By David Flemming
After the horrific Uvalde school shootings, many Americans are asking themselves if they are at greater risk of being killed by homicidal maniacs with guns than the rest of the Western world.
If you go by the most commonly cited data in the media today – from Adam Lankford at the U. of Alabama – the answer seems obvious: yes! But Lankford refuses to give anyone his data. Once this answer is convincingly given, an outcry for greater gun control is rarely far behind. Most European countries, including France, Finland and Norway, follow the European Firearms directive, where a hunting or sport license is needed to own a firearm, unlike in the US where most states are more lenient.
First point- our large population tends to make us more sensitive to mass shootings. The US is the third largest country by population in the world, behind only China and India. In fact, our 330 million population has the same number of people as the 140 smallest countries in the world. As Adam Smith noted in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, when countries have a strong national identity like we do, we often empathize more strongly with people who live thousands of miles away, so long as they are Americans. “If it could happen to a Texan child, it could happen to my Vermont child,” despite being thousands of miles away. This stands in contrast to a Spanish parent hearing about a mass shooting in France that happens a few dozen miles away. It is simply less emotionally jarring, because there is a state border where “they do things differently.”
France, Finland and Norway all have much smaller populations than the US: 65 million for France and about 5 million each for Finland and Norway. As it happens, each had fewer mass shootings to batter the nation’s psyche, but on a per capita scale, the results were more sobering. According to researcher John Lott, all three had a much higher frequency of mass shootings per capita than the US from 2009-15. France had 0.347 shootings/1,000,000 people, and Finland had 0.132/1,000,000 people and Norway had 1.888 shootings/1,000,000 people. That’s more than 21 times higher the US rate of 0.078 shootings per 1,000,000 people! (Of course, Norway’s number is high because of a single terrorist attack).
As far as the chances of dying in a mass public shooting, the US stacks up favorably vs. most European countries, as FEE has noted. Our rate of 0.089 deaths/1,000,000 people still falls in the bottom half.
From 2009-15, the US placed in the bottom half of countries in terms of shootings per capita and death rate per capita.
If the US happened to be situated in the middle of gun-controlled Europe, with a population a tenth its size, (as populated as France or Germany) and a proportional drop in the overall number of mass shootings, I’d be willing to bet that European countries would remember the role that gun control had in the Nazi takeover of Germany, and be more willing to embrace a US vision of responsible gun ownership.
Of course, this data is a little old. But for all of the outrage about mass shootings in the US, no one has bothered to use the University of Maryland data to see if the trends have still held since 2015. But just doing some cursory data gathering, the 87 people killed in the Nice, France during the 2016 terrorist attacks led by Muslim extremists suggests France would still be near the top per capita in mass shootings.
Some Americans might not care about constitutional gun rights – which is sad because those rights are one of the most important checks on government tyranny. But perhaps this data can serve to convince those on the fence that things are better than most Americans realize.
The author is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute