For Gun Control Supporters, Japan's High Suicide Rate Is Much Less Interesting Than Its Low Homicide Rate

A Vox post about Australia highlights declines in suicide, a subject that a post about Japan does not even mention.


Last August Vox's Zack Beauchamp considered Australia's experience with gun control and concluded that country's confiscation program in 1996 and 1997 "saved lives, probably by reducing homicides and almost certainly by reducing suicides." Although the impact on the homicide rate, which was already declining, remains controversial, Beauchamp wrote, "Buying back 3,500 guns correlated with a 74 percent drop in firearm suicides," while "non-gun suicides didn't increase to make up the decline." He added:

There is good reason why gun restrictions would prevent suicides….Suicide is often an impulsive choice, one often not repeated after a first attempt. Guns are specifically designed to kill people effectively, which makes suicide attempts with guns likelier to succeed than (for example) attempts with razors or pills. Limiting access to guns makes each attempt more likely to fail, thus making it more likely that people will survive and not attempt to harm themselves again.

Beauchamp updated that post last Thursday, presumably to take advantage of renewed interest in gun control following the massacre in San Bernardino. Later that same day, he wrote a new post calling attention to Japan's remarkably low homicide rate, which he attributed largely to that country's strict gun control. But unlike the post about Australia, the one about Japan does not so much as mention suicide, possibly because residents of the latter country kill themselves at a much higher rate than Americans do, even though they are much less likely to own guns.

Based on data from the World Health Organization, Japan's suicide rate last year was 18.8 per 100,000, compared to 12.4 per 100,000 for the United States. National government data show an even bigger gap: 20.1 vs. 12.6. If "there is good reason why gun restrictions would prevent suicides" (as opposed to merely encouraging the substitution of one method for another), why is Japan's suicide rate so high? It's the sort of question you'd expect a journalist to address (or at least mention) if he were honestly interested in exploring the consequences of gun control, as opposed to making a case for it by cherry-picking the most helpful data.