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10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate


8
Is the U.S. Gun Homicide Rate Really That High?
Forensic personnel examine the corpse of a police officer murdered presumably by gangsters to steal his handgun, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on December 5, 2012. At least 102 policemen have been murdered during the last two years in Honduras. ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Forensic personnel examine the corpse of a police officer murdered presumably by gangsters to steal his handgun, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on December 5, 2012. At least 102 policemen have been murdered during the last two years in Honduras. ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the U.S. had 11,101 homicides committed with firearms, which amounted to about 70 percent of all homicides, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a rate of about 3.6 gun killings per 100,000 people [source: Hoyert and Xu].

Whether that rate seems high to you depends upon your perspective. The U.S. isn't the country with the most gun murders, by any stretch -- that would be the tiny Central American nation of Honduras, which has 68.4 gun killings per 100,000 people, which is 19 times the U.S. rate. And there are a bunch of other countries with higher rates than the U.S., such as Mexico, Colombia, the Philippines and South Africa [source: UNODC]. But those places tend to be developing countries where law and order is weak, or else places with political unrest. Compared to other industrialized democracies, the U.S. gun homicide rate is through the roof. It's more than four times the rate in Italy, six times that of Canada and about 30 times the gun homicide rate in Great Britain or France [source: Newcomb].

So here's another question: Would the crime rate in the U.S. be lower if there were fewer guns available? Again it depends on which study you consult. Burglary and assault rates are higher in Britain than in the U.S., but homicide rates are much lower [source: Civitas Crime]. The UN Global Study on Homicide (by any weapon) put the British homicide rate at 1.2 per 100,000 while the U.S. rate was 4.6 per 100,000 [source: UNODC]. "While the specific relationship between firearm availability and homicide is complex, it appears that a vicious circle connects firearm availability and higher homicide levels," the study explains.


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