Gun violence strikes almost every society. But not all societies are equally at risk. For example, in 2008, the United States saw more than 12,000 firearm-related homicides. Japan saw just 11. What explains such differences? Do more guns necessarily mean more violence?
These questions took on new urgency with the slaughter of 12 Americans in Aurora, Colorado. In the span of minutes, a gunman shot and killed 12 people, wounding 58 others. He used three of the most popular firearms on the U.S. market. He had purchased all of them legally.
The gunman's access to lethal weaponry has revived the gun control debate across the United States, which has the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. It's easier to buy a gun in the U.S. than in any other industrialized state. Special interest groups like the National Rifle Association want to keep it that way. So do many Americans, who cite the Constitutional right to bear arms. They view gun control as a threat to a core liberty that defines the American way of life.
Advocates of gun control see things differently. Rather than view guns as integral to American freedom, they believe they're an obstacle to it. More guns, they say, leads to more violence and crime.
Unfortunately, while both sides of the argument presume the moral high ground, few rely on facts. That's not surprising, since the research is mixed. While evidence suggests that more guns do coincide with more violence, it's not clear that strict gun laws necessarily diminish gun crime. Moreover, anecdotal evidence can be used to support both sides.
As the U.S. grapples with the Aurora massacre, where do you stand on the gun control debate?
For more information see
Ezra Klein, "Six facts about guns, violence, and gun control," The Washington Post, July 23, 2012
Max Fisher "A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths," The Atlantic, July 23, 2012
Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:
Richard Roberson [also for picture 7]
Pete Souza/White House