Friday 21 December 2012

Sandy Hook

I have pointed out before that the United States has almost exactly 100 times the population of Wales (just over 300 million to Wales' just over 3 million) which makes the arithmetic relatively easy when comparing statistics.

There are probably many Welsh people who would not be surprised if they were told that there were two homicides involving firearms each week in Wales. This would be a small number in terms of personal risk. In other words it would scarcely constitute a reason to change behaviour or to buy life insurance; nor, being such a remote possibility, would it logically be a reason for living in fear, though of course fear isn't always logical.

In fact two homicides involving firearms a week emphatically do not occur in Wales - that is the number we would see if we had the same rate as the USA. In reality the numbers in Wales are so tiny that no one year is typical but, based on UK figures, we might average about 3 each year.

So homicides involving firearms are rare in the USA and over 30 times less likely in Wales, not a reason for panic in either country although, all other factors being equal, if the USA had the same gun controls as Wales then they might save nearly all the lives of people killed by guns each year - that's around 10,000 people.

I have always tried not to scoff at the (to us) eye-popping libertarian tendency of US citizens which finds its most improbable manifestation in the right to bear arms. Many US citizens consider UK subjects (a word they think apposite!) to be abjectly passive and feeble in preserving our liberties and they have a point - look at the apparent popularity of the Leveson Report's recommendation to reintroduce state controls on the UK press for the first time in 300 years.

So I listened carefully to what the USA's National Rifle Association had to say in today's press conference following the Sandy Hook tragedy. But they have nothing useful to say, predictably suggesting armed guards in schools so that they can "fight back".

Of course some of the homicides involving firearms in the USA are committed by people with a mental illness, including some of the most prominent and memorable tragedies. It may prove the case this time too - we'll see. It is just common sense that there will be far more homicides where firearms are readily available because there will always be people momentarily ungrounded by extreme anger, panic in the course of committing a crime, or indeed mental illness, for whom the availability of a firearm turns what would otherwise have been an ugly but unmemorable moment into a shocking tragedy which destroys the lives of both victims and perpetrators.

Incidentally 20,000 people take their own lives with firearms each year in the USA but I guess the wretched NRA is at ease about that too.