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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

US gun deaths 'off the charts' but other countries tell a different tale

Compared to just about anywhere else with a stable, developed government - and many countries without even that - the more than 11,000 gun-related killings each year in the United States are off the charts.
A Japanese shotgun enthusiast takes a test to renew his licence on a shooting range in Ooi, at the foot of Mount Fuji, west of Tokyo.
A Japanese shotgun enthusiast takes a test to renew his licence on a shooting range in Ooi, at the foot of Mount Fuji, west of Tokyo.
OOi Japan // After a tragedy like the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the United States, the statistic is always trotted out. Compared to just about anywhere else with a stable, developed government - and many countries without even that - the more than 11,000 gun-related killings each year in the United States are off the charts.

To be sure, there are nations that are worse. But others see fewer gun homicide deaths in one year than the 27 people killed December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut.

As Americans debate gun laws, people on both sides point to the experiences of other countries to support their arguments. Here's a look at two success stories - with two very different ways of thinking about gun ownership - and one cautionary tale.

In Japan, guns are few. And so is gun violence. Guns were used in only seven murders in Japan - a nation of about 130 million - in all of 2011, the most recent year for official statistics. According to police, more people - nine - were murdered with scissors.

Though its gun ownership rates are tiny compared to the United States, Japan has more than 120,000 registered gun owners and more than 400,000 registered firearms. So why is there so little gun violence?

"We have a very different way of looking at guns in Japan than people in the United States," said Tsutomu Uchida, who runs the Kanagawa Ooi Shooting Range. "In the US, people believe they have a right to own a gun. In Japan, we don't have that right. So our point of departure is completely different."

Virtually all handgun-related crime is attributable to gangsters, who obtain them on the black market.

Rifle ownership is allowed for the general public, but tightly controlled. Police likely will even talk to the applicant's neighbours to see if he or she is known to have a temper, financial troubles or an unstable household. Gun owners must tell the police where in the home the gun will be stored. "We have our way of doing things, and Americans have theirs," said Yasuharu Watabe, 67, who has owned a gun for 40 years. "But there need to be regulations. Put a gun in the wrong hands, and it's a weapon."

In Switzerland, the country's 8 million people own about 2.3 million firearms. But firearms were used in just 24 Swiss homicides in 2009, a rate of about 0.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. The US rate that year was about 11 times higher.

Experts say Switzerland's low gun-crime figures are influenced by the fact that most firearms are military rifles issued to men when they join the country's conscript army. Switzerland has cut the size of its army in recent decades, gun violence - particularly domestic killings and suicides - dropped too.

In Brazil they almost banned guns. Since 2003, the country has come close to fitting that description. Only police, people in high-risk professions are eligible to receive gun permits. Anyone caught carrying a weapon without a permit faces up to four years on prison.

But Brazil also tops the global list for gun murders.

According to a 2011 study by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 34,678 people were murdered by firearms in Brazil in 2008, compared to 34,147 in 2007. The numbers for both years represent a homicide-by-firearm rate of 18 per 100,000 inhabitants - more than five times higher than the US rate.

Violence is endemic in Brazil. Vast swathes of cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are slums dominated by powerful drug gangs, who are often better armed than the police. Brazilian officials admit guns flow easily over the nation's long, porous Amazon jungle border.