“It’s very hard to reason with people who aren’t persuaded by data.” – Jonathan Coulton, via Twitter, 10/1/15
I have come to a personal realization that is definitely going to upset and anger some people I know. That realization is this: If you think your personal (yes, Constitutionally-guaranteed) right to own a gun is more important than the 33,000 American lives that are ended with guns EVERY SINGLE YEAR, then I think you have a serious moral deficit. Of those, more than 11,000 are homicides, and about twice that are suicides. Throw in a smallish number of accidental and “intent unknown” deaths by firearm, and you have the total. 1 out of every 78 deaths in the U.S. in 2013 was caused by a firearm. That’s 11 times as many people dying by firearm every year than died on 9/11.
But, sure. Your personal right to own a gun is more important than the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.
A person who is in favor of gun rights might say, “Taking away the guns won’t stop the violence. People will just find another way.”
Sure. To a degree, that’s definitely true. Angry, emotionally disturbed people exist everywhere. The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on that. But, horribly, we DO appear to have a near-monopoly on gun violence among industrialized First World nations. Let’s look at the numbers.
I could go on, but I don’t think I need to. What do Canada, Australia, Denmark, Germany, the U.K., Japan, and a host of other nations whose data I chose not to copy over have in common? It’s much, MUCH harder to get a gun there. In most of these nations, personal gun ownership isn’t against the law – it’s just very strictly regulated. I include Japan because Japanese gun laws are so strict it’s almost impossible to justify personal ownership of a gun…and, hey, look at their rate of homicide-by-firearm.
Australia is another interesting case. Australia used to have a much more serious gun violence problem than they do now. In 1996, they implemented a very strict new gun control policy. In the ten years following implementation of the new law, gun violence dropped by half. This is an experiment: can you reduce gun-related crime by making guns harder to obtain? The answer: yes.
The data are clear. Restricting access to firearms reduces death by firearm.
(By the way, the U.S. compares most closely, in terms of this statistic, with nations like Argentina and Uruguay. Go us.)
So, does reducing access to guns generally reduce violent crime/homicide? Yup. Homicides (all types) per 100,000 people per year:
Now, this is obviously not causative, but the correlation is strong: murder, generally, is much less likely when guns are well-regulated. And mass murder? We have two per month in the U.S. They’re nearly unheard of in these nations. (There has been one mass killing in the past five years in the U.K. 12 people died. Their last school mass shooting was in 1996.)
So, yes. Angry, disturbed people exist everywhere. But in the U.S., we make it easy for them to get a weapon that allows them to murder dozens of people in mere minutes. It’s a LOT harder to commit a mass murder with a knife. Not impossible, but fewer people typically die.
But, sure. Your right to walk into Walmart and buy a weapon that can shoot dozens of rounds a second is more important than the lives of 20 kindergarteners.
You might also argue, “But the government taking our guns makes it easy for them to convert us into a fascist police state!
My answer here is two-fold:
- The government already has MUCH better guns than you can buy for yourself even in our creepy, gun-fetishizing society. If they want to convert us to a fascist police state, they can. Any time. Don’t kid yourself.
- Right. Because England, Germany, Canada, and Australia are horrible, fascist hellholes. Sure. If you believe that, please see the quote I started this post with. Some folks you just can’t reach.
The next pro-gun argument: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
I believe that’s a tautological argument. OF COURSE that’s true. It’s also irrelevant. See the crime data above. Once you reduce the legal availability of guns, you begin to reduce the ILLEGAL availability of guns, too. See the Australian experiment again for data on this. Nearly all guns used in crime were purchased legally. Many were then stolen by criminals. Still others are used to commit crimes by the person who purchased them. Legally. See nearly ALL of our mass murders for evidence of that.
Finally: “My gun is for personal protection. It makes me safer.”
Believing this, with all the available data, is akin to believing in homeopathy. A gun in your home absolutely does NOT make you safer. This paper shows risk for all types of death-by-firearm, including homicide and suicide, are increased when a gun is in the home, REGARDLESS of how it’s stored, type of gun, or how many guns. A single gun in the home increases your risk of dying. This is just one paper. There are dozens more like it. You are more likely to be killed with your own gun than you are to use it to protect yourself or anyone else.
If you continue to believe that guns make you safer, that’s because you want to believe it. In the face of overwhelming data to the contrary. It’s simply not true. Here’s a nice summary of all the usual gun myths, fact-checked with real data.
One final thought: nearly anyone can commit murder. Humans kill other humans. A person doesn’t necessarily have to be “crazy” or even “emotionally disturbed” to do it (though most mass shooters likely are). They just have to be angry. And if they are angry enough to kill, and have easy access to a weapon designed to commit mass murder, the probability of a tragic outcome is higher.
So. What I know to be true, based on data: guns make you less safe, not more. No matter how careful you are. Gun control prevents gun-related violence. Denying these facts is just like denying climate change: you believe that because you want to, but you are demonstrably wrong.
What I believe to be morally true: we have a moral obligation to try to cure our society of a sickness that manifests as two mass murders a month. At least part of the solution to this is to make it harder to commit mass murder. If you continue to hold that collecting up and regulating the guns won’t work, you’re either lying to yourself, or you’re lying to others. The data are clear, and they don’t back you up.
I don’t give a damn about your right to bear arms. I DO give a damn about kindergarteners and college kids being murdered at their schools, soldiers being murdered at recruitment centers, and churchgoers being murdered in their church.