The NY Times are thinking so hard about gun control safety that have lost their math skills and common sense. But we can help!
In Other Countries, Laws Are Strict and Work
Like other shootings before it, the Newtown, Conn., tragedy has reawakened America to its national fixation with firearms. No country in the world has more guns per capita, with some 300 million civilian firearms now in circulation, or nearly one for every adult.
"Nearly one"? Per the US Census Bureau there are about 310 million people in America, roughly 60 million of whom are below the age of fifteen. That leaves 250 million "adults" including some fifteen-seventeen year olds. I think instead of "nearly", they meant "more than". Odd that they passed on a chance to scare us.
Pressing on, we come to the real scary stuff:
Experts from the Harvard School of Public Health, using data from 26 developed countries, have shown that wherever there are more firearms, there are more homicides. In the case of the United States, exponentially more: the American murder rate is roughly 15 times that of other wealthy countries, which have much tougher laws controlling private ownership of guns.
15 times? It's the Wild West! It is also multiplicative, not exponential, and seems ludicrously high. The Times links to a Harvard site, which seems to be keying off of this paper (Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew. Firearm availability and homicide rates across 26 high income countries. Journal of Trauma. 2000; 49:985-88.) using data from the early 90's.
I can't find a free version of that paper [but a reader can - see UPDATE] so I can't speak to the author's conclusions, but here is a chart from Kieran Healey comparing "assault deaths" in the US and the OECD countries. My eyeballometric estimate is that the US level is currently around 6; one-fifteenth of that would be 0.4, and few if any OECD countries appear to be below that. [In an updated chart focusing on regional US variation Mr. Healey cites an OECD average of 1.1.]
And the United Nations provides data on homicide rates in different countries. I picked eighteen well-off, "Western" countries (including Japan) and used 2009 to keep Japan in the mix. The US rate was 4.4 intentional homicides per 100,000. One-fifteenth of that would be 0.3; Japan's rate, the lowest of the group, was 0.4.
The group average was, hmm, around 1. Done properly, I suppose someone could attempt a population-weighted average, but for my purposes, there is no way that the Times ratio of 15 holds up.
...In 1996, the last year for which data are available, the United States murder rate was 7.4 per 100,000 people. The next closest country was Finland, at 3.2 per 100,000 people, with France at 1.1, Japan at 0.6 and Britain at 0.5.
Well, if Japan and Britain were used as the average, the US would have been about fifteen times the average of other countries. Interesting that the US has been getting better while France and the UK have been backsliding.
As to the editorial at hand, I say the Times editors are wrong and won't be able to back up their "fifteen times" claim. I also predict they won't even try.
I'LL DRINK TO THAT: Eugene Volokh notes the likely ineffectiveness of a new assault weapons ban without even mentioning that the gun used in Newtown was purchased in compliance with Connecticut's assault weapons ban, which mirrored the (lapsed) Federal bill. After explaining that all sorts of guns are deadly the professor closes with a New Year's Eve metaphor:
If I’m right on this, then banning assault weapons would have as little effect on mass shootings as banning whiskey would have on drunk driving. Even if we concluded that drunk drivers were disproportionately drunk on whiskey, banning whiskey would just mean that the drunk drivers will shift to vodka, gin, tequila, or other alcoholic beverages that are just as dangerous as whiskey. The same is true for the so-called “assault weapons.”
UPDATE: Here is the relevant chart from the paper described by the Times. The homicide rates are from the early 90's but the "15 times" ratio is not supported.
Ths US rate is roughly 10; one-fifteenth of that is about 0.7. Only three of the other countries are below that level, and the rest are well above, so with no further ado I deem the Times claim to merit Four Pinocchios. Or fifteen times that - Twelve Pinocchios!