Gun Ownership, Violence, Mental Health & Inherited Traits

The U.S. leads the world in gun ownership, but which states have the most and least number of guns owned? And which countries have the highest gun ownership and murder rates? Col Ben presents this data and examines the complex relationships among gun ownership, violent crimes, personalities, mental health variables, and federal gun laws.

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Gun Ownership, Violence, Mental Health & Inherited Traits

Did you know that the United States has the highest gun ownership rate of all countries, according to the World Atlas’s November 2018 data? There are a lot of studies that present some fascinating facts about gun ownership for U.S. states and countries, as well as the effects of mental health, personality, and genes on gun violence. This article gives you some of this interesting and documented information from several statistically-valid studies and sources. I also offer some of my observations.

Here are some of the things presented here for your information:

  1. Which U.S. states have the highest & lowest number of civilian guns owned by its people?
  2. What are the top 15 countries that have the highest number of civilian guns owned?
  3. Which countries have the highest number of gun-related murders in the world?
  4. What are the effects of mental health, personality, and genes on anti-social behavior?
  5. What are some of the main Federal Firearms Laws existing in the U.S.?

Why Do We Even Need to Know Which States Have the Most Guns?

Well, quite frankly, we need to know where the most guns are, so we can concentrate on the security and safety for all individuals in those particular states, as well as for all persons that could be affected by their misuse. It helps us understand the general necessity for possible mental health interventions, as will be presented later here.

It is challenging to get an exact number or percentage of civilian guns currently owned in all 50 U.S. states, primarily due to the varying state data collection methods, current record keeping, and standards for licensing, registering, and regulating firearms. There are also several federal laws (presented later here) that regulate the possession, manufacturing, transferring, and ownership of firearms. So, having precise current U.S. civilian data is complex, and some of the data may be imprecise and some not available or misinterpreted.

But, we need data for understanding resource applications, state system improvements, and to help stop and mitigate possible risks and threats. Some criminals and others, for example, get their guns surreptitiously or illegally off the streets either by stealing them or on the black market from uncontrolled and unregistered trade and illicit trafficking. Several firearms possessed by criminals or used in crimes are not traceable and not included in statistics. The challenge for accurate and reliable data and record keeping for system improvement is apparent.

The U.S. Leads the World in Gun Ownership

It is interesting to note that while the United States has only about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, its civilians own about 42 percent of guns in the world, per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Study on Firearms. This statistic is supported by the interpretation of the Pew Research Center’s civilian Small Arms Survey and the 2018 World Atlas data.

Of course, our U.S. Constitution provides for and protects the right to own a gun. Some organizations have conducted surveys and studies to get civilian gun ownership data to understand the gun-friendly states and other useful interpretations. For example, the World Atlas reports that the U.S. has about 101 guns per hundred Americans, almost double that of the second country. More country comparison information below.

Gun Ownership by Each U.S. State

A CBS News Report on December 27, 2018, presented a Survey from the Injury Prevention Journal about National Average Gun Ownership by Percentage. It was a survey of 4,000 adults in all states in 2015, and the survey concluded that there was a 29.1% average gun ownership in all 50 states.

Here are the U.S. states with the lowest and highest percents of civilian gun ownership, from their Report. What are your thoughts about the lowest and highest gun ownership states, their relationships with our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, mental health interventions, and violent crimes?

Lowest Gun Ownership States – Less than 30%

Delaware5.2%
Rhode Island5.8%
New York10.3%
New Jersey11.3%
New Hampshire14.4%
Connecticut16.6%
Ohio19.6%
California19.8%
Nebraska19.8%
Maryland20.7%
Massachusetts22.6%
Maine22.6%
Washington D.C.25.9%
Illinois26.2%
Oregon26.6%
Pennsylvania27.1%
Pennsylvania27.1%
Washington27.7%
North Carolina28.7%
Vermont28.8%
Michigan28.8%
Virginia29.3%

Medium Gun Ownership States – 30% to 50%

Oklahoma31.2%
Georgia31.6%
Utah31.9%
Kansas32.2%
Arizona32.3%
Florida32.5%
Indiana33.8%
Colorado34.3%
Wisconsin34.7%
South Dakota35.0%
Texas35.7%
Minnesota36.7%
Nevada37.5%
Tennessee39.4%
Kentucky42.4%
Mississippi42.8%
South Carolina44.4%
Louisiana44.5%
Hawaii45.1%
North Dakota47.9%
Alabama48.9%
New Mexico49.9%

Highest Gun Ownership States – Above 50%

Montana52.3%
Wyoming53.8%
West Virginia54.2%
Idaho56.9%
Arkansas57.9%
Alaska61.7%

Top 15 Countries with the Highest Gun Ownership Rate

Also of interest for comparison is where the U.S. stands in gun ownership rankings with other countries. While some countries do not release gun ownership data, recognize that Japan and Indonesia have reported rates of less than one firearm per 100 civilians. Other countries also report very low gun ownership per 100 people. Some reports indicate that in the U.S. there are 121 firearms per 100 civilians for the U.S. population of about 326 million. The World Atlas provides some 2018 gun ownership rankings by countries. Here are its top 15 countries with the highest gun ownership per person and some other selected countries’ data:

Rank Country Gun Ownership Per 100 People

RankCountryPer 100 People
1U.S.101
2Serbia58.21
3Yemen54.21
4Cyprus36.4
5Saudia Arabia35.0
6Iraq34.2
7Uruguay31.8
8Norway31.3
9France31.2
10Canada30.8
11Austria30.4
12Iceland30.3
13Germany30.3
14Finland27.3
15Oman25.5
21New Zealand22.6
23United Arab Emirates22.1

Gun Ownership and Violent Crimes

Several interesting gun-related and ownership questions arise from the above-reported data. Of course, a major one is the relationship of gun ownership to violent crimes and murders, both domestically and in other countries. And what role do mental health interventions have? More objective research needs to be completed related to U.S. gun ownership, violent crimes, and mental health… and for each of the individual U.S. states. There are several conflicting comparisons and both supported and unsupported claims related to these subjects, but the Pew Research Center’s Small Arms Study offers some worthwhile insight as a beginning.

The Top 4 Countries with the Highest Gun-Related Murders

A Pew Research Center Small Arms Survey indicates the countries with the top four gun-related murders in the world. El Salvador is currently ranked as #1 in the world for most gun-related murders, with guns killing more than 90 people for every 100,000 of the population. Next, Honduras ranks at #2 and is reported to have 67 murders for every 100,000 people. The countries of Venezuela and Guatemala have 52 and 49 gun-related deaths, respectively, for every 100,000 of the population, ranked at #3 and #4.

Note that these violent murders were committed by the legal citizens of their countries and not illegals from a foreign country. The latter is another different set of problems, statistics, considerations, and issues. Further for the Pew survey, Japan and South Korea report zero gun-related deaths for their population in this study. Another possible research area to follow-up and verify. The U.S. reported rate in the Small Arms Survey was 4.5 gun-related homicides per 100,000 people, a relatively small number. Interesting and, again, more research and data are needed for confirmation.

The Constitutional Right and Key Court Rulings

The U.S. leads the world in gun ownership. Gun ownership in U.S. individual states varies tremendously from about 5% to about 62%. But it is factual that Americans in all 50 states have a constitutional right to possess firearms for self-defense, according to the Second Amendment. And in June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s restrictive gun-control laws, supporting the Second Amendment. This ruling in the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago and the previous Supreme Court ruling in the District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 effectively struck down or nullified restrictive gun ownership and use laws for individuals, supporting the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. But, as you know now, there are considerable heated discussions, misunderstandings, and debates about gun ownership and firearms.

Gun Violence: Effects of Mental Health, Individual Psychology, and Personal Development

It is important to understand that it is not the tool or firearm itself that commits violent crimes like murder. A gun by itself is merely an inanimate object, incapable of reasoning and acting alone. It is a piece of metal or plastic with parts and cannot think, reason, and act by itself. Guns as tools can be used for both good and bad results, by individuals.

Observation #1:

For us to grow, develop, and advance, we must learn the proper use of our tools. The prehistoric and primitive Neanderthal cave dwellers from 400,000 years ago in the Chatelperronian (Tool) Era learned this fundamental principle of developing and using tools in a positive way for growth. They used stones, wood, antlers, shells, and bones for food and music implements and even for weapons like axes and spears for self-defense, protection from the weather and bad cave dwellers, and for getting food. Interestingly, the National History Museum website documents that we as modern humans have inherited about 2% of the Neanderthal DNA.

We individually decide by our values, beliefs, goals, intentions, personality, knowledge, limited experiences, and inherited factors whether to use a tool or gun for good or bad purposes. We may not recognize that some of these are uncontrollable by ourselves and greatly influenced by our DNA and what we have inherited. We should not do away with useful tools or guns. But rather, an individual (with all his or her mental motivations, disturbed or productive goals, distorted or rational control mechanisms, beliefs, goals, and behaviors) who uses the gun as a tool to commit even terrible, violent nefarious acts must be understood and influenced to positively use tools and guns for useful and helpful actions.

Observation #2:

Individuals’ genes, personality, brain development, and behaviors are largely influenced by both inherited traits and environmental factors, according to an individual’s family history and their inherited genes, according to Dr. Gene Robinson in the National Institutes of Health article “Genes and Social Behavior.” As the well-respected Mayo Clinic website states:

“antisocial behavior” (like criminal gun violence) “is thought to have its roots in childhood, so parents, teachers, and mental health professionals may be able to spot early warning signs and help to identify those most at risk, such as children who show signs of conduct disorder, and then offer early intervention.”

Several recent mass-shooting shooters exhibited early signs of extreme antisocial behaviors at early ages, without early recognition and professional intervention.

A Complex Matter

Guns, like hammers, screwdrivers, baseball bats, eating forks, and utility knives as tools, can be used by an individual in both good and bad deeds. A specific understanding of the deranged individual and his or her mental health, disturbed goals, motivations, personality, diminished self-control mechanisms, family history, and unique behaviors play a very significant role in the likelihood of whether someone will commit a violent act and whether or not a gun will be used.

This is a complex emotional and objective issue with many different and connected variables which needs to be resolved non-emotionally and rationally. I know firsthand since I spent three years of my life researching and studying individual psychology, motivations, and several variables and their effects on results for my doctorate dissertation. I analyzed the unique motivational factors and behaviors of 300 individuals in 27 locations and their relationships to key variables to account for certain behaviors and results. I calculated coefficients of correlation and analyzed 11 independent personal variables, dependent variables, used multiple regression analysis, analysis of variance techniques, T tests, F tests, etc. to statistically and personally analyze their relationships and objective results among the variables. This was just one minor study in the galaxy of studies. But for me, I learned that people and their mental health, motivations, and behaviors are complex and I have much more to learn… and we as a peace-loving society also have much to learn about the effects of an individual’s development and hereditary traits on their behaviors and anti-social gun violence tendencies.

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, alcohol, for example, is a much more significant contributing factor (than possessing a gun) to the likelihood toward violent acts. Sadly, the American public is led to believe that gun crime is more common today than it was two decades ago, despite evidence that it has been on the decline for decades. Sensationalism and fake news coverage and dangerous, misleading politicking exaggerates and focuses on violent gun crimes and merely the presence of a gun, rather than individual reasons for violent acts and mental health factors and solutions.

The exact cause of gun violence, anti-social behaviors, and personality disorders are not known, but the well-respected Mayo Clinic website states that:

“Genes may make you vulnerable to developing antisocial personality disorder, and life situations may trigger its development. Changes in the way the brain functions may have resulted during brain development.”

Observation #3:

So as non-mental health trained lay people, we may not objectively and professionally understand why some behave the way they do (violent behaviors and evil gun use), nor why individuals behave in a way that makes sense to themselves, based on their unrecognized family history and hereditary, developmental influences. These largely unrecognized and uncontrollable variables influence personal behaviors, and we as family members and friends need to help identify, understand, and help channel them better, especially for anti-social and violent behaviors at an early age. While recognizing professional assistance may be necessary.

More focus on mental health and individual hereditary behaviors, more quickly identifying at-risk individuals, proper interventions, and better record keeping is necessary. More gun control laws are not necessary. Proper enforcement of existing laws is necessary. There are reasonable state, and federal gun laws already existing and below are just some of the federal laws enacted to control, regulate, and/or tax guns held by individuals. (Doublecheck the provisions of these federal laws [and your state’s laws] for yourself for specific, current details.) Individual state gun laws vary significantly, are very influential, and are too numerous to list here. Know your state’s gun laws.

Some Federal Gun Laws

  • 1934 – National Firearms Act imposed a tax on the sale of machine guns and short-barrel firearms, in reaction public rage over gangster activity.
  • 1938 – Federal Firearms Act required licensing of gun dealers.
  • 1968 – Gun Control Act expanded licensing and record-keeping; banned felons and the mentally ill from buying guns; banned the mail-order sale of guns.
  • 1972 – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was created to oversee federal regulation of guns.
  • 1986 – Firearms Owners Protection Act eased some gun sale restrictions during President Reagan’s terms of office.
  • 1993 – Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires gun dealers to run background checks on purchasers. Establishes a national database of prohibited gun owners.
  • 1994 – Violent Crime Control Act banned the sale of new “assault” weapons for ten years. Congress allowed the law to expire in 2004.
  • 2003 – Tiahrt Amendment protects gun dealers and manufacturers from certain lawsuits.
  • 2005 – The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act prevents gun manufacturers from being named in federal or state civil lawsuits by those who were victims of crimes involving guns made by that company.
  • 2009 – Credit Card Reform Act (which includes a gun measure) to allow visitors to national parks and wildlife refuges to carry a loaded firearm only in those parks located in states that permit concealed guns in their own state parks.
  • 2013 – National Defense Authorization Act allows military commanders to ask about private firearms if there is a reason to believe a service member is at high risk of committing suicide.

Conclusions

I hope the data, my opinions, and research-supported studies and observations have helped you more-solidly define your understanding of gun ownership and violence… and the many and complex, controllable and uncontrollable, individual factors affecting the occurrences of undesirable criminal violent acts with a gun. There are key variables for consideration and much-needed mental health involvement and early intervention to possibly prevent violent behaviors and acts with a gun. We should know the federal gun laws and our state’s gun laws. Also, I hope my ideas have caused you to reevaluate, reaffirm, and/or possibly improve your present understanding of gun ownership, individual gun violence, and mental health factors to benefit our long-term approaches and solutions. Continued Success!

Photo: By Author.

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

© 2018 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].