What would a reasonable person do if he actually wanted to know the truth about gun control? Put aside emotions for a second, and really think about setting out to save as many precious individual human lives as possible . Wouldn’t you want to look at national, international, time-series and historical stats to find out if your opinion is, you know, true?
Anyone can have an opinion based on wishes; it just behooves us to know what’s going on in that place called “reality” before we set off on some self-defeating, quixotic crusade. And “crusades” often get people killed. Lots and lots of people killed. (See DDT and malaria; or consider that the ‘long peace’ since the end of World War II is almost entirely due to nuclear arms proliferation to great powers).
With an open mind and a heavy heart, let’s take a look at 11 contextual and specific facts about mass murder, gun violence, and violence trends in the United States, and compare the U.S. to countries abroad:
- Mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, and dropped in the 2000s. Mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929. (According to Grant Duwe, criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections.)
- “States that allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns enjoy a 60 percent decrease in multiple-victim public shootings and a 78 percent decrease in victims per attack.” John Lott, Jr. and Bill Landes, “More Guns, Less Crime.”
- “With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.”– John Lott, Jr. Co-author with Bill Landes of “More Guns, Less Crime.”
- “Until the Newtown horror, the three worst K–12 school shootings ever had taken place in either Britain or Germany.” [John Fund, NRO. “The Facts About Mass Shootings.”]
- Total violent crime from 1973 to 2009 decreased 65%, or is about one-third as high. (Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- The U.S. murder rate decreased 8.1% between 2008 and 2009, and has fallen every year since 2006. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, based on FBI data).
- The United States ranks 24th in the world in terms of its murder rate. It also has the most highly armed civilian population.
- “International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. 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.” (Kates & Mauser, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 30, No. 2)
- “The political causation is that nations which have violence problems tend to adopt severe gun controls, but these do not reduce violence, which is determined by basic sociocultural and economic factors.” [Then why does Luxemburg have nine times the murder rate of Germany?] (Kates & Mauser, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 30, No. 2)
- “The Middle Ages were a time of notoriously brutal and endemic warfare. They also experienced rates of ordinary murder almost double the highest recorded U.S. murder rate. But Middle Age homicide “cannot be explained in terms of the availability of firearms, which had not yet been invented.” (Kates & Mauser, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 30, No. 2)
- The odds of being in a victim of a mass shooting are far less than that of being struck by lightning.
Only when one gets the big picture view, then can we see the intra-national view: heavily urbanized gun control states tend to have gun murders that are just as high or higher on average than states that are rural or urbanized with concealed carry laws or relaxed gun permit laws. Beyond the timid phrase ‘gun control doesn’t work,’ which would imply we might as well implement them anyway just to make us feel good, they actually put Americans in more danger. This is not to say we shouldn’t do anything policywise to prevent as many rampage killings as feasible. We should do something — both personally and policywise.
Ultimately, why do spree killers go on their inhuman rampages? There are many different reasons, and a common causal factor is hard to say for certain. There are millions of people who are picked on, are lonely, or have bad families who don’t snap and kill others. But simply looking at commonalities among spree killers is not sufficient; it’s an error in political science called “sampling on the dependent variable.” One has to look at the entire universe of individuals in a society more broadly and find the causal factors or cluster of factors that are significant and unique to the qualified cases at hand. What we can do is exclude the reasons spree killers don’t go on their murderous rampages.
The largest scientific study ever conducted at the time was published in 2000 at the NY Times, of all places. What was published is definitive and follows logically and empirically: rampage killers “are not drunk or high on drugs. They are not racists or Satanists,or addicted to violent video games, movies or music.”
The study examined 100 cases, including the Columbine massacre. Among the findings: “While the killings have caused many people to point to the violent aspects of the culture, a closer look shows little evidence that video games, movies or television encouraged many of the attacks. In only 6 of the 100 cases did the killers have a known interest in violent video games. Seven other killers showed an interest in violent movies.”
It is irresponsible and self-defeating to rush to adopt public policies just because they make us feel better or well-intentioned or because we think we should do something. The history of humankind shows: understand first, then act.
Editor’s note: This article was edited to streamline the argument.