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Letters/My View

January 14, 2013

Letter: Statistics on gun deaths paints true picture

To the editor:

The letter headlined “Stricter gun laws don’t ensure safety” (the Times, Wednesday, Jan. 9) made several claims about the number of “violent crimes” prevented by the display of a firearm and the comparative risks of living in countries with restrictive gun laws versus those in which guns are more freely available.

I found those claims so unbelievable I did some research. The truth is complicated by that term “violent crime.” I don’t know how the author of the letter defines those words, but I’m going to narrow the statistics to something that can be researched fairly easily: deaths by firearms.

The letter writer claimed that Austria, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, all countries with restrictive gun laws, have much higher violent crime rates than the United States. That simply isn’t true.

Wikipedia provides a chart, compiled from World Health Organization and United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime statistics, that gives a figure of 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people in the United States. South Africa is also high, at 9.41 firearm deaths per 100,000, but the United Kingdom’s figure is .25.

Even more instructive is the breakdown of firearm deaths into categories of murder and suicide. The American rate of 10.2 per 100,000 includes 3.7 people murdered for every 6.1 people who use guns to kill themselves.

Austria’s 2.94 per 100,000 gun-related death rate includes only .18 murders as opposed to 2.68 suicides. Canada, with a 2.13 death rate is even more unevenly split, with a .05 murder rate and a 1.79 suicide by firearm rate. (That breakdown is not available for South Africa. )

It would appear that in countries like Austria and Canada, which have a death by firearm rate less than one-third that of our country’s, the risk of dying in a mass shooting is even lower than that one-third figure would suggest.

The letter writer correctly noted that sources can be found to support anything one wants to say. I suggest that people who want to make sweeping statements about gun ownership, gun safety, or any other subject name a source that both the newspaper and its readers can check for accuracy.


Washington Street, Gloucester

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