We're a nation of gun fanatics in the United States -- that's no secret. My foreign friends think we Americans are nuts, allowing even psychotic time bombs like Cho Seung Hui the right to buy a gun. The tragic killings at Virginia Tech have sparked renewed debate about gun control, but few here in Washington expect much to change, given this country's stubborn attachment to firearms and the political strength of the gun lobby.
Still, whatever you think about the right to bear arms, it's worth considering the price that mass gun ownership brings to an industrial society. In firearms violence of every type-- homicides, suicides, and unintentional deaths -- the United States leads the modernized world. Consider the state of murder in America, drawn from statistics gathered by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program (below):
Source: Crime in the United States 2005, FBI
The United States averages between 14,000 and 15,000 murders per year, according to this five-year summary. Of those homicides, about two thirds are by firearms -- and most of those are by handguns. Second on the list of murder weapons are knives and other "cutting instruments," followed by "blunt objects." Much lower down: such exotic fare as poisons, explosives, narcotics, strangling, and death by fire.
For 2005, the rate breaks down to about 10 stranglings a month -- not much for a nation of 300 million people. For blunt objects, the rate is about 50 per month. For knives, it's about 160. And for firearms: 1,238. Hey, we're a pretty safe country when we're not shooting at each other.