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In case you were wondering…

With recent events in Oregon once again giving us a reason to contemplate American Exceptionalism, I’ve found myself involved in some discussions where the question “Why can other developed nations control the public health threat posed by gun violence when the USA cannot?”

Two answers I’ve recently heard proposed to this question were as follows. A) The United States is too racially/ethnically/culturally diverse to be able to control gun-related violence; and B) Other developed nations, by controlling gun access and availability, have merely shunted the inevitable violence and murder to other means.

As a response to the first assertion (putting aside the implications of horrific intolerance, which I don’t accept as an inevitable consequence of living in a racially, ethnically, or culturally heterogeneous society), I’ve plotted gun-related homicides vs ethnic fractionalization and cultural diversity indices (two different metrics of diversity), for nations with a “very high” Human Development Index. It turns out that while the USA is more diverse than average by either measure, it is certainly not the most diverse of the highly developed nations – but as one might expect, this nation is a very high outlier in terms of gun-related murders. Incidentally, although the available data are a very poor fit (r2 <0.1), there is some indication of a positive correlation between diversity and gun violence - but if we did take that weak relationship as valid, the USA still comes out with far more gun deaths than we'd expect based on diversity. SO THAT CONJECTURE IS RIGHT OUT. Gun Homicide vs Diversity

The second claim is interesting to me because it dovetails so neatly with a couple of related firearm industry propaganda factoids: 1), that the presence of guns can actually reduce deaths from violent crime; and 2) that guns are irrelevant to murder because “killers gonna kill”. Plotting deaths from violent crime of any kind (not just gun related) against gun ownership rates for the very high HDI nations, we find once again that the United States is indeed quite exceptional, and that the above two conjectures are not supported by publicly available data.

Gun Ownership vs Violent Crime

Of course this is all pretty much off teh cuff, so if anyone has better data or a better analysis I’d love to see it.

Data sources:
http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/
http://www.unodc.org/
http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-2014
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1024419522867