Gun-control advocates love making apples-to-oranges comparisons of crime statistics in Europe to our numbers here in the U.S. Pundits often portray European countries as shining success stories while contrasting America as a bumbling failure of political impotence. These faulty comparisons are usually the result of differences in how crime data is gathered and scoped. And then the data is presented even more deceptively with misleading wording that deliberately intermingles terms such as “gun deaths,” “gun crime” and “overall homicide rate” — rendering them basically worthless. In short, comparison to Europe is a tactic the gun-control folks use to shame us while hiding the weaknesses in their statistical evidence.
Reading Into the Numbers
When compared to other industrialized nations, U.S. crime statistics look disappointing, but those comparisons are misleading and futile. America’s population, economy and diversity dwarfs most individual European countries. For example, Puerto Rico alone has a larger population (more than 3 million) than a dozen different European countries.
Norway might have a good showing in comparison to the U.S., but gun policy is one of hundreds of variables that are in play: The Scandinavian country has a population similar to Minnesota’s and an economy comparable to Florida’s or New York’s. It is more appropriate to compare states to individual countries or to compare the entire U.S. to the entire European Union. Further, American attitudes and social norms are vastly diverse and differ from state to state, let alone when compared to other countries. Our approaches to personal conflict, criminal justice and interpersonal violence will also skew crime statistics in ways that make it nearly impossible to directly link gun policy to crime rates.
Europe Isn’t Immune
Mass murder is often characterized in American media as a uniquely American problem. That is blatant disinformation. We know that murderers will still find ways to murder even when guns are strictly regulated. A quick Google search for “rampage murders in Europe” reminds us that in May 2020, a man killed seven people in Ukraine. And in 2019, an attacker killed seven and injured six in Romania. In 2017, a man bombed the Manchester Arena in England, killing 22 and injuring 1,017 individuals. In 2016, a man ran a truck into a crowd in Nice, France, killing 87 and injuring 434. And in 2015, a pilot deliberately crashed his Airbus A320 into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. When guns are outlawed, outlaws use bombs, trucks and even airplanes to murder innocent people.
Any discussion of mass murder in Europe should come with the mention that Europe has seen several genocides perpetrated by governments against unarmed victims — most notably the Holocaust and, more recently, the Srebrenica massacre in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. Anytime an opponent brings up Europe in a debate, he or she is inviting a discussion of how gun control enables rather than suppresses mass murder.
The term “gun crime” should always stand out to you. That tells you that the person or organization using this term is intentionally excluding any other type of crime, as if being bludgeoned to death is somehow preferable to being shot. Everytown for Gun Safety touts, “The U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than that of other high-income countries,” without ever identifying which high-income countries were selected for comparison or how their overall homicide rates compare to America’s. In a debate, you should always stop your counterpart cold when he or she mentions “gun crime” instead of the homicide rate.1
The term “gun deaths” tells you that those using it are intentionally including suicide and accidental deaths to inflate their numbers. While tragic and worthy of discussion, suicides and accidents are separate and distinct issues in public-safety policy. The American suicide rate (as of 2018) is 14.2 per 100,000 people. The most recent statistics available from Europe suggest we rank a little better than France and worse than the United Kingdom, and there is little evidence to suggest that U.S. gun laws substantially impact our numbers.
Gun-control advocates may cite statistics that indicate access to a gun makes the impulse to commit suicide easier to effectively act on, and that may be true. But if it were as strongly correlated as they suggest, our suicide rate would grossly exceed strictly gun-controlled countries such as Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom, which isn’t factual. There are other factors in play.2
We’re Not Europe
Comparison to Europe is a rhetorical tactic that anti-gunners use to blame and shame gun owners and to obfuscate the weaknesses in their statistical arguments. Don’t fall for it. Europe makes some great pastries, cars and even guns — and its policies may suit them well. But Europe is not a good model for American gun laws.
Doyle is a concerned citizen and gun-rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].
1 “The U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries,” Everytown for Gun Safety, Jan. 7, 2021, EverytownResearch.org/graph/the-u-s-gun-homicide-rate-is-25-times-that-of-other-high-income-countries/.