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Banning firearms has no effect on homicide/suicide – Dr. Mirza

With a small but boisterous group of “anti gun lobby” doctors seeking “protection from guns”, we thought we would consult the experts in these areas. The following testament was provided by Dr. Rida Mirza, child & adolescent psychiatrist from London, ON. Dr. Mirza has done extensive research in the areas of mental illness in youth and also holds a teaching appointment of Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Faculty at the Schulich school of medicine and is a professor at the University of Western Ontario.

I asked the doctor, what if any effect would a ban on firearms have on homicide and suicide rates, in his professional opinion, and why. Here is his response:

Anti-Social Personality Disorder is a Diagnosis in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.) This Personality Disorder is related to Criminal Behaviours.

Diagnostic Criteria include:

• Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviours.
• Deceitfulness for personal gain.
• Failure to plan ahead.
• Being irritable and aggressive.
• Reckless disregard for the safety of others.
• Consistent irresponsibility.
• Lack of remorse

To have Anti-Social Personality Disorder one has to be at least 18 years of age. These behaviours start occurring by age 15 years and the individual should not have Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. Not all 7 criteria need to be present.

The Prevalence of this Disorder is between 0.2% and 3.3% according to DSM-5. However, rates approaching 70% can occur in select populations; examples being prison populations, substance use clinics, individuals with Alcohol Use Disorders, etc.

Risk factors for this Disorder include:
• Deficits in Verbal Skills and Language Disorders.
• The presence of Learning Disorders.
• Autonomic hypo-reactivity (this is where the Autonomic Nervous system does not activate anxiety appropriately. Individuals do not feel anxiety as an average person would and this can lead to disinhibited behaviour.)
• Low Serotonin levels in the Central Nervous System.
• Genetic predisposition. Twin adoption studies point to a strong Genetic component.
• Physical / Emotional / Sexual Abuse.
• Inappropriate parenting and limit setting.

None of the literature points towards the presence of firearms as a risk factor for developing this particular disorder.

The presence of firearms or other weapons does not appear to have any clear link with crime and criminal acts. The US is an interesting ecosystem. More than 50% of crimes committed using guns occur in 5% of US counties. Places such as Utah have an abundance of firearms; and yet have low crime and murder rates – lower than Canada. The 5% of counties that are the cause of more than 50% of deaths using a firearm are interesting. Studying the populations and risk factors in these 5% of counties would help us get a better understanding of crime; and thus work towards prevention.

Switzerland is another interesting example. The people have plenty of firearms and yet have low crime using guns. Jamaica is another example with extreme gun control and high crime using guns. The UK has had an increase in crime using guns since their gun ban in 1997. As I have stated; the mere presence of guns in Civilian hands does not seem to be related to the amount of crime committed using guns.

Suicide is an interesting issue. It also does not seem to be related to the mere presence of firearms. Method substitution needs to be studied more. There are multiple risk-factors for suicide. In the literature risk factors include time of year, being male, age, psychological and social pressures, marital status, financial problems, use of alcohol etc. 60% of individuals who complete suicide have Blood Alcohol Levels above the legal limit for driving. I do not advocate Prohibition of alcohol. The US tried that in the 1920s. This lead on to increased corruption, economic decline, increase in the illegal liquor trade, an increase in alcohol consumption, etc.

Japan has some of the world’s highest suicide rates. They have worked hard at reducing suicide rates and have cut rates down to 19.5 per 100,000 people as of 2014. The rate used to be much higher. Japan has very low civilian gun ownership rates. The suicide rate in Canada is around 11.5 per 100,000 people – these numbers are from 2009. In Canada, the suicide rate for males was three times higher than the rate for females (17.9 versus 5.3 per 100,000.)

Based on the data; Banning firearms will not have an effect on rates of suicide or homicide. Method substitution may or may not occur. Method substitution is not going to reduce rates of Suicide or Homicide.

~Dr. Rida Mirza 

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