There is no doubt that the existence of some 260 million guns (of which perhaps 60 million are handguns) increases the death rate in this country. We do not have drive-by poisonings or drive-by knifings, but we do have drive-by shootings. Easy access to guns makes deadly violence more common in drug deals, gang fights and street corner brawls.
However, there is no way to extinguish this supply of guns. It would be constitutionally suspect and politically impossible to confiscate hundreds of millions of weapons. You can declare a place gun-free, as Virginia Tech had done, and guns will still be brought there.
If we want to guess by how much the U.S. murder rate would fall if civilians had no guns, we should begin by realizing â€” as criminologists Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins have shown â€” that the non-gun homicide rate in this country is three times higher than the non-gun homicide rate in England. For historical and cultural reasons, Americans are a more violent people than the English, even when they can’t use a gun. This fact sets a floor below which the murder rate won’t be reduced even if, by some constitutional or political miracle, we became gun-free.
Banning guns (and confiscating the millions that are out there if that was even possible) may reduce the murder rate by some amount, but it won’t, by itself, make up for the differences between American and European culture. And, while, were on that subject, Wilson also sites this interesting fact:
In 2000, the rate at which people were robbed or assaulted was higher in England, Scotland, Finland, Poland, Denmark and Sweden than it was in the United States. The assault rate in England was twice that in the United States. In the decade since England banned all private possession of handguns, the BBC reported that the number of gun crimes has gone up sharply.
So, the existence of strong gun control laws, or even the banning of private ownership of weapons, won’t necessarily do anything to contribute to a general drop in the crime rate. If England’s experience is any indication, it may actually increase the crime rate.
As Wilson points out, there is one lesson to draw from the Virgina Tech tragedy and those that have preceded it. We aren’t doing a very good job of identifying and coping with people such as Cho Seung-Hui, Dylan Klebold, and Eric Harris, who have such severe personality disorders that they are capable of committing crimes that shock the conscience of the world.
Until we figure out how to do that, the next massacre by a madman may be just around the corner.