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Criminal Justice, Development

Reassessing the association between gun availability and homicide rates at the cross-national level

What is the relationship between firearm availability and murder rates? It’s a complex question, and answering it involves weighing a number of variables.

According to a 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the total number of homicides globally in 2010 was 468,000. Forty two percent of global homicides are committed by a firearm. Yet, homicide rates vary widely by country. Whereas the homicide rate has decreased in several European and North American nations since 1995, homicide rates have increased over the same period in Central America and the Caribbean.

A 2011 study in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, “Reassessing the Association between Gun Availability and Homicide Rates at the Cross-National Level,” examined the way in which cultural and socio-historical factors shape the relationship between gun availability and violence. It focused on countries in three regions: Latin America; Eastern Europe; and developed Western nations. The study, from scholars at Wayne State University and the University of Iowa, analyzed World Health Organization and World Bank data from 43 nations from 2000 to 2005. In the study, “cultural factors” refer to the extent to which variation in homicide rates can be explained by values, norms and beliefs held by members of a society. “Socio-historical factors” refer to the way that gun availability and crime are influenced by the geography of a nation and its collective past.

The study’s findings include:

The authors conclude that these other variables, which are strong predictors of violence, are significantly influenced by socio-historic and cultural factors. The authors conclude that the relationship among gun availability, gun homicide and homicide does not operate “uniformly across nations to influence levels of violence.”

A related study published in the American Journal of Public Health, “Rates of Household Firearm Ownership and Homicide Across U.S. Regions and States, 1988-1997,” finds that “in areas with more firearms, people of all ages were more likely to be murdered, especially with handguns.” The study does not provide information about causation, however — for example, regional U.S. homicide rates could drive gun acquisition by citizens living there.

Tags: crime, law, guns, Europe

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By October 10, 2012

Criminal Justice , Development