Murphy's Law: The Wild Frontier

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February 27, 2008: The Organization of American States (OAS) recently issued a study reporting that there 80 million privately owned firearms in Latin America. For a region with 550 million people, that's a lot of firepower. There were 90,000 attacks using firearms last year, which is about 16 per 100,000 population. The murder rate in the Western hemisphere (about 8 per 100,000 people a year) is much higher than in Europe, where it is about 3-4. Middle Eastern nations have rates of between 5-10. The United States is often regarded, at least by Europeans, as a wild, gun happy place. But the national murder rate is about six per 100,000. There are other parts of the world that are more violent. Iraq has a murder rate of 26. That's not a lot higher than it was under Saddam (10-20 a year), but less than a third of what it was a year ago. In Africa, especially Congo, Sudan and South Africa, you find similar murder rates. Only South Africa has a sufficiently effective government to actually keep accurate track of the murder rate, mostly from crime, but it's over 50 per 100,000. It's worse in places like Congo and Sudan, but the numbers there are only estimates by peacekeepers and relief workers. In southern Thailand, a terror campaign by Islamic radicals has caused a death rate of over 80 per 100,000.

While firearms make it easier to kill, they are not necessary for a high murder rate. Parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa have murder rates of over ten (or much more) per 100,000, without the presence of many firearms. To lower the murder rate, something has to be done about anger management, more so than weapons control. Criminals can always get banned weapons, and in some parts of the world, the anger issues are much worse. Corrupt and ineffective government are the most common cause of anger, and this has been a problem that is difficult to deal with.

Frontier areas have long been noted for less law and more violence. Tribal societies are more violent than those using more advanced forms of government (monarchy, democracy), a fact which is often ignored. But anthropologists, archaeologists and historians continue to uncover more evidence that tribal systems are very violent. One reason for the enormous population growth in Africa after the 19th century, was the European colonial rule stopped the incessant, and debilitating, tribal warfare. While the colonial administrations were none too gentle, tribal wars often ended up in the extermination of the losing tribe.

 


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