After Monday's Navy Yard shooting, which killed 12 people (plus the shooter), the American Journal of Medicine fast-tracked a study conducted by doctors Sripal Bangalore and Franz Messerli looking at the relationship between the number of guns per capita and the rate of gun-related deaths in 27 countries. Their main takeaway: The more guns there are in a country, the more people die from guns. The United States has the highest number of guns per person and the highest rate of gun deaths (10.2 per 100,000), while Japan has the smallest number guns per person and the lowest rate of gun deaths.
Maybe that's obvious, but nonetheless it warranted research. I exchanged emails with Bangalore about the results.
Your study was fast-tracked for publication because of the Navy Yard shooting, right? Does this happen often?
Yes. I guess it depends on the journal and their policies. In our case, the journal made the decision to fast track it by a few days.
"For you and many of us—yes, it does seem obvious, but not to the other lobbyists here."
What led you and your partner to undertake the study?
It was mainly driven by the constant news about gun related violence in the U.S. in the past year or so and varying claims made by groups that "Guns make the nation safer" and that it is not guns but mental illness that is a driver of firearm-related deaths.
The main takeaway from the study, simply, is that the more guns there are in a country, the more gun-related deaths there are, correct? What are the numbers behind this?
That is correct. As can be seen from the manuscript, there was a strong positive correlation between gun ownership rates and firearm-related deaths. A perfect correlation is 1.0. This was a strong correlation (0.80) approaching 1.0
This seems obvious in some ways, doesn't it?
For you and many of us—yes, it does seem obvious, but not to the other lobbyists here.
Did the study find any benefits to a country having higher rates of gun ownership?
We did not find any benefit. Of course, we only looked at limited things.
The U.S. is at the top of the list. What factors—history, policy, etc.—led the the country to this point?
Maybe a combination of all of the above factors and a strong pro-gun lobby, perhaps.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's Japan. Is it, again, so simple as that they've effectively limited gun ownership, so barely anyone dies from guns?
It is difficult to state that from this example. However, we know that in Australia, gun control laws were enforced in the mid '90s and there was a dramatic decrease in gun-related violence. A good example to prove cause and effect relationship!
Are there any unexpected or expected-but-nonetheless-important takeaways you came across?
Yes. Mental illness does correlate with firearm-related deaths, although the correlation was somewhat weaker. It appears that mental illness and free availability of guns is a lethal combination.
What kind of effect do you hope the study's findings can have in this country and in others?
We prefer to stay away from the politics of this. We have presented the data and it is up to the lawmakers and policy decision makers to use this and all other evidence to make the correct decision for the country.