In Canada, gun control laws limit magazine capacities to 10 rounds for handguns and 5 for semi-automatic rifles. If you want to keep shooting, you have to reload. It would be advisable for Americans to impose similar limits on the use of gun crime statistics in public debate — if you want to keep quoting, you’ll have to research. Looking at statistics for firearms and violent crime, the only thing which becomes apparent is that the gun control issue is far more complicated than it seems, and there is no clear understanding of the effects of gun ownership on American society
It’s time for gun control advocates to acknowledge that facts and stats are not necessarily on their side, and trotting out the same numbers that yellow journalists do does not win the argument. It is indeed an argument worth having. Everybody supports the cause of less murder and less violent crime. We can appropriately question the motives of an NRA spokesman, the likelihood of Americans rising in arms against the state, or the practicality of doing so; but assuming that all pro-gun advocates have ulterior or paranoid motives is dishonest. Seeking ways to reduce violence in society is a worthy cause, it should not be monopolized by lazy, albeit well-intentioned media hacks.
More guns result in more gun crimes, this is true. This one fact, more than any other is employed by the antigun crowd, and provides the veneer of an air tight argument. Who can claim to be pro gun crime? No reasonable person would support policies which make homicides and gunshot wounds more frequent, therefore those who support gun ownership are not reasonable.
It is a disingenuous argument. It rests on the curious distinction made between violence involving guns and violence in general. We are to believe there is an entire subset of the world’s potential criminals sitting on their laurels waiting for high velocity projectile weapons. If guns become available in their communities, these sleeper agents for the forces of darkness will spring into action and tear multiple .30 caliber sized holes into our flesh from a distance of 50 meters. There are, of course, other violent criminals who employ knives, bombs, and improvised weaponry to inflict pain upon others, but they are of a categorically different species, and the existing criminal code deals with them somewhat more adequately. We certainly can’t ban improvised weaponry, after all.
When we compare gun ownership to violent crime in general, however, we start to see something else. Internationally, a higher rate of guns per capita does not correspond to higher rates of violent crime. In fact, what little influence guns have on average rates of violent crime show a slight reduction. In the United States, which ranks high in the developed world in both crime and ownership of firearms, 4 million new guns are purchased each year to add to the private arsenal of 300 million already in existence. Despite this, despite an economic catastrophe that pushed many below the poverty line, and despite an end to the ban on assault rifles, violent crime in the US has declined by 22% in the last decade. Moreover, though homes in suburbs or rural areas are far more likely to contain a gun, violent crime continues to be a problem concentrated in cities.
Mass shootings, which are the driving force of antigun arguments, represent only 0.1% of homicides and have shown no significant increase in the last century. Though their frequency rose between the 60’s and 90’s they have steadily decreased since then, and peaked back in 1929. In terms of deaths per incidents of mass murder, guns remain second in lethality to explosives and only slightly ahead of knives, clubs, and bare hands. What has changed significantly, however, has been media coverage of mass shootings which has increased unabated since Charles Whitman climbed a clock tower in 1966 Texas and took aim at his fellow university students, many of whom curtailed his killing spree by firing back.
Assault rifles, the perennial villain of gun control debates, even when the perpetrators of crimes such as the Virginia Tech shooting don’t use them, are another overhyped threat to civilized society. All rifles taken together account for only 3% of homicides, which is less than the category which includes both clubs and hammers. One can reasonably argue that a civilian does not need to own an assault rifle, but this line of reasoning betrays the fact that assault rifles are not a ubiquitous problem in American society.
Yet these are not the facts we generally see entered into the public conversation. Repeatedly we are told that more guns mean more crime, when what is really meant is gun-crime, as if it were quantifiably worse if your loved one was murdered by a gun as opposed to some other implement.
I suspect that conservative media has been its own worst enemy on this issue. So many brazen attacks on the truth by conservative pundits and talking heads have been documented that most liberals have come to the sound conclusion that the truth is simply not in them. Conservative dishonesty crescendoed with the Fox News meltdown on election day 2012 when their wishful predictions for a Romney win were proven to be unsubstantiated. Even conservatives may be waking up to this, as evidenced by Fox New’s post-election decline in ratings. We are left with nobody but dishonest journalists, industry lobbyists, and conspiracy-obsessed fear mongers to defend the benefits of gun ownership.
Not that there aren’t others. John Lott, using empirical data to argue that private gun ownership leads to public safety, has made several appearances on television, including one memorable episode where professional scoffer Piers Morgan loudly proclaimed him a liar before he could finish his sentence. This was a switch from Morgan’s tactic when he invited popular madman Alex Jones to shout at him for fifteen minutes, making the whole 2nd Amendment crowd look paranoid, angry, and potentially dangerous.
Thus, with the opposition discredited, anti-gun media personalities have grown soft, presenting weak arguments against weaker opponents easily depicted as industry shills, dispassionate goons, or frothing lunatics.
Gun rights advocates are accused of being callous and uncaring in light of tragedies such as the recent slaughter in Sandy Hook and other mass shootings. True callousness however is demonstrated by the continual exploitation of the memories of innocent dead to advocate for policies which may or may not mitigate future tragedies from occurring. That stricter gun control or bans on guns will accomplish this is taken as a truism. Dissenting opinions are dismissed not because they are based on faulty logic, nor because their statistics are incorrect or the methodologies used to acquire these numbers are flawed, but because the moral integrity of those who state these opinions are declared to be questionable.
The conversation then becomes not about what policies will lower crime and help prevent mass murder, but how to implement unproven policies in the face of opposition from the NRA, sociopaths, and Republicans.
What both sides need to understand is that arguing against cartoonish straw effigies of their opponents is of no service. It will not convince the fence sitters, it will not convert those who disagree, and it will only appeal to a core audience.
This is by design. Sensationalism is a major industry, one of few products still manufactured in the USA . In the world of news, little is more sensational than mass homicides and the resulting appeals to emotion, except perhaps for partisan polemics which vilify those who disagree with you. This could only be expected in America, where watching Fox News or MSNBC in your dirty underwear has been elevated to an act of civil disobedience. Not all liberals want to take away all guns and not all conservatives want a cache of assault rifles to take on the federal government — but we don’t need to hear that. It’s boring and people will change the channel before the commercial break when they could be directed toward the relevant pills to manage anxieties the news of the day has fostered.
Everyone is on the same side here. There is no pro mass murder lobby, despite how you may feel about the NRA. Nobody is pushing for easier access to firearms and ammunition for the criminally insane, no matter how greedy you believe Walmart to be.
There is also more to this issue than firearms alone. There are socio-economic factors which drive people to crime, mental health services and the effects of psychoactive drugs which need to be further investigated. Mother Jones recently published an article citing a strong correlation between atmospheric lead and violent crime rates on the national, state, neighborhood, and individual levels.
There is a conversation to be had, and answers to be sought, rather than shouting out premature conclusions to a poorly understood phenomenon. There is no magic number to end all debate. Liberals need to stop treating this issue as if it were the Theory of Evolution or Anthropogenic Global Warming; there is no scientific consensus, they are not fighting this war of words from a fortress of uncontestable objective facts. And conservatives need to chill the fuck out, not every attempt to regulate the sale of firearms is an attack on the sacred Second Amendment. Violent crime is waning and America is not a yet a tyrannical dystopia. Everybody relax. There’s plenty of time to make up your mind.
Edited by Barbara Csankova
For further, more informative reading :
John R. Lott’s blog