Editorials, Opinion

Guns aren’t the problem? The data disagree

On Sunday, July 3, a gunman walked into a mall and opened fire. Armed with one rifle and one pistol, the 22-year-old killed three people and wounded (to varying degrees) 30 more.

On Monday, July 4, a gunman climbed onto a rooftop and opened fire on a Fourth of July parade. Armed with a semiautomatic rifle (and another in the car), the 21-year-old unloaded two 30-round magazines and most of a third into the crowd below, firing roughly 83 bullets. He killed seven people and injured a couple dozen more.

But that’s mostly where the similarities end.

The first incident happened in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was their first mass shooting since a 2015 terror attack.

The second happened in Highland Park, Ill. It was, at least, America’s third mass shooting in less than two months. According to the Gun Violence Archive, it was the 15th mass shooting with four or more fatalities since the start of 2022.

The only other similarity between the two shootings is both assailants were known to officials. The Highland shooter had previously made threats to harm himself and family members. The Copenhagen shooter was familiar to mental health providers, but officials didn’t release further information.

These incidents are not examples of gun laws failing, as some will say. Rather, they show what happens when gun laws are not properly applied and enforced. The Highland shooter’s father sponsored his application so he could buy the guns; the Copenhagen shooter could not legally own the weapons he used and it’s not yet known how he got them.

As one Copenhagen resident said of the July 3 shooting: “It reminds you of the mass shootings you see in the States. This is Denmark, these things don’t happen here.”

The data show why. Because in Denmark, like much of Europe, guns are more carefully regulated. Specifically in Denmark, semiautomatic assault-style firearms and handguns require special authorization. Automatic weapons are totally banned. Someone who wishes to carry a firearm must pass a background check that includes criminal and mental health records. You must have a license to own and carry firearms; to get a license, you must prove a legitimate reason for possessing a gun, such as hunting or target practice.

Denmark is fairly permissive compared to some of its neighbors. Germany’s regulations are similar to Denmark’s, but background checks include extremist affiliations, criminal, mental health and addiction records. Germany also requires training to obtain a license and limits firearms to one per license. The United Kingdom is even stricter: private possession of automatic guns, semiautomatic assault-style rifles and handguns is prohibited. Individuals can have long guns or shotguns, if they can establish a reason for needing one, pass a background check that examines criminal, mental health and addiction records and must re-apply and re-qualify for their license every five years.

In 2016, a year for which there is data for all four countries, Denmark had fewer than 10 guns per 100 people; the United Kingdom had 5; Germany had 32; and the U.S. had 120. , Denmark experienced 60 total firearms deaths (1 per 100,000 people); the U.K. had 107 (0.17 per 100,000); Germany had 831 (1 per 100,000); and the U.S. had 38,658 (12 per 100,000).

Tell us again that guns — and unfettered access to them — aren’t the problem.