Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”     Edward Abbey

April 20, 2007

Why Gun Control Isn’t The Answer

by Doug Mataconis

In today’s Los Angeles Times, James Q. Wilson takes on the Europeans who have responded to the Virginia Tech Tragedy by attacking America’s gun control laws:

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 — as criminologists Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins have shown — 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.

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16 Comments

  1. “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.”

    Is this a convenient anomoly?

    Comment by AT QB — April 20, 2007 @ 2:41 pm
  2. You know all I read is how if allowed to carry at work, at school, etc. Has anyone actually been saved by have a gun that can give personal account, not a “what if.”

    Comment by VRB — April 21, 2007 @ 6:23 pm
  3. I forgot about the preview. I meant having instead of have. If anyone comments, no statistics, not job related, such as a policeman or soldier, and no hearsay; not any “my neighbor” stuff.

    Comment by VRB — April 21, 2007 @ 6:31 pm
  4. VRB,

    I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you would accept, but in the Penn & Teller “Gun Control is Bullshit,” there is a woman who lost both her parents to a gunman. She actually had a gun, but because of the law, she was forced to leave it in her car. Here is the link for the video. (Her story is about half way through.)

    Comment by trumpetbob15 — April 21, 2007 @ 7:22 pm
  5. VRB,

    The NRA has a monthly feature in its magizines about actual accounts of citizens protecting themselves with guns.

    In addition to the Penn & Teller video trumpetbob15 reccommended, I would reccommend Larry Elder’s documentary called “Michael & Me.”
    This documentary has interviews of people who fended off attackers by having a gun.

    There’s one story that is particularly compelling about a woman who opened a business in a bad part of town. She wanted to protect herself so she went to buy a gun. Unfortunatley, the state law required a seven day waiting period. To make a long story short, while she was in the seven day waiting period, she was raped at her place of business. She was knocked out, the attacker left her and went into the next room rummaging through her stuff. According to the lady in question, she regained consciousness and would have had ample opportunity to draw her gun on the man and prevent her from being raped if not for the seven day waiting period.

    One thing the media will not tell you is that guns are used more often to prevent violent crimes (by every day citizens) than they are used to commit violent crimes.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — April 21, 2007 @ 9:00 pm
  6. Ummmm, VRB, I’ve read quite a few such stories in the newspaper. Aside from that, my aunt prevented a home invasion with a shotgun back in the 1980′s. She called me to tell me something odd was happening. I came over, when I got there, she had a broken down door, the criminal fled when he saw her with a shotgun, and the police were on their way.

    The door was broken open with a crowbar, which was dropped in the entry. My aunt had barricaded herself behind a couch after calling me. She called me because she had seen what looked like a man outside her windows. When the guy broke in, he came through the entry, into the living room. Her shotgun was poking over top of the couch, she told him she would shoot, he left.

    That do the trick for you?

    Comment by Adam Selene — April 21, 2007 @ 11:44 pm
  7. One of my wife’s aunts shot a would-be rapist in the leg with a very small handgun.

    My father in law, who lived out in the country, once ran a man off his property with a shot-gun. The man had been hiding in the bushes watching his house.

    Comment by tarran — April 22, 2007 @ 12:00 am
  8. Still no personal accounts, my curiosity is about your reaction time, the kind of decision you made, if any; because I see too much implied about what others would have, should have done. I think you should only speak of your self.
    Personally, I think it is a lot harder to murder someone with something other than a gun, especially robbing someone. I feel I would have a better chance fighting someone with a knife or could run away, than if they had a gun and I did also; but that’s just me.

    Comment by VRB — April 22, 2007 @ 5:02 am
  9. VRB,

    I understand your question, but the implication that only someone who has been in that kind of situation can comment is ridiculous. How many government officials, the ones voting for gun control laws, have been in this situation? How many of them will ever be? Most will have some sort of protection like a bodyguard (with a gun).

    By the way, to feel that because no one on this post has had a personal experience and therefore a gun for self-defense is rare, you would be ignoring how rare one of these mass shootings are.

    I feel I would have a better chance fighting someone with a knife or could run away, than if they had a gun and I did also; but that’s just me.

    Yeah, you probably would have a better chance knife vs. knife, but that isn’t the point of the discussion. The problem is when the bad guy has a gun while you are unarmed. The question becomes, should the government tell you that you must be unarmed or should you have the option of having a gun? Laws banning guns won’t stop a nutjob from committing this kind of act, but they can limit the options of the normal people out there who become needless victims.

    Comment by trumpetbob15 — April 22, 2007 @ 9:35 am
  10. My own personal accounts are all in the military, which you have discounted. Although, honestly, the average soldier or police officer is not much better trained than a private citizen that goes to the gun range 3 or 4 times a year.

    Based on a lot of martial arts training (and some situations that required using it), if your attacker is within 5 feet of you, your odds of surviving if you take rapid, violent action are very high. Regardless of whether they have a gun or a knife. In fact, at that range, the guy with a knife is more dangerous to the unarmed person willing to take action than the guy with a gun. I realize this is counter-intuitive because we have made guns out to be the ultimate killing tool. In reality, they are not. The ultimate killer is the man or woman willing to take violent action to inflict death, regardless of what tool they are armed with.

    If you are within arm’s length of me and have a gun, all I need to do is deflect your shooting arm so that you can’t bring the gun to bear. If you are within arm’s length of me and have a knife, my job is much more complicate. And a serious knife cut can be as disabling as a bullet wound. What Hollywood portrays as the effect of a bullet is way off base. People don’t fly backwards when they are shot until the weapon is of a very large, military caliber. Most shooters are wildly inaccurate, as well, especially in high stress situations.

    Of course, this blog is hardly a scientific poll. And, of course, you discount news reports and the experiences of soldiers.

    Comment by Adam Selene — April 22, 2007 @ 9:39 am
  11. My question was not about gun control, but had to do more about if if you were allowed to carry in any instance. I don’t think the world would be safer, since there have been people killed, when others were shooting each other. I would not be comfortable with every one having a gun just any place. You might trust them, but I don’t. I excluded military and policeman because they have been trained to access certain situations. I think most people may start shooting from perceived danger rather than real danger. Then we would hear, “I thought that person was…” too often. I gather from some comments I have read here that crime would be deterred. That assume that criminals really think about consequences.
    Having the right to own a gun or to carry is not the same as actually doing so. The implication of my question is, if there were others carrying a gun on that day, would they have actually shot Cho; or would the bloodbath toll been higher, because of the lack of knowledge of what was happening or the wrong perception of who the shooter was. (remember there is more than one person shooting in this scenario) So,I wondered if anyone had had the experience.

    Comment by VRB — April 22, 2007 @ 1:06 pm
  12. VRB, I think you are way off base in your trust that police and soldiers are better able to assess a violent situation than someone who is not one of those things. Having been both, as well as involved with private security now, I am here to tell you that I have personally seen some really bad reactions from cops and soldiers. In fact, we read about a lot of them right here on TLP all the time. Your trust in them and distrust in individuals more generally is worrisome to me.

    Your perceptions lead to investing more power in a government that is no better at administering the use of force than its weakest link. And that results in SWAT teams killing little old ladies, as we see all too often.

    I would rather trust Chris or myself than those yahoos, thank you very much. I have personally confronted violent situations many times over the last 25 years, or so, sometimes holding a firearm, sometimes not. But, because you have an unfounded belief in the superior training of law enforcement and military, you discount what I tell you because it’s coming from someone with what you deem to be superior training. Regardless of the fact that I tell you (as does Chris another military veteran and security guy) that the “superior training” isn’t all that.

    Comment by Adam Selene — April 22, 2007 @ 3:11 pm
  13. VRB,

    I don’t agree with your statement:

    Having the right to own a gun or to carry is not the same as actually doing so. The implication of my question is, if there were others carrying a gun on that day, would they have actually shot Cho; or would the bloodbath toll been higher, because of the lack of knowledge of what was happening or the wrong perception of who the shooter was. (remember there is more than one person shooting in this scenario)

    Of course the death toll would have been lower!

    Imagine you are sitting in class and have a firearm in your purse. A stranger bursts through the door, with expressionless eyes and starts shooting your classmates.

    As you pull the gun out of your purse, another member of your class starts banging away at the stranger. Are you going to start shooting at your class-mate or at the stranger?

    Let’s say you were in the hallway, and you hear an exchange of gunshots. Are you going to rush through the door of the room and start shooting? I don’t think so.

    Statistical studies (and I would love it if someone would find a link to them) show that a in a gunfight between law abiding people and criminals, a police officer is much more likely to shoot an innocent bystander or a non-criminal than a private citizen.

    This is simply explained. Police officers are expected to rush into the fray and end the shooting. Civilians tend to be much more judicious, they only start shooting when they are certain that the person they are shooting at must be shot. Thus, they tend to be far more restrained, and less aggressive.

    I gather from some comments I have read here that crime would be deterred. That assume that criminals really think about consequences.

    Criminals do fear consequences. How many massacres do you hear of in police stations? How many shootings erupt in gun-shops? In restaurants frequented by cops?

    Additionally, what makes you think law-enforcement officers can be trusted with firearms. There have been policemen who were serial killers. Hell, in the 1950′s white police officers had a depressing habit of murdering black people. There are some neighborhoods in new York where the Mafia provides the only functioning security services. Can you imagine arguing that in those neighborhoods only mobsters should be allowed to carry guns?

    Comment by tarran — April 22, 2007 @ 3:21 pm
  14. I did not say anything about trusting police or soldiers more or that they were any better. This is what I said.

    I would not be comfortable with every one having a gun just any place. You might trust them, but I don’t. I excluded military and policeman because they have been trained to access certain situations.

    Which means their accounts about their experiences would be different.

    tarran,

    Of course the death toll would have been lower!

    How do you prove that scenario? Have you been there, done that? Convincing people that you point of view is right may have bad consequences. I can’t say it would, but it bothers me that there is so much certainty on this blog, when we live in a chaotic world.
    Of course you take responsibility for your statements.

    Comment by VRB — April 22, 2007 @ 5:56 pm
  15. VRB, our position on this is precisely because the world is chaotic. Your position that people might make mistakes is certainly true. What is also certainly true is that one option to change the outcome of the massacre at VT was removed from people by the desire to try and reduce chaos.

    Everywhere we look, we find examples of people dealing with great adversity and bureaucracies failing to deal with it. We see example after example of the power of the individual and the creativity of the human and the deadly sameness of the bureaucracy. Why on earth would we think that a chaotic violent situation is somehow unique?

    You say that you don’t imbue the soldier or police officer with superior training, but that is exactly what your words say:

    I excluded military and policeman because they have been trained to access certain situations.

    What I am trying to tell you, as someone with law enforcement, military and corporate security background, is that the average cop and soldier aren’t any better at assessing and dealing with such a situation than the average citizen. In many cases, based on my observations, they are worse. Soldiers and cops are good at anticipated violent situations, but not unanticipated ones. I wouldn’t over inflate their training, which is what I perceive you to be doing.

    Not only that, but I wouldn’t say that their experiences should not count. With the exception of spending more time at a gun range than the average civilian, they really are not any better prepared to deal with a situation like VT than you are. In a chaotic and violent situation, some people become calm, calculating and thoughtful, take decisive action, and become heroes. Most do not. And there is no way to tell, until the situation is upon us, who is who. Not even with cops and soldiers.

    Your position would appear to be to take away options because they wouldn’t do anything to help, and might make it worse. My position is to give options because there is a good chance that doing so will make things better. Having dealt with situations that involve workplace violence and that involve violence with firearms, I believe that the more options available, the more likely the outcome is to be better than the worst case.

    I don’t think the difference here is my certainty and your lack of certainty. I have no way of knowing how the events at VT might have gone that day, although I can make some assumptions based on experience and my ability to reason. I just have two thoughts beyond that.

    First, taking away my ability to defend myself against someone like Cho is wrong.

    Second, taking away options simply guarantees the worst outcome.

    Comment by Adam Selene — April 22, 2007 @ 6:50 pm
  16. Of course gun crime went up when there were new laws in the UK – because more actions were now considered criminal. Since then, gun crime has fallen, and in the last year, in a poplation of 60 million, with a greater urban density than the US, there were 55 gun deaths.

    Comment by Rich Johnston — May 3, 2007 @ 10:05 am

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