After the shooting of 20 primary school children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December, I e-mailed my cousin, who lives in the United States: “At least these shootings don’t happen in the Philippines.”
I spoke too soon. Four-year-old Ranjilo Nemer in Mandaluyong City and 7-year-old Stephanie Nicole Ella in Caloocan City died because of New Year drunken revelry and gunfire.
Three-year-old Jan Monica de Vera and 7-year-old Michaella Caimol were shot, together with six adults, in what was said to be a drug-induced killing spree in Kawit, Cavite, a few days after.
Are we going the way of the United States, the country with the most number of gun owners and one of the highest rates of gun killings in the world?
The Small Arms Survey, based in Geneva, Switzerland, estimates the number of privately owned firearms around the world. Though their latest figures are from 2007, they are instructive.
Not surprisingly, the United States tops the list, 270 million firearms or nine guns for every 10 Americans.
Second is Yemen, with half the rate, 5.5 guns for every 10 people.
Max Fisher wrote in December in The Washington Post: “Yes, Americans have nearly twice as many guns per person as do Yemenis, who live in a conflict-torn Arab nation still dealing with poverty, political unrest, a separatist Shia insurgency, an al-Qaida branch and the aftereffects of a 1994 civil war.”
Surprisingly, Switzerland and Finland follow with 4.6 and 4.5 rates, respectively. Then come Serbia (3.8), Cyprus (3.6), Saudi Arabia (3.5) and Iraq (3.8).
But the high rate of gun ownership in Switzerland is due to the required military service for men, who keep their firearms afterwards. No information is available for Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The Philippines is ranked 105th, with a rate of 0.5 guns per 10 people and an estimated total of 4 million civilian firearms.
What about gun-related deaths? Let’s look at statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Honduras is the worst, with 68.43 homicides by firearms per 100,000 people. Next is El Salvador (39.9), Jamaica (39.4), Venezuela (38.4) and Guatemala (34.8).
What is extremely shocking is that the Philippines’ rate of 8.93 firearm homicides per 100,000 people is much higher than that of the United States (2.97). The rates for Switzerland (0.77), Serbia (0.46), Cyprus (0.46) and Finland (0.45) are not very high and suicides (rather than homicides) accounted for the deaths.
Statistically, do more guns lead to more gun-related deaths? There is no easy answer but after days of looking through pros and cons, the analysis I found most plausible was done by Mark Reid of Australian National University.
Reid researched on gun ownership rates and homicide rates by firearms in Wikipedia, wrote a program to seek possible correlations and came up with fascinating graphs. Visit his site at http://mark.reid.name/iem/gun-deaths-vs-gun-ownership.html.
Reid does not claim that his analysis is a strict study (since the data came from Wikipedia). He says, “Just to be clear, I am not making any claims about the effect of gun ownership on shootings. I just wanted to show how easy it is to use freely available data to help answer reasonable questions about heated political issues like gun control. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
Sadly, the Philippines, with its disproportionately high homicide rate, can clearly be seen in the middle left of the chart, which means the Philippines, while having fewer guns than, say, the United States, has more than its share of gun killings. What will happen if we have even more guns?
More guns, more gun homicides, more gun deaths.
Yes, many responsible gun owners do not go around killing people. Yes, if the Kawit gunman was not on drugs, he might not have gone on a killing spree. If gun owners were not drunk on New Year’s Eve, they might not have fired their guns.
On the same day of the Sandy Hook massacre, a knife-wielding man stabbed an elderly woman in Chenpeng, Henan province, and ran amok in Chenpeng Village Elementary School, where he injured 23 students. None of the students were critically hurt and everyone survived.
Unlike knives, guns can kill many people very quickly. Let us enact a total gun ban now.