(Editor’s note: This post was written just before the 13 November Paris attacks.)
So pervasive have incidents of mass killings become in the United States that two more campus rampages occurring in October, right after the murders of 10 people on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon, barely registered on the Richter Scale.
Within days of Umpqua, a student at Northern Arizona University opened fire on a group of fellow students, killing one student and injuring three more. And the same day, a similar incident at Texas Southern University – another dead, another wounded.
But there were no helicopter images filling in the 24/7 TV news cycle, no interviews with school administrators and psychiatrists, no appearance from the president.
And until the recent San Bernadino slaughter, no further calls for gun control. It had all become too repetitive, too common, too futile.
But how common and repetitive in Europe? What can U.S. expats expect when it comes to living in Britain, Germany or the Netherlands?
(A note: Gun ownership, while often restricted in Europe, is not banned. In Switzerland, for example, assault rifles are issued to all military-age men – about 30 percent of the population – and kept in the home as part of the national defense.)
Americans are fully aware of the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris last January; the one-day summertime killing spree in Norway in 2011; the Arras train incident in August, in which three Americans traveling through France took down a shooter reportedly carrying a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, along with nine magazines and 300 rounds of ammunition.
So it’s a worldwide dilemma, then, not a Made in America problem?
The first point to make is that political mass-murder attempts are more common in European cities than in the U.S., even in the new post-9/11 world, the result of close proximity and porous borders.
But attacks by lone gunman types are much rarer in Europe than in the U.S. Statistics bear that out.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says the United States had 227 “rampage-shooting fatalities” in the years 2009 to 2013. By comparison, Norway had 77, Germany 25, England 13, Finland eight, Belgium and the Netherlands seven each, Switzerland six, France four.
Even with the vast differences in population size – 315 million people in the U.S. versus 81 million in Germany, 62 million in the U.K., 65 million in France, down to 8 million in Switzerland – it’s hard to ignore the out-sized number of American fatalities.
By the way, Norway’s 77 deaths all were the result of two related incidents on the same July day in 2011 by the same attacker – the car bomb explosions at government buildings in the morning and the mass killings at a youth camp in the afternoon. The U.S. had 38 different episodes during that same time period.
In 2010, the United States had 3.2 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 population, according to statistics collected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The U.S. rate is 10 to 16 times the rates of Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Netherlands and Spain; and more than 20 times that of France, the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland), Norway, Poland and Slovenia.
And how does this correlate to the possession of firearms? Of the 15 countries in the world with the highest gun ownership, according to a Washington Post study compiled in 2014:
• Germany is No. 14 on the list with 30.3 firearms and 0.19 homicides per 100,000 people.
• Austria (No. 13) has 30.4 firearms and 0.22 homicides per 100,000 people.
• France is No. 11– 31.2 firearms, 0.35 homicides.
• Norway, 10th – 31.3 firearms, 2 homicides (remembering, again, the single incident in July 2011)
• Sweden, No. 9 – 31.6 firearms, 0.41 homicides.
• Third-highest in the study is Finland: 45.3 firearms per 100,000 people , 0.45 homicides.
• Second-highest is Switzerland: 45.7 firearms, 0.77 homicides.
And, with an American Pharoah-sized lead over the field, the United States: 88.8 firearms per 100,000 people, 3.21 homicides.
While the U.S. houses less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the country has approximately 35-50 percent of civilian-owned guns worldwide, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. “The U.S. has the highest firearm-related homicide rate among developed nations,” states the Council, “though some analysts say these statistics do not necessarily have a cause-and-effect relationship.”