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Murder, Guns and Basic Socio-economic-cultural Factors

Taken From: http://www.independent.org/aboutus/person_detail.asp?id=739 . Authored by Don Kates.

This deals with the situation in Russia, where guns are effectively illegal but still people find other ways to commit murders and suicides!

I am assailed by both sides in the gun debate for saying that the extent of murder in a society is a function of basic socio-economic-cultural factors, and that the extent of gun ownership is largely irrelevant. (Of course in a society like the U.S. where there are 90,000 or more guns per 100.000 population the extent of gun ownership can itself be a significant social factor that has some effect in deterring – and thus ameliorating – violent crime. But even such gun ownership is but one social factor and can have no more than a marginal effect in reducing crime.)

Potential deadly instruments are everywhere. How often they will be misused in murder is determined by the basic socio-cultural and economic factors in particular nations, not by the mere availability of any particular lethal instrument.

It is simplistic to look at murder, or all crime, rates in isolation and try to draw either pro- or anti-gun conclusions from largely irrelevant correlations with the extent of gun ownership. No better example of this can be adduced than the fact that Russia with its severe gun laws enforced by police state methods has always has a higher murder rate than the U.S. In recent years it has been four times higher.

Guns cannot be scapegoated for this. Since the 1920s handguns have been totally illegal in Russia, and long guns strictly controlled. Besides police state enforcement methods, these laws have been aided by the fact that Russia is a rather poor nation surrounded by other poor nations; i.e., guns are out of the reach of many people economically. So Russian gun laws have been so successful that gun murder is quite rare in Russia. Where it does occur, such as the recent murders of several journalists critical of the government, you may reasonably suspect that the murders were perpetrated by police or other agents of government, though a few gun murders are perpetrated by organized crime which has become an ever more important factor in Russia.

But while depriving the populace of guns greatly reduces the ability to resist crime it does little to hamper criminals. Where criminals are unable to get guns they just substitute various other deadly weapons which are available in every environment – knives, blunt instruments etc.

To reiterate, it is hopelessly simplistic to look at the availability of guns as a cause of murder. To explain why Russia has a murder rate four times higher than the U.S. one needs to look at catastrophic socio-economic-cultural factors such as those discussed in the article that follows; and such as the following:

* the Russian suicide rate is also four times higher than the American;

* among the greatest of all causes of death, cardio-vascular diseases, deaths from which have long been declining throughout the West, continue to rise in Russia;

* despite the fact that Americans own cars far more often than Russians, the latter are (per capita) several times more likely to die in accidents of all kind than are Americans; see, e.g., the article that follows.

* Each year roughly a hundred Moscovites die after being struck by pieces of concrete falling of Moscow’s crumbling buildings.

* 20% of Russian women college students will never bear children because their fallopian tubes are too badly scarred from venereal disease.

* As a result of all these things, Russians have a life expectancy no longer than inhabitants of Bangledesh – and shorter than in many African nations. Unlike even the most low birthrate Western nations, Russians are dying at a rate which far exceeds births to replace them. In short, Russian population is shrinking.

It is no surprise that among the pathologies of a society so afflicted is a murder rate four times higher than America’s.