Feb 152011

These houses at the foot of the Swiss Matterhorn probably have full auto guns in them

I bet you didn’t see a headline in your local newspaper, or a lead story on television news this week about the Swiss rejecting a plan to restrict the ability of their citizens to lawfully own and keep fully automatic weapons in their homes.

Amazingly, a French website tells us what our local gun hating media prefer to pretend did not happen, in an article headlined ‘Swiss overwhelmingly reject plan to tighten gun control in referendum‘.

The profusion of guns in Switzerland (it is estimated there are between two and three million guns in 3.4 million households) has been blamed for a ‘high’ suicide rate.  But let’s look at the numbers.  According to this table, the suicide rate in Switzerland is 15.1 deaths per 100,000 people per year.  But this is not a high suicide rate – it is actually less than neighboring France (17) and adjacent Belgium (17.6).  Sure, it is more than Germany (9.5) but really, what these numbers show is that suicide rates vary widely, even among similar seeming countries.

The wide variation in suicide numbers may be a transient thing (ie one year rates are higher than the next year for whatever reason) or it may be a cultural thing (Japan has a suicide rate of 24.4) or it may be an economic thing (poorer countries have higher suicide rates) or it may even be partly dependent on the data collection methodology and how readily deaths are categorized as suicides (ie a very low suicide rate is shown in Italy – 5.2, a strongly Roman Catholic country where suicide is considered a mortal sin).

All we can say about the suicide numbers is that Switzerland scores lower than some comparable countries and higher than others, but is in no measurable amount unusually different to other countries around it.

Another thing the profusion of guns can not be blamed for is a high murder rate.  Quite the opposite – perhaps it could be credited for a very low murder rate, because there are very few murders in Switzerland.

Here’s a table of intentional homicide rates by country.  You’ll have to scroll almost to the bottom to find Switzerland, with a rate of 0.7 homicides per 100,000 people per year.  In comparison, France has a rate of 1.4, Germany 0.86 and Italy 1.2.

Of course, the anti-gunners want to ‘have their cake and eat it too’ – they’ll blame guns for what in truth turns out to be a normal, average suicide rate, but they go completely silent when trying to link the much broader variations in murder rates to gun ownership.

Even rabidly anti-gun Britain has a significantly higher homicide rate – 1.28 – than does Switzerland.

Of course, the same factors that apply to how you assess suicide rates also must apply to murder rates.  Murder rates vary for social reasons, for economic reasons, and many other things, quite unrelated to the presence or absence of guns.

It is always a grave mistake to try and take only one factor or variable and link it solely and exclusively to another factor or variable, when in truth there are many reasons why the measured variable changes.

But there is one situation where murders and other violent crimes can be weakly but somewhat correlated to the presence or absence of guns in the population as a whole, and that is in the US (due to it being a somewhat more homogenous society with fewer other variables).  Study after study in the US shows that the freer the access to guns, the lower the rates of violent and gun-related crime.

And that’s another story you probably don’t see in the media, either.

The Swiss have also recently passed referendums to ban the building of minarets on mosques and to automatically deport foreigners found guilty of committing serious crimes or benefit fraud.  Two more stories that may not have made the media.

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