I thought not.
But in America, people who snap are a hell of a lot more likely to have a gun close by. The rate of gun ownership in the United States is 89 per every 100 people. No other advanced society has a rate even close to that. In Austria, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden, the rate clusters between 30 and 32 guns per 100 people. In Britain, the rate is six guns for every 100 Brits.
None of this is to argue against the need for better mental health treatment and counseling. But unless an incomprehensibly higher share of Americans are dangerously deranged than are Frenchmen, Aussies or Swedes, the way to bring down the number of deaths by gunshot is to reduce the number of guns.
© 2012 Washington Post