In the wake of the latest mass shooting at an American school in Uvalde, TXwhere 19 students and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old armed with an assault rifle, a comparison considering how the United States compares to other countries on child deaths caused by firearms fire is convincing.
As an independent, non-profit American organization, the Children’s Defense Fund pointed out, gun violence is now the leading cause of child death in the United States. It reports that there are nine fatal shootings of children per day, or one murder every 2 hours and 36 minutes. A minority of these killings involve school or mass shootings, the majority are individual child murders and are linked to routine crime and gang violence and result in mass deaths of African American children and minorities.
The United States is an extreme exception among high-income countries. According to an analysis recently published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
An audit by the Democratic-leaning political and research organization, the Center for American Progress of the 50 U.S. states found a close correlation between states with the strictest gun laws and states with the lowest gun-related crime rates. Meanwhile, international research has compared national gun laws, rates of gun ownership, and rates of gun violence. The the results are striking as the graph below suggests:
Interestingly, European societies that approximate US rates of gun ownership, in terms of gun owners per 100 people (but with shotguns and shotguns rather than handguns), like Finland and Norway, are among the safest companies in the world regarding gun violence.
Scholars speak of “civilized” and “decivilizing” gun cultures, cultures where gun ownership is associated with traditional values of respect and responsibility, and others where the availability of guns to fire greatly strengthens criminal and unstable minds, adding to violence and chaos. High levels of social cohesion, low crime rates, and internationally high levels of trust in police and social institutions appear to reduce levels of firearm homicides.
The flip side of this finding, however, is that high gun ownership in countries like Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland have significantly higher rates of suicide using guns. The United Kingdom and Japan, which have some of the strictest gun laws in the world, still have the lowest rates of firearm homicides, mainly due to their virtual handgun ban, the criminal weapon of choice. By contrast, the death toll in recent mass shootings in the United States has been significantly increased by perpetrators using assault rifles, with their larger magazines and rapid-fire capabilities.
Society as a factor
Due to the new international focus of gun control research (there was a time when the only academic gun research was in the United States, and much of it was funded, directly and indirectly, through the influential US lobby group National Rifle Association) broader issues have come under the spotlight.
Researchers began to focus less on the firearm as an independent variable and instead began to address the contexts and different cultures of firearm use. They also began to recognize, as criminologists have always known, that the introduction of new laws rarely changes anything in itself – offenders break the laws.
Gun researchers are now increasingly focusing on broader “gun control regimes” that have an important role to play in increasing or decreasing levels of gun violence. These regimes include police and criminal justice systems, political accountability systems, social safety nets, comprehensive education provision and cultures of trust.
And as the diagram above suggests, although the United States is considered the most outstanding gun culture among wealthy democratic nations, in terms of death rates, it is eclipsed by many other more poor and more conflictual, such as South Africa, Jamaica and Honduras.
Attempts in the United States to deal with shootings, but without restricting gun ownership in recent years, include intensify surveillance – especially in schools where students, parents and teachers form a network that watches over colleagues and students.
They look for signs of trouble and are able to sound the alarm. More ambitious, the project on violence sought to compile profiles of evidence, learning from what we already know about rampage killers and trying to predict where their behavior, social media engagements and statements might raise alarm bells.
However, it is now indisputable that more guns in a given country translate directly into more gun violence.
It is significant that the immediate reaction to the Ulvade school massacre tended to focus on narrow issues of school security and an apparent delay in police actionrather than the many underlying factors that make the United States a relatively dangerous place for children.
Pierre Squires is Professor of Criminology and Public Policy at the University of Brighton.
This article first appeared on The conversation.