Thursday, July 2, 2009

Guns, Crime and Canada

Fascinating article in Macleans on international crime rates with respect to Canada, and also the United States. Excerpt:

What factors determine murder rates aren’t always clear or consistent, says criminologist Gary Mauser, a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University and a member of the federal firearms advisory committee. Most countries take their crime control strategies to varying degrees from all points on the political spectrum. Imprisonment, rehabilitation, prevention, policing and education all play a role. “It’s a mixture of carrot and stick if you wish and the balance and mix is the devil in the machine,” says Mauser. “How do you get that right? That’s hard.” Then there are the intangibles, things like age, economics, and the social mix. “I think demographics and social changes are the most powerful factors here, but we don’t understand what they are or how to measure them, so that’s not a very helpful explanation,” says Mauser.

Among the factors determining murder rates, levels of gun ownership is among the most overstated and least reliable, in Mauser’s view. “There is no empirical support for the claim that gun ownership is related to violence rates,” he says. Certainly Canada is not the gun-free zone you might think. It has the 13th highest civilian gun ownership in the world, according to the Small Arms Survey by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. Canadians have more firepower—31 guns for every 100 civilians—than South Africa (13 per 100) Jamaica (8 per 100) or Columbia (six per 100), where murder rates surpass Canada by as much as 20-times or more. Americans are among the best-armed civilians on earth with some 89 firearms per 100 people. Their availability makes them the weapon of choice in 68 per cent of American homicides, and yet even in the U.S. murder rates have been falling. The pro-gun lobby in the U.S. credits this decline with the sharp increase in states allowing defensive concealed weapons permits, although there are no studies to back that claim. In Canada, guns and knives each account for one-third of homicides. Others victims die of beatings, strangulation, suffocation, even rampaging vehicles. “If you really want to kill someone there are lots of alternatives at hand,” says Mauser.

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