Guns do not make countries safer, new research suggests. An analysis of existing data has established a strong, independent link between gun ownership and firearm deaths in 27 developed countries. The study also debunks the commonly cited correlation between firearm deaths and mental illness burden, as the survey found no significant relationship between such deaths and major depressive disorders. By problematizing the current anthropological arguments for gun ownership, the findings may help return the U.S. Second Amendment debate to a more tempered, strictly jurisprudential realm of inquiry.

While staunch proponents of gun ownership have traditionally equated more firearms with increased public safety, recent incidents have forced many to formulate a caveat: guns make a nation safer if, and only if, that nation has an effective mental illness program. They argue that the shootings in Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, and Oak Creek are testaments to a flawed healthcare system rather than inadequate gun regulations. By their logic, blaming the proliferation of firearms in mass shootings is roughly analogous to implicating the auto industry in drunk-driving accidents.

To evaluate this argument, researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons examined data from 27 developed nations. Using crime rates as indicators of public safety, the researchers found a clear link between gun ownership and firearm deaths.

"The gun ownership rate was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death," co-author Sripal Bangalore said in a press release. "Private gun ownership was highest in the US. Japan, on the other end, had an extremely low gun ownership rate. Similarly, South Africa (9.4 per 100,000) and the US (10.2 per 100,000) had extremely high firearm-related deaths, whereas the United Kingdom (0.25 per 100,000) had an extremely low rate of firearm-related deaths.

“This argues against the notion of more guns translating into less crime,” he added.

The study also considered a nation’s relative mental illness burden. Using data obtained from the World Health Organization (WHO), the researchers analyzed the rate of major depressive disorders per 100,000 inhabitants. According to co-author Frank Messerli, the data failed to indicate a significant link between mental illness and gun-related deaths.

"Although correlation is not the same as causation, it seems conceivable that abundant gun availability facilitates firearm-related deaths. Conversely, high crime rates may instigate widespread anxiety and fear, thereby motivating people to arm themselves and give rise to increased gun ownership, which, in turn, increases availability," he explained. "Regardless of exact cause and effect, the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that countries with higher gun ownership are safer than those with low gun ownership."

The researchers believe that this “vicious circle” could account for gun control’s polarizing status in the U.S.

Source: Sripal Bangalore, Franz H. Messerli. Gun Ownership and Firearm-related Deaths. The American Journal of Medicine, 2013; 126 (10)