As the nation mourns and puzzles and wonders loudly through its media outlets why it faces, with grotesque regularity, the news of a lone gunman walking into a crowd and undertaking a massacre, gun sales are soaring. In the three days after science grad student James Holmes shot ninety moviegoers at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie, applications for the background checks needed to legally purchase a gun have risen 43% from the previous week. Among the nations of the world the U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership, with approximately one gun per American (that statistic might be misleading, however, as only one in five Americans own a gun.) Yemen sits in second place, but at just over a gun for every two citizens (compared to the U.S.’s 100%), it is a distant second. Indeed, in 2009, the number of guns processed by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System was over 14,000,000. By 2011, the number had dropped to 10,800,000—still enough to arm every single active duty soldier in the world’s fourteen largest militaries combined.
This stands in stark contrast to, say, Europe, which suffers from much lower levels of violent gun crime. Many believe this is due to strict gun regulation in countries like the UK, which in 2008 saw 39 firearm-related murders to the U.S.’s 9,146 in 2009 (adjusting the UK numbers to match the U.S. population still puts the British figure at only 195). However, a nation like Switzerland–which also stakes its need for guns on a foundational fight against tyranny–boasts a culture in which guns play a large role. Nearly one in two (45% of Swiss citizens) owns a firearm. Yet the rate of gun-related homicide in Switzerland is regularly 1/5 that of the U.S. It logically follows then that private gun ownership is not the direct cause of the United States’ horrific record of shooting sprees. But then what is?