Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? | Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy

The best overview I've found of the case that gun control laws do not and cannot reduce violence is this article from the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy by Don B. Kates & Gary Mauser: Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence. I don't agree with all of their analysis, but the facts they present are pretty conclusive against the notion that more guns makes for more violence.

While American gun ownership is quite high, Table 1 shows many other developed nations (e.g., Norway, Finland, Germany, France, Denmark) with high rates of gun ownership. These countries, however, have murder rates as low or lower than many developed nations in which gun ownership is much rarer. For example, Luxembourg, where handguns are totally banned and ownership of any kind of gun is minimal, had a murder rate nine times higher than Germany in 2002.

...

A second misconception about the relationship between fire‐
arms and violence attributes Europe’s generally low homicide rates to stringent gun control. That attribution cannot be accurate since murder in Europe was at an all‐time low before the gun controls were introduced. For instance, virtually the only English gun control during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the practice that police patrolled without guns. During this period gun control prevailed far less in England or Europe than in certain American states which nevertheless had—and continue to have—murder rates that were and are comparatively very high.

In this connection, two recent studies are pertinent. In 2004,
the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some original empirical research. It failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. The same conclusion was reached in 2003 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s review of then‐extant studies.

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One reason the extent of gun ownership in a society does not
spur the murder rate is that murderers are not spread evenly throughout the population. Analysis of perpetrator studies shows that violent criminals—especially murderers—“almost uniformly have a long history of involvement in criminal behavior.” So it would not appreciably raise violence if all law‐abiding, responsible people had firearms because they are not the ones who rape, rob, or murder. By the same token, violent crime would not fall if guns were totally banned to civilians. As the respective examples of Luxembourg and Russia suggest,individuals who commit violent crimes will either find guns despite severe controls or will find other weapons to use.

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Gun control, gun violence

The article does seem to conclude that gun laws need (clever) tightening, and points out that a "right to health" could trump someone else's "right to bear arms".

Many studies do show a link between availability and use, and the Lancet has published several such. You could also take a look at their editorial below. Guns are not easy to make and the suppliers are few enough that effective control is possible; plenty of studies show reducing the supply do show that reducing supply reduces deaths. One particularly unfortunate side-effect of US gun laws is that criminals in other countries are able to import weapons from the US - for example, Mexican cartels importing weapons purchased quite legally over the border, or the Barett Light 50 which became notorious in Northern Ireland in the hands of snipers who smuggled it across the Atlantic. Similarly, the Eastern Bloc has a weapons problem stemming from arsenals that opened up when the USSR came down (and again, some of their weapons, e.g. the AK-47, were used in Ireland to kill policemen).

It is just easier to hurt people when you have the right tool for the job, in the same way that DIY is easier with a cheap cordless drills, or that arguing with strangers can be done more efficiently with a computer and a broadband connection :-).

http://www.lancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(07)60639-4/fulltext

Also very very interesting:
http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/postgraduate/ma_studies/mamod...

P.S. 19th century England was unlikely to have a problem with automatic pistols or assault rifles for fairly obvious technical reasons. For this and for economic reasons (guns are now much cheaper) it doesn't seem like a good comparison.

Re: Gun control, gun violence

The article does seem to conclude that gun laws need (clever) tightening, and points out that a "right to health" could trump someone else's "right to bear arms".

The phrase "right to health" does not appear in the article. Are you sure you read the article I linked? Because it also makes no such conculsion about tightening gun laws.

Many studies do show a link between availability and use, and the Lancet has published several such.

First, the Lancet is a medical journal, not a criminological one; its staff is not qualified to conduct peer review of criminological papers. Second, the relevant question is gun availability versus *violent behavior*, not versus gun use. Most gun uses are suicides, and in the absence of guns other means are used. And for homicides there are many other ways to kill. As Kates and Mauser point out, "per capita murder overall is only half as frequent in the United States as in several other nations where gun murder is rarer, but murder by strangling, stabbing, or beating is much more frequent."

Guns are not easy to make and the suppliers are few enough that effective control is possible

Simply not true. In the 1950s, juvenile delinquents in the U.S. often made "zip guns" from all sorts of junk. During WWII resistance movements in occupied territories were able to build submachine guns in underground factories; today, underground gunsmiths in the Phillipines and Australia can do the same.

That's not even getting in to plain ol' smuggling. Australia has very strict gun control laws, but South Australia Police Assistant Commissioner Grant Stevens said in 2011, "We have seized automatic firearms ... rifles, semi-automatics, fully automatic weapons, shotguns, cut-down firearms...There are a lot out there and, as quickly as we take them out, (criminals) are sourcing other illegal firearms."

It is just easier to hurt people when you have the right tool for the job"

A glimpse at ancient history dispels the notion that it's hard to kill people without using firearms. The troops of King Herod didn't have them when they slayed the infant boys of the Jews (if that actually happened); Romans didn't need guns to give us the word "decimate"; neither the Mongol hordes and the armies of Alexander had them.

Already, 30% of American murders use means other than guns. If guns magically disappeared (and bans don't make that happen), we could expect most of the 70% of murderers using guns to swap over to the means of the other 30%.

Bad guys start out being meaner than good guys. Being usually young males, they start out stronger than the general population. Someone who's meaner and stronger than an unarmed victim and is determined to kill needs only to pick up a knife or a baseball bat, or if the physical difference is large enough start punching and kicking, to do the job. Many mass murders (perhaps even most, over the whole history of humanity, though I'm just speculating there) have been perpetrated with edged weapons -- knifes, axes, machetes, and so on.

19th century England was unlikely to have a problem with automatic pistols or assault rifles for fairly obvious technical reasons.

Assault rifles and other automatic weapons are almost never used in crime, at least in the U.S.; on a statistical basis we don't have a problem with them; and they are already very heavily regulated. Semiautomatic rifles (which are not assault rifles, though they sometimes are made to look like them) are used in a very small percentage of crimes -- long guns over all, of which semiautomatic rifles make up only a fraction, are used in about 3-4% of homicides. They are also not the real problem.

Most firearms-related crime is perpetrated with handguns, revolvers and semi-automatic. The revolvers available in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are not much different than those of today, and the semi-automatic handgun dates to the 1894 Steyr Mannlicher, the 1896 Mauser C96, and the 1898 Luger.

Nor were guns expensive. Again, from the article: "The final three decades of the [nineteenth] century saw the introduction and marketing of the “two dollar pistol,” which were very cheap handguns manufactured largely out of pot metal. In addition to being sold locally, such “suicide specials” were marketed nationwide through Montgomery Ward catalogs starting in 1872 and by Sears from 1886. They were priced as low as $1.69, and were marketed under names like the “Little Giant” and the “Trampʹs Terror.”"

So, the comparison is quite relevant.

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