Politics & Policy

Ezra Klein Is Wrong: Gun Control Doesn’t Reduce Suicide Rates

(George Bailey/Dreamstime)

Intent on never letting a good crisis go to waste, liberal pundits such as Vox’s Ezra Klein couldn’t seem to wait for the blood to dry after Wednesday morning’s horrific murder of two journalists in Virginia before trotting out their usual gun-control wish list. Notwithstanding the fact that President Obama’s gun-control measures wouldn’t have prevented the murders, Klein took to Twitter to make his case that gun control would reduce gun violence.

Klein’s thesis is simple: Reducing the availability of guns would reduce the rate of suicide.

Is this claim backed by good data? Let’s examine the countries with some of the world’s strictest gun-control laws.

Australia

Liberal pundits love Australia’s gun-control regime, especially the post-1996 National Agreement on Firearms that “all but prohibited . . . automatic and semiautomatic” rifles, instituted a gun buy-back program that took nearly 650,000 firearms out of circulation, and required applicants for gun licenses to demonstrate their “genuine need” for a weapon.

Vox says this gun-control system was a causal factor in reducing the suicide rate. A data-heavy piece by German Lopez, published this week, includes a chart purporting to show a causal relationship between the buy-back program and the drop in the Australian suicide rate.

“When countries reduced access to guns, they saw a drop in the number of firearm suicides,” Lopez wrote.

But while the chart does show a steady decline in gun-related suicides, the reduction occurred at the same time as an overall reduction in the Australian suicide rate. What’s more, firearm-related suicides had been declining in Australia for nearly ten years before the 1996 restrictions on gun ownership.

Vox’s own chart does not appear to show a causal link between gun control and a reduction in suicide rates in Australia.

Japan

Japan has long had one of the world’s most restrictive national gun-control policies. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that, “Gun-control advocates regularly cite Japan’s highly restrictive firearm regulations in tandem with its extraordinarily low gun homicide rate.” This is true. Because most guns are illegal in Japan and gun-ownership rates are extremely low, the country has the lowest gun-homicide rate in the world at one in 10 million.

According to Vox’s theory, Japan should have a similarly low suicide rate — but that’s not what you see at all. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, nearly twice the U.S. rate. Just last month, the BBC reported that nearly 25,000 Japanese took their own lives in 2014 alone, more than 70 people every day.

The scarcity of firearms in Japan has not prevented an extremely high occurrence of suicide.

South Korea

South Korea has gun-control laws so strict almost all guns are illegal; the few available hunting rifles must be “stored at police stations” when not in use. Handguns are practically non-existent and “advertising guns or ammunition is banned.” But while shooting incidents “are rare,” South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the developed world according to the World Health Organization.

As in Japan, social and cultural factors are probably to blame: 14-hour days in the classroom with relentless pressure to ace exams, a “higher percentage of stressed out kids than in any of the 30 other developed nations,” and expectations of success made more difficult to meet in moribund economic times.

Guns are certainly not a factor in the suicide rate. Along with hanging, drowning, and jumping off of buildings, ingesting pesticides was the method of choice for nearly 25 percent of South Korean suicides between 2006 and 2010. In 2012, more than 14,000 South Koreans took their own lives.

Gun-control is not a causal factor in reducing suicide rates.

According to the data compiled by the World Health Organization, the story is much the same elsewhere: Developed Western nations such as Hungary, Poland, France, Belgium, and Austria all have higher suicide rates than the United States — and all have stricter gun-control regimes. As much as Ezra Klein and Vox want to use suicide rates as a tool to attack American’s Second Amendment rights, the data don’t support their case.

— Mark Antonio Wright is an intern at National Review.

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