Not what I wanted to do this morning, but when I saw a fellow sociologist Tweet about a New York Times story on “How to Buy a Gun in 15 Countries,” I couldn’t help myself. According to the Times, “Many Americans can buy a gun in less than an hour. In some countries, the process takes months. Here are the basic steps for how most people buy a gun in 15 of them.”
My colleague asked, “Notice a pattern?”
I didn’t have time to go through and parse the data a bunch of different ways, but as I scanned through the list of countries I didn’t immediately see a relationship between the number of steps it took to buy a gun and two important negative outcomes in society: homicide and suicide.
Is there a patterned relationship between the number of steps someone has to go through to buy a gun in these 15 countries and the countries’ overall rates of homicide and suicide?
Homicide rates are weakly related to the number of steps it takes to buy a gun in these 15 countries. The polynomial trendline increases through the middle of the range then decreases at the high end (Japan), but the correlation is weak (0.071).
The relationship between suicide rates and the number of steps it takes to buy a gun is slightly stronger (0.085), but still weak and not in the direction suicide prevention advocates would like. The polynomial trendline increases fairly consistently through the range then jumps up somewhat at the end (again, Japan).
Looking at the combined rate of homicide and suicide, we see a still stronger though still weak correlation (0.123) with steps to buy a gun, with the polynomial trendline starting at the United States (2 steps and 14.58 combined rate) and arcing its way upward and leveling off toward Japan (13 steps and 18.71 combined rate). In between you can find two countries with 8 steps but dramatically different death rates by homicide and suicide (Austria’s 12.61 rate and Brazil’s 32.34 rate). Ditto for 7 steps: Germany 9.95 combined rate vs. Russia’s 45.91 combined rate.
The closest countries to the United States are Austria (8 steps, 12.61 combined rate) and Yemen (2 steps, 16.67 combined rate).
If others parse the New York Times “How to Buy a Gun” data other ways, please let me know and I’m happy to post additional results.
*NOTE: I almost always use OVERALL rates of homicide and suicide rather than rates of FIREARMS homicide and suicide because I am concerned about everyone who dies these ways not just those whose mechanism of death is firearms. This also takes into account the reality of substitution — if people can’t use guns they may just use some other mechanism to kill others or themselves. And it highlights the possibility that the same socio-cultural dynamics which permit the government to restrict access to firearms may also entail other pathologies which many do not find an acceptable trade-off (thinking of South Korea, for example, here – #148 gun ownership rate internationally, 0.74 homicide rate, and #2 global suicide rate).
If you’re interested, the underlying data and sources I’ve used are available as a Google Sheet.