“More Guns, More Death!” Catchy, But Patently False.

The president recently dealt a significant blow to criminal actors, organized and individual alike, that seek to perpetrate wanton sprees of violence by executively enacting new restrictions on the re-importation of surplus military weapons and ammunition, and the possession of Class III firearms by corporate officers.  Both policies aim to debilitate these evildoers’ respective means of wreaking mayhem and havoc upon the American people.

All kidding aside, however, these two recent executive orders – to say nothing of their blatant unconstitutionality – offer nothing substantively in the way of crime prevention and have everything to do with subculture censorship and behavior modification.  These restrictions are fairly obviously intended to placate the ignorant anti-gun sector of the populace, however temporarily, while simultaneously retarding the diffusion of responsible firearms familiarity programs and recreation – chiefly, the Civilian Marksmanship Program and the large-scale ranges and shooting events that corporations (and their employees) utilize to expose willing participants to various otherwise practically unobtainable weapons (i.e., National Firearms Act-restricted ones) in safe, controlled, and organized environments.

The idea that these two policies will somehow positively affect firearms violence in America is intuitively illogical.  Exactly how many murders and/or assaults have ever been committed by someone wielding an M1 Garand anyway?   Does it make any sense to a reasonable person that corporate employees will likely invest organization capital to purchase a $20,000+ (apiece) Class III firearm, only to then turn around and use that firearm in a felonious act of violence?  Is there even a single empirically documented instance of this having ever actually occurred?

But then, this is precisely the political essence of President Barack Obama: all symbolic pandering and virtually no substance (see his “red line” comments from last year regarding Syria).  But this piece is not directly about the president’s personal flaws so much as it is about the fallacious arguments that continuously purport to support State disarmament of a law-abiding, free citizenry.  The statist authoritarians, often hailing from both extremes of the political spectrum, continue to promulgate the stubborn myth that the existence of more guns equate to more death in a given society.  The implication is that, insofar as this particular subject matter is concerned, people are generally devoid of individual responsibility, principles, or good old free will when it comes to a gun(s) being anywhere within arm’s reach; the thing itself overpowers basic ethics, judgment, and even the plain carnal instincts of self-preservation and prosperity.

So baldly false is this claim that even that bastion of progressive academia, Harvard University, published social scientific research in 2007 that methodically and substantially disproves any supposed correlation between the prevalence of firearms in a given society and either its overall or specifically firearms-related mortality and crime rates.  In their article “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence,” Don Kates and Gary Mauser, American and Canadian criminologists respectively, explore the statistical relationships that exist between firearms ownership in America and abroad and corresponding crime rates, firearms-related death rates, and general murder rates across multiple historical timeframes.  The results illustrate that the alleged correlation between more guns and more crime/death simply does not exist.

There is a compound assertion that (a) guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why (b) the United States has by far the highest murder rate.  Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, statement (b) is, in fact, false and statement (a) is substantially so (emphasis added).

 

Since at least 1965, the false assertion that the United States has the industrialized world’s highest murder rate has been an artifact of politically motivated Soviet minimization designed to hide the true homicide rates.  Since well before that date, the Soviet Union possessed extremely stringent gun controls that were effectuated by a police state apparatus providing stringent enforcement.  So successful was that regime that few Russian civilians now have firearms and very few murders involve them.  Yet, manifest success in keeping its people disarmed did not prevent the Soviet Union from having far and away the highest murder rate in the developed world.  In the 1960s and early 1970s, the gunless Soviet Union’s murder rates paralleled or generally exceeded those of gunridden America.  While American rates stabilized and then steeply declined, however, Russian murder increased so drastically that by the early 1990s the Russian rate was three times higher than that of the United States (emphasis added).

 

There is no consistent significant positive association between gun ownership levels and violence rates: across (1) time within the United States, (2) US cities, (3) counties within Illinois, (4) country-sized areas like England, US states, (5) regions of the United States, (6) nations, or (7) population subgroups (emphasis added).

 

In 2004, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some original empirical research.  It failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents (emphasis added).

 

If the mantra “more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death” were true,  broad based crossnational comparisons should show that nations with higher gun ownership per capita consistently have more death.  …  The non-correlation between gun ownership and murder is reinforced by examination of statistics from larger numbers of nations across the developed world.  Comparison of “homicide and suicide mortality data for thirtysix nations (including the United States) for the period 1990–1995″ to gun ownership levels showed “no significant (at the 5% level) association between gun ownership levels and the total homicide rate.”  Consistent with this is a later European study of data from 21 nations in which “no significant correlations [of gun ownership levels] with total suicide or homicide rates were found (emphasis added).

 

“No matter how one approaches the figures, one is forced to the rather startling conclusion that the use of firearms in crime was very much less [in England before 1920] when there were no controls of any sort and when anyone, convicted criminal or lunatic, could buy any type of firearm without restriction.”

 

Historical eras, demographic groups, and geographic areas with more guns do not have more murders than those with fewer guns.  Indeed, those with more guns often, or even generally, have fewer murders (emphasis added).

 

Contrary to what should be the case if more guns equal more death, there are no “consistent indications of a link between gun ownership and criminal or violent behavior by owners;” in fact, gun ownership is “higher among whites than among blacks, higher among middleaged people than among young people, higher among married than among unmarried people, higher among richer people than poor” – all “patterns that are the reverse of the way in which criminal behavior is distributed” (emphasis added).

 

In America, from the seventeenth century through the early nineteenth century, murder was rare and rarely involved guns, though gun ownership was universal by law and “colonial Americans were the most heavily armed people in the world.”

 

A study comparing the number of guns to murder rates found that during the 25year period from 1973 to 1997, the number of handguns owned by Americans increased 160% while the number of all firearms rose 103%.  Yet over that period, the murder rate declined 27.7%.

 

The underlying truth behind violent criminal behavior is, perhaps paradoxically, both easily comprehensible and commonly overlooked by many.  Criminals are not made by the happenstance of ease with which they can obtain implements of destruction.  The presence of firearms is entirely incidental to criminal outcomes or the motives to pursue such behavior.  The theory that firearms cause otherwise law-abiding citizens to become violent offenders all of the sudden is utter nonsense.

 

One reason the extent of gun ownership in a society does not spur the murder rate is that murderers are not spread evenly throughout the population. Analysis of perpetrator studies shows that violent criminals – especially  murderers – “almost uniformly have a long history of involvement in criminal behavior (emphasis in original).

 

One study asserts that Americans are more likely to be shot to death than people in the world’s other 35 wealthier nations.  While this is literally true, it is irrelevant – except, perhaps to people terrified not of death per se but just death by gunshot.  A fact that should be of greater concern – but which the study fails to mention – is that per capita murder overall is only half as frequent in the United States as in several other nations where gun murder is rarer, but murder by strangling, stabbing, or beating is much more frequent (emphasis added).

 

To reiterate, the determinants of murder and suicide are basic social, economic, and cultural factors, not the prevalence of some form of deadly mechanism.  In this connection, recall that the American jurisdictions which have the highest violent crime rates are precisely those with the most stringent gun controls.  …  The point is that violence will be rare when the basic sociocultural and economic determinants so dictate; and conversely, crime will rise in response to changes in those determinants – without much regard to the mere availability of some particular weaponry or the severity of laws against it (emphasis added).

 

The “more guns equal more death” mantra seems plausible only when viewed through the rubric that murders mostly involve ordinary people who kill because they have access to a firearm when they get angry.  If this were true, murder might well increase where people have ready access to firearms, but the available data provides no such correlation.  …  These comments appear to rest on no evidence and actually contradict facts that have so uniformly been established by homicide studies dating back to the 1890s that they have become “criminological axioms.”  Insofar as studies focus on perpetrators, they show that neither a majority, nor many, nor virtually any murderers are ordinary “lawabiding citizens.”  Rather, almost all murderers are extremely aberrant individuals with life histories of violence, psychopathology, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors.”  …  A New York Times study of the 1,662 murders committed in that city in the years 2003–2005 found that “[m]ore than 90 percent of the killers had criminal records.”  …  The only kind of evidence cited to support the myth that most murderers are ordinary people is that many murders arise from arguments or occur in homes and between acquaintances.  These bare facts are only relevant if one assumes that criminals do not have acquaintances or homes or arguments.  Of the many studies belying this, the broadest analyzed a year’s national data on gun murders occurring in homes and between acquaintances.  It found “the most common victim-offender relationship” was “where both parties . . . knew one another because of prior illegal transactions” (emphasis added).

 

These statistics reinforce the point that murder rates are determined by basic sociocultural and economic factors rather than mere availability of some particular form of weaponry (emphasis added).

 

Then there is the issue of suicide, which many statists insist would decrease or be eliminated altogether should firearms be banned.  Ignore for a moment the notion that suicide and murder are entirely different concepts from an individual rights standpoint (a topic worthy of exploration in and of itself), common sense suggests that someone determined to reject the perceived misery of their life’s circumstances will not be resigned to accept them in the absence of firearms.

 

The irrelevancy of guns to the increase in American suicide is evident because suicide among English youth actually increased 10 times more sharply [following the nation’s ban of most firearms], with “car exhaust poisoning [being] the method of suicide used most often.”

 

An age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg?

 

In the United States, the murder rate doubled in the ten year span between the mid1960s and the mid1970s.  Since this rise coincided with vastly increasing gun sales, it was viewed by many as proof positive that more guns equal more death.  That conclusion, however, does not follow.  It is at least equally possible that the causation was reversed: that is, the decade’s spectacular increases in murder, burglary, and all kinds of violent crimes caused fearful people to buy guns.  The dubiousness of assuming that the gun sales caused the rise in murder rather than the reverse might have been clearer had it been known in this period that virtually the same murder rate increase was occurring in gunless Russia (emphasis added).

 

What about the common assertion made by many pro-gun activists that more guns actually equal less death/crime?  While the authors rightly acknowledge that the research does not prove such causation, the statistical results clearly indicate a positive correlation between these two variables – the opposite relationship than that which anti-gun activists posit.  Regardless, basic ethics demand that the State respect the individual’s right to defend him-/herself and to not submit themselves to dependency upon ineffective government agents, who are themselves incidentally afforded the same basic right.

 

“Data on firearms ownership by constabulary area in England,” like data from the United States, show “a negative correlation,” that is, “where firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest (emphasis added and in original).

 

Despite constant and substantially increasing gun ownership, the United States saw progressive and dramatic reductions in criminal violence in the 1990s.  On the other hand, the same time period in the United Kingdom saw a constant and dramatic increase in violent crime to which England’s response was evermore drastic gun control including, eventually, banning and confiscating all handguns and many types of long guns.

 

In the late 1990s, England moved from stringent controls to a complete ban of all handguns and many types of long guns.  Hundreds of thousands of guns were confiscated from those owners lawabiding enough to turn them in to authorities.  Without suggesting this caused violence, the ban’s ineffectiveness was such that by the year 2000 violent crime had so increased that England and Wales had Europe’s highest violent crime rate, far surpassing even the United States (emphasis added).

 

National Institute of Justice surveys among prison inmates find that large percentages report that their fear that a victim might be armed deterred them from confrontation crimes.  “[T]he felons most frightened ‘about confronting an armed victim’ were those from states with the greatest relative number of privately owned firearms.”  Conversely, robbery is highest in states that most restrict gun ownership (emphasis added).

 

But, in fact, the reverse pattern prevails in Canada, “England, America, and Switzerland, [where the areas] with the highest rates of gun ownership were in fact those with the lowest rates of violence.”  …  A recent study of all counties in the United States has again demonstrated the lack of relationship between the prevalence of firearms and homicide (emphasis added).

 

…Robbery is highest in jurisdictions which are most restrictive of gun ownership.  As to one specific control, the ban on carrying concealed weapons for protection, “violentcrime rates were highest in states [that flatly ban carrying concealed weapons], next highest in those that allowed local authorities discretion [to deny] permits, and lowest in states with nondiscretionary” concealed weapons laws under which police are legally required to license every qualified applicant.  Also of interest are the extensive opinion surveys of incarcerated felons, both juvenile and adult, in which large percentages of the felons replied that they often feared potential victims might be armed and aborted violent crimes because of that fear (emphasis added).

 

“It is a massive deterrent to gunmen if they think that there are going to be armed police.”  How far is that from the rationale on which 40 American states have enacted laws giving qualified, trained citizens the right to carry concealed guns?

 

Finally, there is the critical factor of consideration in this and all topics concerning the exercise of State power.  It is simply not enough for laws to be (allegedly) practical; where government-wielded violence is concerned, which all State behavior necessarily requires, ethics must form the primary foundation for any and all State policies.  When one group asserts that the restriction of basic individual rights is essential to public safety, or any reason for that matter, legitimacy requires that those claims be thoroughly scrutinized and tested at the least.

 

Those who assert the mantra, and urge that public policy be based on it, bear the burden of proving that more guns do equal more death and fewer guns equal less death. But they cannot bear that burden because there simply is no large number of cases in which the widespread prevalence of guns among the general population has led to more murder.  …  The second issue, allied to the burden of proof, regards plausibility.  On their face, the following facts… suggest that gun ownership is irrelevant, or has little relevance, to murder (emphasis added).

 

Each individual portion of evidence is subject to cavil—at the very least the general objection that the persuasiveness of social scientific evidence cannot remotely approach the persuasiveness of conclusions in the physical sciences.  Nevertheless, the burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra.  To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide).  But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world (emphasis added).

 

As I have stated elsewhere regarding this general topic, the president cannot legitimately claim ignorance to the availability or the implications of data such as these.  To continue to restrict law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights, frivolously or otherwise, in a disingenuous pursuit of dubious theses is a violation of the Supreme Law of the Land, his own freely given oath of office, and the Natural Law.  It seems that the president is more concerned with supporting Syrian rebels’ (otherwise known as future anti-American jihadists) right to self-defense than Americans’.

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