The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that 14,974,534 Americans bought hunting licenses in 2009 and a study in 2010 found that almost 22 million Americans bought a hunting license at least once in the last five years. All of these people are highly likely to be the owner of at least one firearm, and historically the statistics support America’s love of guns:

A 2007 report by Reuters estimating the size of world arsenals found that “The United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making it the most heavily armed society in the world.”

Census data from 2007 shows a total U.S. population of 302 million people that year, consistent with Reuters’ finding that Americans owned just over 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms at that time. It further said that of the 8 million new firearms manufactured worldwide each year, Americans purchased just over half or 4.5 million new guns.

These statistics paint a picture of a country fully exercising its Second Amendment rights, with every potential for a “well-armed militia.” Comparatively, this unseen army would vastly outnumber the militaries of many countries in both man and gun power.

Claims have circulated the internet that following World War II, Japanese Generals were asked why they didn’t invade the U.S. mainland after their successful air strike on Pearl Harbor. The answer was apparently because the Japanese were all-too-aware that a majority of American civilians had guns and “knew how to use them.” That claim is unsubstantiated; however the very idea of it poses an intriguing question as to the likelihood of whether or not our country’s privately armed populace serves as an additional insurance policy to foreign invasion.

Perhaps even more compelling is the question, is America’s unseen army keeping us safe or is it the cause of violent crime and the reason for the increase in tragedies like Columbine, Virginia-Tech and Fort Hood?

Opponents of gun rights cite these cases and many more as evidence that an armed citizenry leads to suicide and violent crime.  For decades, the mantra has been that more guns equals more death and less guns equals less death.

While debates between various political groups abound on the subject, empirical evidence to support claims one way or the other is rarely broadcast.  Millions of dollars a year are spent by groups like the NRA and the Brady Campaign to advocate their respective positions on the subject. But media fall short in delivering scholarly research of any kind in support of either argument.

Instead we see a lot of stories that play heavily to emotions like this one written by MSNBC’s Senior News Editor Mike Stuckey:

“Waving a chromed semiautomatic pistol, the robber pushed into the building in the bustling Five Points neighborhood of Columbia, S.C., just before 11 p.m. on April 11, 2009. “Gimme what you got!” he yelled, his gun hand trembling. Attorney Jim Corley was one of four people in the room, the lounge area of a 12-step recovery group’s meeting hall. “He said, ‘Give me your wallet,’” Corley recalled. “So I reached around to my back pocket and gave him what was there.” Unfortunately for the gunman, later identified as Kayson Helms, 18, of Edison, N.J., that was Corley’s tiny Kel-Tec .32, hidden in a wallet holster and loaded with a half-dozen hollow points. Corley fired once into the robber’s abdomen. The young man turned. Corley fired twice more, hitting him in the neck and again in the torso. Helms ran into the night and collapsed to die on a railroad embankment 100 feet away. Reports filed by officers who arrived at the scene a short time later called it an “exceptionally clear” case of justifiable homicide.

Following South Carolina’s “Castle Doctrine,” which allows the use of deadly force in self-defense, police did not arrest Corley. They did not interrogate him. Corley was offered the opportunity to make a voluntary statement, which he did.

Helms’ friends and relatives were left to mourn, barred by the same Castle Doctrine from filing a civil lawsuit. Jim Corley became an unintentional spokesman for a burgeoning movement of millions of Americans who secretly and legally pack pistols in waistbands, under jackets, strapped to ankles, stashed in purses or — like Corley — tucked in hip pockets.”

Stuckey takes the anti-gun road by disparaging Corley – who saved his own life and the lives of at least 3 other people – when he writes, “Helms’ (the armed robber’s)  friends and relatives were left to mourn, barred by the same Castle Doctrine from filing a civil lawsuit (against Corley, the victim).”

The fact that Helms was an armed criminal intent on murdering anyone who didn’t comply with his demands leaves journalist Stuckey unswayed in his “guns-are-bad” slant to this story. Equally unpersuasive is the fact that Helms arguably received the same kind of justice that he was prepared to meter out on that fateful day.

The greater question is whether or not the above scenario is an argument for or against civilian gun rights.  Amazingly time and again proponents on both sides refer to stories just like this one as evidence in support of their side.

Fortunately as civil society debates the merits of one side or the other on the gun issue, little-known scholarly research has actually been done on a global scale that reveals some interesting findings. Anti-gun groups staunchly contend that private citizens with guns leads to more violent crime and point to incidents of murder with guns as proof, but such logic is inherently flawed, and the studies support that.

Compared with other countries, the United States is indeed one of the most heavily, if not the most heavily armed country in the world.

The Reuters study mentioned earlier reports that India has the world’s second largest civilian gun arsenal with an estimated 46 million firearms outside law enforcement and the military. Based on their populations this works out to only four guns per hundred people, however, much less than America’s astounding 90% rate.

On a per-capita basis, Yemen is the second most heavily armed citizenry behind the United States, with 61 guns per 100 people, followed by Finland with 56, Switzerland with 46, Iraq with 39 and Serbia with 38. France, Canada, Sweden, Austria and Germany were next, each with about 30 guns per 100 people, while many poorer countries often associated with violence ranked much lower. Nigeria, for instance, had just one gun per 100 people.

Gary A. Mauser of Simon Fraser University and Don B. Kates collaborated on a 177-page study entitled, “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International Evidence.”  The study utilized international data and information to address two, interrelated questions: the first being whether widespread civilian gun ownership is a significant contributing factor in the incidents of murder and suicide, and second whether laws restricting such access have been effective at reducing the rates of these crimes.

Mauser and Kates wanted to know: with all the potential weaponry available in the world, including everyday items such as shovels, bats, and kitchen knives, is the widespread availability of one type of item in particular – firearms – “a crucial determinant of the incidence of murder?”

Their findings were the following: “Our conclusion from the available data is that suicide, murder and violent crime rates are determined by basic social, economic and/or cultural factors with the availability of any particular one of the world’s myriad deadly instrument being irrelevant.”

In other words, if a person is going to kill themselves or someone else and they have a gun, they may use it. But if they don’t have a gun, they’re still going to commit the crime by some other means. The point is the intent, not the instrument of choice.

Don’t look too hard for breaking news on these findings – it’s not coming.  More common are reports that because America has more firearms than any other nation is the reason that America has high rates of violent crime. But such arguments are falsely based on erroneous and misrepresented data, according to Mauser and Kates.

What the research actually found was that “There is no consistent significant positive association between gun ownership levels and violence rates” and that actually the opposite is true: “Data on firearms ownership show that where firearms are most dense, violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest.”

The report states that in addition to the United States, other countries with high gun availability and private ownership such as Finland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Greece and Denmark have very low murder rates; much lower than developed nations where guns are restricted from the civilian population. Luxembourg, for example, where handguns are totally banned has a murder rate ten times higher than that of their European counterparts with high gun ownership.

Russia is another case-in-point: “Eight decades of police-state enforcement of hand-gun prohibition have kept Russian private gun ownership low, resulting in few gun murders. Yet Russia’s murder rates have long-been four times higher than that in the U.S. Thus in the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and current-day Russia, “homicide results suggest that where guns are scarce other weapons are substituted in killings.”

Mauser and Kates also examine the issue historically, finding that from the 19th century on, American cities with the most stringent gun controls were and are “precisely the ones with the highest murder rates,” while conversely, American cities with “no controls to deny guns to law abiding, responsible adults” had the lowest homicide rates, again leading them to the conclusion that there is no evidence from any world-wide source “to suggest that gun control reduces murder.”

Additional studies support their findings. In 2004 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications and some empirical research of its own. It could not identify any instance of gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide or gun accidents.

The same conclusion was reached in a 2003 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s review of several studies, but the traditionally anti-gun position of the CDC lead them to say that the findings were “erroneous.”The Institute of Economic Affairs conducted a study on the efficacy of “the nanny state” in matters such as drug, alcohol and firearms control, among other things. They concluded that the increasing tendency toward “a banning culture” is wholly ineffective and that, “the expansion of the nanny state should be halted.”

The IEA study was equally clear about the results of imposing gun control:

“Tight restrictions such as the UK handgun bans in 1988 and 1997 have been completely ineffective at reducing both gun crime and the murder rate in general. Indeed, most countries introducing such control have, like Britain, experienced a dramatic subsequent increase in gun crime and homicide as the market for guns becomes completely controlled by criminals. In Jamaica the murder rate has risen fourfold since guns were banned in the 1970s, with criminals finding it easy to obtain illegal weapons.” The study also reveals that in England and Wales only one firearm in ten used in homicide is legally held, supporting the claim that in a land where guns are banned, only criminals will have them.”

Opponents of this view are unswayed by statistics and data. The well-known Brady Campaign, also known by the more aggressive name, “Handgun Control, Inc.,” has a national dues-paying membership of 250,000 and claims to have an overall support base of over a million people. Handgun Control, Inc. a.k.a. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has lobbied since 1974 to increase restrictions on the sale, import, transfer and civilian possession of firearms of all kinds, including those used for hunting.

In 1995, Courtney Love, widow of rock-star Curt Cobain who killed himself with a hand-gun, formed and funded Cease-Fire Inc. The organization runs expensive national television ads starring high-profile celebrities with the message “guns are dangerous and gun ownership is a threat to family and friends.” The organization’s stated goal is the complete ban of hand-guns for civilians under the guise that guns are a “public health threat.”

Richard Friend, a self-described Libertarian, NRA member and candidate for Congress in Michigan’s 10th District has compiled an exhaustive list of companies and celebrities who have directly lent their name, grassroots efforts or some other form of support to anti-gun organizations. The company list is hundreds of names long but includes AT&T, American Association of Retired Persons, Clorox Corporation, GEICO, HBO, U.S. Catholic Conference, Walt Disney, and the Young Women’s Christian Association, to name only a few.

The fact is that anti-gun groups abound and their messages will continue to garner support based on the notion that guns kill people, not people or societal and cultural factors. The media will also continue to abet this agenda, seeking the emotional pay-off that stories involving guns delivers.

But it can at least also be said that there does exist empirical, scholarly and scientific research on a global scale by multiple, disinterested sources that all reach the same conclusions: an armed society is a safer society; evidence does not support the notion that private gun ownership in any way increases rates of violent crime; and populations with gun bans have by far the highest rates of violent crime.

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