With recent events in Jacksonville putting gun violence front and center in the headlines once again, a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association gives us some challenging food for thought as we ponder how we can work to do a better job of turning “swords (and guns) into plowshares.”
In a 2016 study, researchers with the Global Burden of Disease compiled a massive set of data on firearm injury deaths from 195 countries in order to estimate the burden of firearm injury deaths since 1990. While there was understandably some variation in the reliability of data across countries, the final results contain some striking information about this public health crisis.
For those accustomed to thinking of the United States as an “exceptional” country, it turns out they are right — but not exactly in a good way. It turns out the U.S. was one of 6 countries contributing to more than 50 percent of the total firearm deaths from 1990 – 2016 (the remaining 5 were Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guatemala). Furthermore, in 2016, the U.S. mortality rate for firearm deaths of 10.6 per 100,000 compares quite poorly with our northern neighbor Canada (2.1 firearm deaths per 100,000). The U.S. also rates poorly in comparison to places in the so-called “third world” that many Americans might think of as less than safe — Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania has firearm death rates of 4.3, 3.2, and 2.8 per 100,000 in 2016!
While there are variations in data quality among countries, and there are many social and cultural factors affecting overall crime rates and death rates that are not captured by looking only at gun violence, nevertheless, this comprehensive data set should leave us feeling challenged.
Folks in the U.S. should rethink their understanding of American exceptionalism — we are exceptional for our high rate of firearm deaths! Those seeking to turn weapons into plowshares should also feel compelled to see what lessons we can learn from other parts of the world where there has been much more success at reducing firearm deaths.
While the authors of this article do not make specific policy recommendations, they do allude to a number of steps that have been demonstrated in different settings to reduce firearm deaths, such as increased background checks, coordinated national policies, and regulatory restrictions.
If we truly aim to live out the prayer that Jesus taught, specifically “your kingdom come, your will be done,” then it seems clear that replacing guns and swords with plowshares is part of that will. And it also seems clear that much could be learned from this recent survey of firearm deaths.