Guns and christians


Many people have commented these past few weeks on gun ownership in the US. As an Australian, I hesitate to enter into the debate, so I won’t discuss either of the key questions – whether a high level of gun ownership reduces or increases gun deaths, and whether the laws in the US should be changed.

But I think there are other questions that christians, at least, should ponder.

Some gun statistics

It is hard to find consistent gun statistics, because they change from year to year and they sometimes measure slightly different things. But I have used the statistics in The Guardian newspaper because they were the most convenient and comprehensive I found. (I didn’t use Wikipedia because it provides data on all homicides, not just gun related homicides, but a quick comparison shows its figures are more or less consistent.)

International comparisons

The data shows that:

  • Gun ownership in the US is much the highest in the entire world at almost 90 guns per hundred people. Next highest are Yemen (55) then Switzerland and Finland (about 45).
  • The US is well down on the gun homicide figures (expressed as annual homicides per 100,000 people) – 24th with about 3 gun homicides per 100,000 people, compared with the highest rates in Honduruas (68), El Salvador (40), and Jamaica and Venezuela (39).
  • There is no obvious relationship worldwide between gun ownership and gun homicides – it seems other factors are key (e.g. Wikipedia information on inequality of wealth distribution has a moderate correlation with gun homicides).

Some comparisons

I have tried to put the US figures into context by (i) comparing the US figures with those for other advanced western economies (western Europe plus Australia, New Zealand and Canada), and (ii) making comparisons with countries with similar gun homicide rates.

Comparison with advanced western democracies

  • The US gun ownership of 90 per 100 citizens compares with Australia (15), Canada (31), England (23), France (32), Germany (31), Italy (12), New Zealand (6) and Sweden (32).
  • The US annual gun homicide rate of 3 per 100,000 citizens compares with Australia (0.1), Canada (0.5), England (0.07), France (0.06), Germany (0.2), Italy (0.7), New Zealand (0.16) and Sweden (0.4).
  • The average of the advanced western democracies is about 0.4, making the US rate almost ten times that in other advanced western countries – a figures also arrived at by PolitiFact website.

Comparison with countries with similar gun homicide rates

  • Many of the countries with high gun homicide rates have known problems with drugs, crime or inequality (e.g. Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, Columbia, Mexico). But the US is not flattered to have a similar gun homicide rate as Palestine, and a higher rate than Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Macedonia.

A challenge for christians

The important debate will proceed on whether it is safer to restrict gun ownership or to expand it. But I suggest christians might ask themselves some serious questions that go deeper than possible changes to the law:

  • What sort of country do you want to live in and have your children grow up in? Do you want it to be one where teachers have to be armed and trained? Do you want to live in a country which has more gun deaths than many much less democratic countries, with serious crime and inequality, and with ten times the rate of gun homicides than most comparable western democracies?
  • Is there something wrong with the US culture that leads to these figures?
  • What would Jesus do? Would he be happy with this situation in the world’s supposedly most christian country? Would Jesus stand guard at a school with a lethal assault rifle?


I would be very interested to hear how readers feel about these cultural questions.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. That rate of 90 guns per 100 people in the US is interesting. There certainly are not guns in the hands of 9 out of 10 people. Instead, there are some individuals who own a lot of guns.
    For me, the question becomes “Why own a firearm?” In the view of American society, my job gives me a good reason to own one yet I can’t see how that is the right thing for me to do as a member of Christ’s kingdom. So even though I have ready access to gun ownership, I won’t do it.
    Thanks for bringing these stats and insights along for us, unklee.

  2. Jesus would definitely address the core issues. For me it’s not about guns control or gun rights, it’s about our mentality our ability to kill so readily. Where does that come from and how can we stop it?
    Bowling for Columbine is suddenly relevant again. Do we live in a “quick to kill” nation? Is that idea trickling down to out kids and citizens? I think it is.

  3. It is surprising that against European countries the US only perform better than Macedonia and Albania, both southern Balkan countries, according to The Guardian statistics. Even Switzerland and Liechtenstein, a bordering micronation principality, have fewer gun related homicides. In Switzerland militia members are obliged to house service weapons in their homes, inflating gun ownership.

  4. I think there must be big differences in culture. I recall studying in Sociology that different culture about alcohol in Mormon, Jewish and Anglican communities led to very different rates of alcoholism.
    So I wonder if the Swiss have guns as part of being a militia, whereas in the US, people have guns out of fear or aggression, and this leads to very different attitudes to guns and violence. Dare I say it, I wonder whether TV and movies that more and more accentuate violence may have a part also?

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