Two countries considered successful in firearms surveillance are Japan and Switzerland, while a disturbing story comes from Brazil.
After tragedies such as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, statistics usually surfaced. Compared to other stable developed countries in the world, and with many countries outside of that, the data shows that more than 11,000 homicide-related killings occur every year in the United States.
Some countries are worse than the United States, but the rest have fewer firearms in a year than the 27 people killed in the December 14 tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
Two countries considered successful in firearms surveillance are Japan and Switzerland, while an alarming story comes from Brazil.
In this country, the number of firearms is very small, as is the case with armed violence. Guns are used only in seven murders in Japan, a state of around 130 million, during 2011, or the latest available statistics. According to the police, more people (nine people) were killed with scissors.
Although the level of possession of firearms is very minimal compared to the United States, there are 120,000 registered firearm owners and more than 400,000 registered firearms. So why are there fewer cases of armed violence?
Tsutomu Uchida, who is in charge of managing Kanagawa Ohi Shooting Range, an Olympic class shooting training center for sports fans, stated that “We have very different perspectives on firearms compared to the United States.”
“In America, people believe that they have the right to own a firearm. In Japan, we don’t have that right. ”
Treating firearms ownership as a privilege rather than a right has led to important policy differences.
First, anyone who wants to own a firearm must give a compelling reason. Under long-standing policies in Japan, there is no good reason why civilians should have handguns, except for competitive shooters, so that is prohibited.
All crimes related to hand firearms are linked to gangsters, who buy them on the black market. The police will immediately look for which groups are involved but crimes like this are very rare.
The possession of a gun is permitted to the general public but is monitored very closely, involving reporting to the police, written tests, lectures, and a series of shooting training, in addition to a very thorough background check and a detailed storage plan.
Uchida said that the rules regarding firearms are frustrating, very complex, and can seem changeable. However, he added, even shooting sports enthusiasts like him do not want the freedom to have weapons like in America, given the low level of crime related to firearms in Japan.
Arms rights advocates in the United States often refer to Switzerland as an example of relatively liberal regulation that goes hand in hand with low levels of armed crime.
The country of eight million people has around 2.3 million firearms. Unlike in the US, where guns are used in the majority of murders, only a quarter of murder cases in Switzerland use firearms. Firearms were only used in 24 murder cases in 2009, or 0.3 for every 100,000 residents. The homicide rate in the US in the same year was 11 times higher.
Experts say that the low crime rate with firearms in Switzerland is influenced by the fact that most firearms are military rifles given to men participating in military service. Criminologist Martin Killias of the University of Zurich noted that as Switzerland reduced the size of the army in recent decades, armed crime, especially in domestic killings and suicide, also declined.
The key is how people access weapons, not the total number of firearms in the country, Killias said. He added, criminals in Switzerland, for example, did not have weapons as good as street criminals in the US.
Critics of gun ownership in Switzerland refer to the high suicide rate with firearms in the country compared to other places in Europe.
But efforts to tighten the rules and force compulsory military participants to return their weapons have failed. Weapons enthusiasts, many of whom are members of the 3,000 gun clubs in Switzerland, limiting firearms will damage tradition and reduce militia readiness to face invasion.
Since 2003, Brazil has only allowed police, citizens who have high-risk professions and those who can prove their lives to be threatened, to own firearms. Anyone caught carrying a firearm without permission faces a prison sentence of up to four years.
According to a 2011 study by the United Nations Agency for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 34,678 people were killed with firearms in Brazil in 2008, up from 34,147 in 2007. From these two data, it can be concluded that the rate of murder by firearms was 18 per 100,000 population or more than five times that in the United States.
In Brazil, violence is very endemic. Strong drug dealers dominate big cities like Paulo and Rio de Janeiro with slums nearby, and often get more sophisticated firearms when compared to the police. Authorities in Brazil recognize that firearms circulate very easily.
However, Guaranty Mingardi researcher in crime and public safety at a well-known research institute in Brazil, Fundacao Getulio Vargas, said that the 2003 law reduced the rate of gun killing in some areas.
According to the Sao Paulo Department of Public Safety, the murder rate in the city declined from 28.29 per 100,000 in 2003 to 10.02 per 100,000 in 2011.
Coordinator of Sou da Paz, Ligia Rechenberg or “I am on the side of Peace,” an anti-violence group, said that the situation could get worse. He said that the police would buy weapons that they did not understand, putting them and others at risk.