More press reports about firearm killings in the U.S. forces me back, at the risk of repeating myself, to the subject of our pride in gun ownership and the consequent mortality rates we tolerate. The numbers I was able to come up with are from a variety of years starting in 2017, but I have no evidence that the statistics on gun ownership and gun deaths have declined.
Nearly half of the 875 million civilian-owned guns in the world are in the U.S. which has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. And we have a total rate of firearm deaths fifty to a hundred times greater than that of similarly wealthy nations such as Japan, the U.K., and South Korea who have enacted strict gun control laws. The ratio between gun ownership and gun deaths tends to be constant throughout the world—the larger the number of guns in the hands of the people the larger the number of gun deaths. In 2020, the most recent year for which I was able to find complete numbers, the U.S. had 120.5 guns per 100 people —more guns than people—and 38,390 deaths by firearms.
This is a problem almost unique to the U.S. We are the only western democracy to suffer such huge gun death rates. That is because we are the only modern nation to allow and even encourage a firearms culture which fosters gun ownership. I suspect that part of the reason for our fondness of guns comes from the fact that we have had no war on our own territory within the memory of any living American. And the number of combat veterans still living among us amounts to a fraction of a percent. As a people, in other words, we are ignorant of grisly effects firearms inflict on the human body. I’m among the tiny number of Americans still surviving who have seen up close and personal the gore bullets produce when they penetrate. I know what it’s like to be hit by the body parts and blood when the man fighting next to me is shot to death on the battlefield and there’s not enough left of him to put in a body bag.
So this is our challenge, a curse that’s almost solely American. We must ween ourselves away from our attachment to firearms and reduce the number of guns we own to save lives and deserve to be called a civilized nation. Let’s start today.