No matter what the perceived problem, you can bet that the stock answer of the antigun activist will always be “get rid of the guns!”
It doesn’t matter what the topic du jour is, be it accidental firearms deaths of children, a spree killer, suicides, or more, their pat answer will always be that the only appropriate response is to remove firearms, and not explore any of the other multivariate reasons that a tragic event took place.
I mentioned South Park’s Underpants Gnomes in a previous entry (here’s the relevant video clip about them), but I’ll expand on it here. The Underpants Gnome’s Business plan is:
- Step 1: Collect Underpants
- Step 2: ???
- Step 3: Profit!
Underpants Gnomes have an end goal and they have a starting action plan, but they have no idea how to get from Point A to Point B, and no amount of questioning the soundness of their ideas will dissuade them. Gun Control proponents are much the same way:
- Step 1: Pass law or restriction to address “gun related” problem!
- Step 2: ????
- Step 3: Problem solved!
Let’s take the two biggest issues typically talked about: Suicide & Crime.
Suicide – “If there’s less guns, there will be less suicides!”
Research has consistently shown a strong link between suicide and depression, with 90% of the people who die by suicide having an existing mental illness or substance abuse problem at the time of their death. The following pages provide general information about depression, other mental illnesses, and how they are connected. (source)
In 2011 there were 39,518 suicides in the US. Of them, just over half (19,990) were committed by firearms; the next two greatest causes of death were suffocation (9,913) & poisoning (6,564). Why are firearms such a popular choice? Because they are effective; if there was an easier & more sure method you can bet people would choose that instead.
The common antigun argument is that if there were no guns (or less guns) then those 20,000 people killing themselves yearly wouldn’t do so. There have been studies that have shown that reduction of firearms presence reduces firearms suicides (yeah, no shit sherlock) but what’s particularly interesting is that research has produced contradictory information on whether or not reduction of firearms has resulted in reduction of overall suicide rates. In particular, Australian researchers couldn’t make a definitive proclamation that their gun ban worked:
Some researchers have found a significant change in the rate of firearm suicides after the legislative changes. For example, Ozanne-Smith et al. (2004) in the journal Injury Prevention found a reduction in firearm suicides in Victoria, however this study did not consider non-firearm suicide rates. Others have argued that alternative methods of suicide have been substituted. De Leo, Dwyer, Firman & Neulinger, studied suicide methods in men from 1979 to 1998 and found a rise in hanging suicides that started slightly before the fall in gun suicides. As hanging suicides rose at about the same rate as gun suicides fell, it is possible that there was some substitution of suicide methods. It has been noted that drawing strong conclusions about possible impacts of gun laws on suicides is challenging, because a number of suicide prevention programs were implemented from the mid-1990s onwards, and non-firearm suicides also began falling. (source: Wikipedia)
In particular, this study states:
When the firearm suicide rate for Australian males declined the hanging rate increased simultaneously, with no statistical difference in the rate of change of the two methods. A similar pattern of simultaneous divergence in hanging and firearm suicide rates of a 15- to 24-year-old subgroup occurred at a not dissimilar rate over a longer time period.
It’s not just Australia though, lack of availability of, or increased restrictions on firearms hasn’t been shown to result in a magical suicide free Utopia. I addressed this in an earlier entry:
Just look at this handy list of suicide rates by country on Wikipedia. The United States has on average 12.5 suicides per 100,000 people. Surely if there were less guns, there would be less suicides, right?
Wrong. Look at Japan: 21.4 per 100,000. Even worse, look at South Korea: 28.5 per 100,000. Neither country has ready access to firearms. Belgium has much stricter gun control than the US, but firearms are available there. Surely their suicide rate must be lower than the US, right? Nope: 17.0 per 100k
Removing (or controlling) guns isn’t the miracle cure, sorry!
In summary, firearms are a risk factor for suicide but they are not a proximate cause as it is an intentional act & substitution of method exists.
Crime – “If there are less guns, there will be less crime!”
Boy oh boy, where to even start with that. To start with, we have to ignore the fact that the firearm has largely enabled civilization to move from the feudal era to modern times. Here’s a great TED talk about firearms that is a 17 minute watch but well worth your attention.
Crime is widely attributed to have various causes, including
- Biological (genetic predisposition to aggressiveness, neurological issues, and other biological factors)
- Developmental (family & community factors, peer groups)
- Psychological (personality, social factors, cognition, abuse)
- Sociological (cultural & social elements such as class, ethnicity, peer influence, social mobility & success, criminal culture)
- Geographic & physical environment (urban vs rural, community construction & development, other environmental factors)
- Economic (cost/benefit of situations both in monetary & social status as well as material benefits)
This is no great mystery. Crime in the US can be attributed to a number of factors, be it drug abuse, parental neglect, lack of social welfare or economic stability, poverty, greed, or cultural breakdown & toxicity.
“Ok, so lots of things cause crime,” you gripe. “Surely removing guns would reduce crime right?”
Nope, as Stolzenberg writes in her paper “Gun Availability and Violent Crime: New Evidence from the National Incident-Based Reporting System” –
After estimating several models, with a broad array of outcome measures and independent variables, we found virtually no evidence that legitimate gun availability influenced the violent crime rate or crimes committed with a gun.
“Aha!” the antigun arguer exclaims, seizing on the operative word “legitimate” – “If we reduce the number of ‘legitimate’ guns, there will be less ‘illegitimate’ or illegal guns!”
Similarly, we found little support for the position that as the number of legitimate guns in the general population increases, violent crime also rises. Rather, our results show the primaey of illegal gun availability in predicting the violent crime rate. Illegal gun availability is the only variable that shows consistent, nontrivial effects across all models estimated. These strong effects persist even after controlling for a variety of potentially rival causal factors.
The paper goes on to say that the best way to reduce illegitimate firearms availability is to focus on burglary reduction as that is a primary method of firearms reaching the black market:
The findings generated from our analyses are not surprising when one considers that survey research has consistently shown that both adult and juvenile offenders frequently acquire their guns from thefts (Sheley & Wright 1993; Wright & Rossi 1986).
I will address the topic of securing firearms in a future entry.
The key point is that if there are illegal guns available, no matter where they originate from, they will be used. Having firearms available legitimately has no bearing on whether they will be used for most crime. Where else have we seen this phenomenon?
The War on Drugs & prior to that Prohibition. Let’s face it, “Money is the root of all evil” right?
Gorden Gecko’s quote from Wall Street sums it up:
Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.
Wherever there is a profit to be made, people will do what it takes to realize it. Some will confine themselves to legal methods, others will seize opportunities to capitalize on the illicit. History has romanticized the outlaw, from Robin Hood to Billy the Kid & Jesse James. Al Capone & Nucky Thompson both lived large on Boardwalk Empire; Al Pacino’s Tony Montoya may have been fictional but has influenced generations of criminals.
Banning alcohol during Prohibition didn’t stop it from coming in; it just made it worth killing people over and the profits made from illicit sales entrenched organized crime for decades. The War on Drugs has enabled narcotrafficking on a global scale to the tune of trillions each year. Opium from Afghanistan funds the Taliban, cocaine bankrolls FARC in Columbia, and the unending bloodshed in Mexico is most certainly paid for by methamphetime, marijuana, cocaine, and more.
Even if you ban firearms from civilian ownership altogether, that won’t stop criminals. They’ll just smuggle them in, or they will take them from whomever has them, even if they have to kill cops to get them:
In the Venezuelan capital, not even the state’s security forces are safe: during the first 29 days of 2015, criminals murdered 13 of the city’s uniformed officers. Circumstances varied, but in the majority of cases, the perpetrators killed police to steal their firearms.
Thinking that just banning guns will work is so foolish that it isn’t even worth discussing.