No, Guns Really Are the Issue

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In the wake of the Connecticut shooting last Friday, some numbers were being floated on Facebook (FB) : 10,000 gun deaths each year in the U.S. compared to 57 in Switzerland, 158 in Germany, 41, in England, 35 in France...

I initially just chalked this up to exaggeration, sparked by an understandable outrage.

But as others began voicing all sorts of opinions about how to prevent such tragedies from happening again, old arguments against new laws emerged and I decided maybe it was worth it to look into those numbers.

In his article for TheStreet Tuesday, economist Peter Morici notes some of the arguments against gun control, and observes that we can't police the problem away. We need instead to encourage a greater civility.

On Facebook, in the newspapers, on the radio, others were arguing that the real issue here is mental illness, not guns. Gun rights supporters love this argument: No amount of law can stop a crazy person hell-bent on destruction.

True enough. But that rationale also overlooks the obvious: A law doesn't have to be 100% effective to be a good law. We stop at traffic lights because we have arrived at a common agreement to do so. Observing the right of way allows us all to pass safely through most intersections.

People will ignore the law, even harming those who would obey. But the risk of death is generally reduced; the benefits of the law remain real.

Statistics

It turns out the Facebook numbers were largely correct: We are burdened by a disproportionate level of guns and gun violence compared to most other nations of the world.

The FBI compiles statistics on violent crime -- these are voluntary reports from around the country, and as such, probably understate the case. I also looked at the Center for Disease Control's statistics and the U.N. Office of Disease and Crime -- gun violence figures for both of those are higher than those at the FBI.

The Guardian's DataBlog is one site that collects these statistics. The Guardian's page is short on details, but the U.S. numbers correspond to data found from the official sources.

Despite those variations, overall trends and rankings with other nations are clear and consistent from all sources.

For each of our roughly 310 million people there is very nearly one gun in private hands. The most commonly cited figure is nine guns to every 10 people. That makes us No. 1 in the world for the proliferation of guns among the citizenry, beating Yemen by a wide margin and double that of Switzerland where every young man serves in the army and keeps his weapon at home.

For most of Europe that ratio is less than 1:10.