Firearm Availability and Homicide Rates across 26 High-Income Countries
David Hemenway, PhD, and Matthew Miller, MD, MPH, ScD
Among developed na-tions, the United States has the highestrate of civilian gun ownership, and thehighest homicide rate. We examinewhether the United States is merely anexception, or if a relationship between gunavailability and homicide exists across alldeveloped nations.
Homicide rates for theearly 1990s come from 26 of 27 of thehighly industrialized or high-incomecountries with greater than 1 million pop-ulation as classified by the World Bank.Two common proxies for gun availabilityare used, the percentage of suicides with afirearm, and the“Cook index,” the aver-age of the percentage of suicides with afirearm and the percentage of homicideswith a firearm.
In simple regressions (nocontrol variables) across 26 high-incomenations, there is a strong and statisticallysignificant association between gun avail-ability and homicide rates.
Across developed coun-tries, where guns are more available, thereare more homicides.
Firearms, Guns, Homi-cide, International.
f all developed nations, the United States has the mostprivately owned guns, and the highest rates of homi-cide. Approximately two thirds of murder victims in theUnited States are killed with a gun.Is gun availability associated with homicides across alldeveloped nations, or is the United States just an exceptionalcase? Across developed nations, the most widely cited inter-national study examined 14 countries.
Gun ownership infor-mation was obtained from comparable telephone interviews.The rate of gun homicide, and the total homicide rate wassignificantly correlated with levels of gun ownership; therewas no significant correlation between nongun homicide andgun ownership. As the authors of that study note, at leastthree methodologic considerations limit the inferences thatcan be drawn from the results: only a small number of countries was sampled, the countries selected for inclusionwere not a random sample of developed nations, and homi-cide data were for years earlier than the data on gun owner-ship rates.Our study extends this previous work by analyzing con-temporaneous data on firearm availability and homicide ratesamong 96% (26 of 27) of all the countries with more than 1million inhabitants defined by the World Bank as high in-come or highly industrialized.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Using data reported by researchers at the Centers forDisease Control and Prevention (CDC),
countries were se-lected in accordance with the World Bank’s definition of nations that are highly industrialized or have high-incomeeconomies (1992 gross national product per capita
$8,356).Each year the World Bank classifies all nations by incomebased on their gross national product. Of the nations withpopulations greater than 1 million included in the 1994 WorldDevelopment Report,
27 were classified as highly industri-alized or as having high-income economies. Twenty-six(96%) of these 27 countries provided data for analysis. Over76% provided data for 1993 or 1994; the rest gave data for1990, 1992, or 1995.
The countries, the year for which thedata were provided, populations, and overall homicide deathrates are given in Table 1.We analyze the association between firearm availabilityand total homicide rates in both the 26 high-income or highlyindustrialized nations described above, as well as in thesample of 36 countries compiled by the CDC researchers,
which includes an additional 10 “upper middle income na-tions” that provided data (53% of the 19 upper middle incomecountries that were asked provided the requested data).As a proxy for gun availability, we use the percentage of suicides with a firearm for the independent variable; we alsouse a second proxy, the average of the percentage of homi-cides and suicides attributable to firearms (Cook index). Thefirst measure is highly correlated with the percentage of households reporting gun ownership in studies both of 170US cities (
and across 16 developed nations (
This measure has often been used as a proxy for gunavailability.
The Cook index has been validated for ur-ban patterns of regional gun ownership with data from sur-veys of residents (
The Cook index has also beenvalidated at the regional level in the United States with
Submitted for publication February 14, 2000.Accepted for publication August 9, 2000.Copyright © 2000 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.From the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts.This research was supported in part by grants from the Centers forDisease Control and Prevention, the Joyce Foundation, the Robert WoodJohnson Foundation, and the Center on Crimes, Communities and Culture of the Open Society Institute.Address for reprints: David Hemenway, PhD, Director, Harvard InjuryControl Research Center, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 HuntingtonAvenue, Boston, MA 02115; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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