How to Buy a Gun in 15 Countries…and 201 others

Image created by Bill Cawthon. Model photo copyright © Ljupco. Used under license from

On Wednesday, March 11, 2019, the daily digest editors brought us another installment of Old and Easily Debunked Gun Control Articles.

This time, it was an article published last year in the New York Times about the challenges of buying a gun in other countries.

Since it’s the Times, it’s quite likely that the article was written to persuade the reader that all sorts of hurdles in the gun-buying process are a good thing and beneficial to the public wellbeing.

I am giving the writers the benefit of a doubt because if that was their goal, they’re sitting ducks for anyone that can use a search engine.

Before beginning to play arcade games with their talking points, I want to let the cat out of the bag. As the photo shows, the way to buy a gun in every nation on this planet is to have enough money. The world black market in arms is flourishing. It’s a multi-billion-dollar enterprise with “retail outlets” in every country. It operates in places that don’t even have McDonald’s and you don’t have to show your driver’s license.

In their article, Ms. Carlsen and Mr. Chinoy presented an interesting selection of countries. Especially since it doesn’t seem to prove that making guns difficult to get is a sure-fire way to reduce homicides.

Perhaps it’s because of the sources they chose. I looked at their extensive list of sources and noticed something: there weren’t any government sources mentioned. They used a nice selection of gun control advocacy groups and some universities but sources that might actually help them connect the dots seem to be missing.

Being a public-service-minded fellow, I felt is was my responsibility to help out with those seemingly random dots.

To get the true picture of the efficacy of all those regulatory challenges, here are the homicide rates for all of the countries in the NYT article:

Being lazy tonight, I just used numbers from Worldatlas. But I did compare them to the 2016 stats from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Systems data for 2017.

It may take a long time to legally purchase a firearm in South Africa. However, judging by the homicide rate, they might want to reconsider going with the 30-minute, instant background check method. The U.S. homicide rate is nearly 85% lower than South Africa’s.

In Brazil, the violence is so widespread and the police are so overwhelmed and/or apathetic that people are forming lynch mobs and delivering justice that way. Sounds like those strict gun laws have worked out well for them.

The country’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, recently announced he would relax the country’s restrictions on firearms to allow citizens to defend themselves.

And how about our neighbor to the south? The one where the murder rate is 4.5 times higher than the U.S.

Russia? Nearly double. And that probably doesn’t include “government activities.”

It’s interesting to note that Yemen’s purchase process is even more casual than the American way. Their homicide rate is remarkably close to ours.

If you average the homicide rates of these 15 nations, you get a rate of 7.23 homicides per 100,000 population. That’s almost 54% higher than the U.S.

Clearly there are many nations with lower homicide rates. All of them share one thing in common: they aren’t the United States. While people typically think of the U.S. as a renegade Western European nation, we’re not.

When it comes to gun ownership, there are no concrete statistics but a number of media outlets have crowed about the surveys indicating that gun ownership is declining. The fly in the ointment is they sometimes confuse percentage with actual numbers.

While the decline in hunting and increase in gunshaming have contributed to a drop in the percentage of household with guns (and most likely a drop in the number of household members willing to disclose ownership), the number of households with guns is likely the highest in U.S. history.

A widely publicized CBS poll conducted in June 2016 reported that 36% of American households had one or more guns. That was down from 53% in 1994 and 51% in 1977. Based on Census Bureau estimates of the number of U.S. households in those years, there would have been 39.4 million households with guns in 1977; nearly 51.5 million in 1994 and 45.3 million in 2016.

But polls conducted in 2017 and 2018 by Pew Research and Gallup pegged the percentage at 42% and 43% respectively. That puts the number in the range of 53 million to nearly 54.9 million.

There is also a wide range in estimates of the number of Americans that personally own guns. Surveys provide estimates based on percentage of Americans who own guns, percentages of American adults who own guns and the percentages vary widely. However, based on the number of active concealed-carry permits (about 16.5 million) and adjusting for the fact that thirteen states didn’t require a permit to carry a concealed handgun last year, it’s highly probable that the number of U.S. gun owners is more than 82 million.

The fictional Republic of Gunland would have a population of more than 82 million. Graphic by Bill Cawthon.

The authors’ thesis also runs into problems with England. Great Britain, having effectively banned handguns and heavily restricted almost all other firearms, has seen such an increase in knife violence that the country has imposed significant restrictions on those. Fewer murders than the U.S. but twice the rate of violent crime. Plus Great Britain always has had a low rate of gun murders compared to the U.S.

According to figures for 216 nations, firearm-happy America ranks 111th in terms of homicide rate. That’s right, we’re just inside the bottom half.

FYI: The world homicide rate is 8.7/100,000.

For a nation with 400 million guns, I have to say we look pretty damn good.

Since I doubt any of the authors of this particular piece of tripe owns a gun, I am not sure how they managed to shoot themselves in the foot. Nonetheless, they managed to do it.

Professional writer. Passionately interested in facts. Founder of

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