ACCORDING TO GUN prohibitionists, Europe is much safer than the United States, because Europe has stricter gun control. In fact, the historical record shows that excessive gun control (as in Europe) is about a hundred times more deadly than “insufficient” gun control (as, supposedly, in the U.S.). While a lone criminal with a gun can be very dangerous, a criminal government with a disarmed population is the deadliest thing on Earth.
Let’s start with the data. If U.S. gun homicide rates had been as low as European rates in the 20th century, how many lives might have been saved? According to a 2018 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in 1990—a bad year for violent crime in the United States—the age-adjusted U.S. firearms homicide rate was 5.57 per 100,000 population. That same year, the rate in Western Europe was 0.53 and the rate in Eastern Europe was 1.31, giving us a European average of 0.92.
The difference between the European rate and the American rate is 4.65 per 100,000. Since the U.S. population in 1990 was nearly 249 million, these data indicate that the U.S. had 11,785 more firearms homicides that year than it would have had if the rate had been as low as it was in Europe. If we apply the estimate of 4.65 additional gun homicides per 100,000 population to every year of the 20th century, taking into account changes in the U.S. population, we find that the United States had 745,162 more firearms homicides than it would have had under the European average.
For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that every excess American gun homicide would not have been a homicide if the United States had adopted European-style gun control. That is, we’ll assume that other lethal means would not have been substituted for firearms. We also won’t consider that many American gun homicides are justifiable self-defense. In other words, when a would-be killer is shot by a law enforcement officer or a citizen, we’ll consider the criminal’s death to be just as bad as the death of an innocent victim.
Finally, we’ll ignore the extensive evidence that nonfatal defensive firearm use often prevents homicides and other crimes.
With the above assumptions, the failure to adopt European-style gun control would be responsible for almost threequarters of a million excess deaths in the United States in the last century. That is a very large number. It is, however, two orders of magnitude smaller than the number of Europeans killed by governments during the same period.
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