11/07/2024 lewrockwell.com  6min 🇬🇧 #252350

Is It the Guns?

By  David Deming

July 11, 2024

Every time there's a tragic incidence of gun violence, I read the claim on social media, "it's the guns!" implying a causal relationship between the availability of firearms and violent crime. The concomitant corollary is that restrictions on gun ownership would reduce violence and lead to the peaceful society we all want. I don't believe this is the case, and will explain why.

I concede that the claim "it's the guns!" has some element of truth in it. A gun is a more effective and lethal means of inflicting harm than many other common weapons, such as knives, clubs, rocks, fists, and feet. A firearm can be employed to deadly effect by a person who has little to no training. In the final analysis, all that is required is to point the weapon in the correct direction and pull the trigger. This is why criminals are generally able to deploy guns very effectively.

The argument for prohibition is that removing or restricting guns from society at large will reduce violence. There is an element of logic in this conclusion, but the analysis is incomplete and therefore flawed. Guns may also be used to reduce violence. It's been estimated by serious scholars that the total number of defensive gun uses in the US annually is between 55,000 and 4.7 million. In recent years,  US homicides by gun have numbered about 15,000. Thus defensive gun uses significantly outnumber gun murders.

There is also an implicit protection conferred by the widespread availability of guns. When potential victims are armed, the cost of crime becomes higher, providing a powerful disincentive for violent assaults. In 1986, ordinary citizens had the unrestricted right to carry a handgun for self-defense in only one state, Vermont. Eight other states had "shall issue" laws for handgun licenses. Sixteen states did not allow the carry of weapons under any circumstances, and twenty-five states had restrictive "may issue" regulations. By 1999, Vermont remained the single state with no restrictions, but the number of states with "shall issue" laws had risen to thirty. After 2010, a majority of states began to adopt the Vermont model of constitutional carry allowing non-felons to carry handguns without a license. As of 2024, twenty-nine states allow constitutional carry with no restrictions, and thirteen have "shall issue" laws. Nine of the twelve states with the lowest homicide rates have constitutional carry. Even if you don't own a gun, the fact that other people do increases your personal safety. A predator must weigh the possibility that a potential victim may be armed. Widespread gun ownership explains why home invasions in the US are uncommon, and the  burglary rate is about half of what it is in the UK.

Over the last forty years, the practice of ordinary people carrying handguns on daily basis has increased dramatically. If the thesis "it's the guns" was correct, there should have been an explosion of violent crime. But there wasn't. From about 1973 through 1995, homicide rates in the US averaged between 8-10 per 100,000. In the mid-1990s, the same time that "shall issue" laws became common, the  homicide rate dropped precipitously, bottoming out at 4.5 per 100,000 in 2014. In recent years, the US homicide rate has risen to about 6 per 100,000, but is still well below the period 1973-1995 when defensive gun use was much more restricted.

There are many other ways of viewing the data, and none of them support the idea that the availability of guns leads to violent crime. Over the last few decades, gun sales are up dramatically. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the  number of guns manufactured in the US averaged 3 to 4 million. This number is now over 13 million. Similarly, NICS Firearm Background Checks in the last 25 years have increased from 8-9 million to about 30 million. Gun sales tripled over the last thirty years, yet the overall rate of violent crime in the US fell by about 50 percent.

The US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. And no other country has a constitutional guarantee comparable to the Second Amendment. The claim has been made that the widespread availability of firearms in the US has endowed us with a unique gun violence problem. A group called "Everytown for Gun Safety" has a  chart on their website showing that "the US gun homicide rate is 26 times that of other high-income countries." This appears to be a strong argument for a causal link between homicides and gun ownership. But the data have been cherry-picked. The homicide rate in the US is not first, but 57th internationally. The US only jumps to first place when scores of other countries are omitted. One wonders at the strained logic of comparing the US to countries like Slovenia, Estonia, and Greece, while excluding every country from the Western Hemisphere except for Canada. Perhaps that's because an objective analysis would show that many countries in the Americas with restrictive firearms policies have homicide rates higher than the US. Mexico is an obvious example. Mexico has almost a complete ban on civilian gun ownership but the homicide rate is about four times higher than the US.

If gun control doesn't work, is there any feasible way to reduce gun violence and crime? Yes, and it's really quite simple: lock up the criminals. We have strong empirical evidence that this works. Weary of high crime rates and violence, in 2022 El Salvadore rounded up members of criminal gangs and imprisoned them. The homicide rate, which had been as high as 106.3 per 100,000 in 2015, fell to 2.4.

We can honor our commitment to personal liberty and simultaneously reduce violent crime. Call it "common sense gun control." Let people own whatever weapons they want, but punish misuse. When a person uses a gun to commit a crime, send them to prison. But let grandma carry a.38 revolver to protect herself from muggers. If we are to achieve the type of peaceful society that everyone wants, we need to be open minded to an objective understanding of empirical facts. Statutory gun prohibition that causes criminals and predators to magically surrender their firearms is a utopian fantasy.

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