Cost-Benefit Analysis of Gun Control More Difficult Than Social Media Speechifying
On October 1, a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Oregon.
Two days later, a U.S. drone strike killed 22 at an Afghan hospital, including twelve doctors and ten patients—three of whom were children.
On each day before, between and after those two, 1,300 people died in the United States from tobacco. Another 800 died from obesity-related health conditions. Eighty-seven died in motor vehicle accidents—including three children. Thirteen people were murdered with something other than a gun. Ten people drowned—including at least two children.
Five children died of cancer. Almost 1500 adults did as well.
Each day, every day.
There is something uniquely horrifying about death-by-violence, particularly when violence is meted out on a mass scale. But mass killings are not on the rise. Gun homicides are down—steeply—as is violent crime generally.
Well-meaning people with big-faith in big-government are certain we could hasten the speed of that downward trajectory if only people would set aside their political differences and come together in good faith to enact “common sense” gun control legislation.
It is not so simple.
Rhetoric and good intent are no substitute for fact-based cost-benefit analyses of specific, identifiable additional gun control laws (make no mistaken, we already have a lot of them).
None of those would have prevented Roseburg.
Or Sandy Hook.
Put to the test by those who demand demonstrable benefit in exchange for ceding rights, it is more difficult than the speechifying might suggest to identify specific, practicable regulations that would effectuate reductions in the murder rate.
Internet memes and charts by gun control advocates routinely suggest that stricter gun control laws correlate with fewer gun homicides. But correlation is not causation, and the statistics often reveal more complicated pictures upon further investigation.
There are significant discrepancies in the ways other countries report both private firearm possession and homicide rates. Accounting for those discrepancies (no easy task) alters the way the U.S. compares on both measures.
Some states and countries (Wyoming and New Hampshire, for example) have both permissive gun laws and low homicide rates. Nine U.S. states with permissive gun laws have so few homicides a reliable rate cannot even be calculated.
If suicides are excluded, five of the 10 U.S. states with the lowest gun-death rates are states with less restrictive gun laws. Whether to include suicides is a complex question because, while certain gun restrictions may correlate to lower rates of suicide by gun, they do not correlate with a reduced rate of suicide overall. In any case, there is no logical reason to conclude that repealing concealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws would impact the rate of suicide.
Other states and countries (like Illinois, California and Brazil) have strict gun control laws and high homicide rates.
Some low homicide jurisdictions (Hawaii, for example) have tight gun restrictions but, crucially, already had low homicide rates before implementing their stricter gun laws. They did not get to their reduced homicide rate via their gun laws. They already had it.
In other examples (like with the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban in the U.S.) gun homicides fall in the wake of restrictive legislation but, crucially, were already on a downward trajectory when the legislation was implemented—and stayed on the same trajectory, thus demonstrating no discernible impact on the murder rate.
Sometimes murder rates may even rise temporarily in the wake of gun control legislation, only to fall back to pre-restriction levels.
Finally, it is important to remember we are not trying to stop people from using guns to commit murder. We are trying to stop them from committing murder. On that note, it is not clear any correlation at all exists between U.S. state gun control laws and their homicide rates.
This is not that surprising once you consider the following: 1) the rate of people wanting to commit murder is influenced by variables other than the jurisdiction’s gun laws; 2) once becoming bent on murder, a person may not feel any compunction against obtaining a gun illegally; or 3) he may simply switch to a different method of murder that does not require a gun; 4) at least some of the murders that would otherwise have been stopped via defensive gun use may instead succeed; and 5) some criminals will be emboldened by the belief their victims will not be armed.
Perhaps an outright national ban on firearms then?
Go on, chaps. Bloody well do it.
Seriously, try it. Start the process. Stop whining about it on Twitter, and on HBO, and at the Daily Kos. Stop playing with some Thomas Jefferson quote you found on Google. Stop jumping on the news cycle and watching the retweets and viral shares rack up. Go out there and begin the movement in earnest. Don’t fall back on excuses. Don’t play cheap motte-and-bailey games. And don’t pretend that you’re okay with the Second Amendment in theory, but you’re just appalled by the Heller decision. You’re not. Heller recognized what was obvious to the amendment’s drafters, to the people who debated it, and to the jurists of their era and beyond: That “right of the people” means “right of the people,” as it does everywhere else in both the Bill of Rights and in the common law that preceded it. A Second Amendment without the supposedly pernicious Heller “interpretation” wouldn’t be any impediment to regulation at all. It would be a dead letter. It would be an effective repeal. It would be the end of the right itself. In other words, it would be exactly what you want! Man up. Put together a plan, and take those words out of the Constitution.
Of course, repealing the Second Amendment will not effectuate any actual gun control. It would just remove one of many inconvenient obstacles to that process.
There are also forty-five state constitutional protections.
Once those problematic constitutional obstacles are removed, we are still left with the difficult task of determining what, exactly, the new legislation should look like.
Let us consider Australia’s approach.
In 1996, a man in Australia killed 35 people with a semi-automatic firearm. In the wake of that tragedy, the country enacted legislation mostly prohibiting automatic and semiautomatic rifles, imposing stricter licensing requirements and ownership rules, and funding a buyback program—which succeeded in removing one-sixth to one-third of the nation’s guns from public circulation.
Now almost twenty years out, researchers have concluded that despite the massive outlay of funding, there is little evidence of any impact on the homicide rate.
The Australia model then (assuming the U.S. even could achieve the same success) would leave 60-80% of our guns in circulation and have no discernible effect on the murder rate.
Maybe Congress will simply authorize the ATF and National Guard to go door-to-door and confiscate weapons. Imagine it, a la Reason’s Austin Bragge:
You’ll need the police, the FBI, the ATF or the National Guard—all known for their nuanced approach to potentially dangerous situations—to go door-to-door, through 3.8 million square miles of this country and take guns, by force, from thousands, if not, millions of well-armed individuals. Many of whom would rather start a civil war than acquiesce.
Or Cooke’s colorful illustration:
You’re going to need a plan. A state-by-state, county-by-county, street-by-street, door-to door plan. A detailed roadmap to abolition that involves the military and the police and a whole host of informants — and, probably, a hell of a lot of blood, too. … [T]here are probably between 20 and 30 million Americans who would rather fight a civil war than let you into their houses.
And after this massive outlay of money, this blood bath between those willing to die to keep their guns and those willing to kill to take them away, how much safer will we be?
Everything you need to manufacture firearms is available at Home Depot. The materials needed to manufacture a 12-gauge shotgun cost about $20. If someone wanted to build a fully automatic Mac-10 style submachine gun, it would probably cost about $60. Every electrician, plumber, and handyman in the country has the materials necessary to manufacture firearms in their shop.
The weapons we are wringing our hands about today already are the muskets of yesteryear. Standing on the precipice of home-built drones with bombs, remote-controlled flying automatic weapons, IEDs, 3-D printed guns, backpack-sized dirty bombs and internet DIY chemical and bio weapons, arguing about the gun show loophole or how to define “assault weapon” grows ever more quaintly provincial and antiquated.
The largest school massacre in U.S. history is still the Bath Massacre in Michigan that killed 38 children and six adults.
It happened in 1927.
The killer used explosives.