The debate on gun control and the Second Amendment has been raging in the United States for pretty well my entire adult life. It doesn’t show any sign of cooling down, either.
There’s no question that the U.S. is at least a little exceptional in its attitude toward guns. I can’t think of any other country in the developed world where the ownership of guns is enshrined as a constitutional right. Switzerland by law gives a large portion of its citizens guns but this is not seen as a right, but as a duty connected to military service. Most other first world nations have different degrees of restrictions on gun ownership, most of them considerably more strict than the United States’, and certainly do not consider it a fundamental right to own a gun.
People on the side of gun control have often made use of this difference, pointing to the differences in crime rates or gun violence in other more restrictive countries, and claiming that this proves that the liberty to use guns in the U.S. is “toxic.” And I can’t say I’ve seen too many people on the side of gun liberty really question that analysis. They’ve rejected the argument but they haven’t usually asked if the observation was really right in the first place. I think maybe we should take another look and see what the situation in other countries really tells us about crime and gun violence.
I should explain that I don’t have a personal dog in this fight. I’m not a gun owner; I’ve never been a gun owner. I haven’t used a gun since I was a kid. So my interest in this debate doesn’t come from a love of guns, it comes from a love of reason and liberty. I don’t want a gun myself but I support the right of anyone else to own a gun within the boundaries of criminal law. We can have harsh penalties for anyone who misuses a gun but owning a gun should not itself be a crime. The whole idea of government engaging in a war on guns is repugnant and idiotic – and given how swimmingly well the war on drugs has gone, I can’t understand why anyone would think this or any other war of government prohibition is a good idea.
Gun control is, when it comes down to it, punishing the good and competent for the possible actions of the evil and stupid. But you don’t even have a good argument that it works! Gun control is the fantasy that requiring a bureaucratic permission slip is going to stop anyone who is out to murder a ton of people. As if a psychopathic mass-murderer or a martyrdom-obsessed Jihadi will find out they need to register their weapon before using it to slaughter dozens of people and say, “Oh well, that’s not worth it then!”
Even so, it’s clear that the United States does have a lot of gun deaths, more than other countries do. But let’s look at those deaths and ask whether stricter gun laws (or Presidential executive orders) would actually prevent them.
In the United States, the majority of gun-related deaths (about two-thirds of ALL gun deaths in the U.S.) are suicide. Horrible – but registration wouldn’t be likely to stop that. Nor, for that matter, would the absence of guns.
Depending on who you ask, between 3% to 7.7% of all US gun deaths are accidental. Obviously a lot of these might be preventable with better education in gun use – but we couldn’t really say just how much.
The remaining third or so are gun-related murders. Of these, when we look at the figures of the murderers and the guns used, only about 7% of those gun murders were done with lawfully acquired weapons.
What about mass shootings? It’s true that many mass shootings were committed with legally bought weapons but that’s just a proof of how outside the normal element of gun crime these shootings really are. And mass shootings account for only around 1.4% of all gun deaths in America.
As for all the other gun deaths, the majority of these victims are people who have been involved in criminal activity. In the most violent cities in the United States, which account for most of the non-suicide gun deaths, the majority of these deaths are on account of criminal activity.
It goes without saying that they also disproportionately occur in areas with serious problems with poverty, social decay and gang violence.
So what part of any of these statistics can we really think will be fixed by government intervention? What of all these problems will gun control actually be able to fix?
No one has ever stopped from committing suicide because of a lack of means to do so. That’s not how suicide works. They do have preferences, though: Men are more likely to shoot themselves, hang themselves or jump off something. Women are more likely to try to overdose on drugs. Should we, by that logic, ban women from having prescription drugs without supervision? Because of the suicide risk?
But what about all those other countries? Don’t they prove gun control works? The short answer is no.
First, there are many countries that have gun laws comparable to the US and a gun culture fairly comparable to the US and yet have nowhere near the amount of violence. Even Michael Moore covered this in “Bowling for Columbine” – and he’s not what anyone would call a right-winger. Canada, when you adjust for population, in spite of having lots of guns has nowhere near the amount of violence the US has. From that perspective, the U.S. doesn’t have a gun problem, it has a violence problem. And that won’t be solved by banning guns. The number of guns doesn’t affect violence, there’s some other issues at play.
Consider the country I live in now: Uruguay. It has proportionately more firearms than either of its neighbors (Brazil or Argentina). All three countries have gun registration processes, and a long history of both common citizens and criminals finding ways around them. And yet, Uruguay has a WAY lower rate of gun violence than Argentina or Brazil, in spite of having proportionately MORE guns floating around than either of these other countries. Uruguay has the 8th largest rate of gun ownership in the world! And if the equation was was “more guns in the hands of private citizens = more gun violence” then Uruguay would be way more violent than Argentina or Brazil. Those two countries don’t even make it into the top 15 of gun ownership; in fact, Argentina is only 60th and ultra-violent Brazil is only 72nd!
Guns aren’t any harder to obtain in any of the three countries, but Brazil, the one with the lowest gun ownership rate, is by far the MOST violent of the three countries. In fact, it’s one of the most violent countries in the world. Twenty of the 50 cities with the highest murder rate worldwide are in Brazil (compared to none in Argentina or Uruguay, and only four in the United States: St. Louis, Detroit, New Orleans and Baltimore – all cities with huge problems of urban poverty and gang warfare).
So the U.S. has four cities on the top 50 most violent list while Brazil has 20, and the U.S. has the highest personal gun ownership rate in the world while Brazil is only 72nd. But it might be unfair to compare a first-world country to a third-world one.
Uruguay, on the other hand, is extremely similar to Brazil; of course, it is a much smaller country. But if you compare Uruguay’s one big city, Montevideo (pop. 1.5 million) to a city in Brazil that’s in many ways very similar (Porto Allegre), you get a stunning difference. Even though Uruguay is 8th highest in gun ownership worldwide, and Brazil 72nd, Montevideo’s murder rate (at the highest estimate) is 7.9, while Porto Allegre’s is 34.65!
Now, Porto Allegre is over twice the size of Montevideo, though very similar in other respects. But to be fair, let’s compare Montevideo (capital of Uruguay) to Goiania, a state capital in Brazil with almost the same population as Montevideo has. As mentioned before, the most harsh analysis puts Montevideo’s murder rate at 7.9 (it might be as much as a couple of points lower), while Goiania’s murder rate is 44.82! That’s nearly SIX times higher, even though Brazil is 64 spots lower on the rate of worldwide gun ownership than Uruguay.
And let’s not forget that in fact, without any help from gun control and in spite of a recent increase in gun ownership violent crime in the United States is going down, and has been for some time.
The violence problem is complicated and has a variety of causes. Poverty is a big one. Economic instability. Political instability and inequality. A big part of it is probably a problem of culture. But what is very clear from a rational analysis of gun violence worldwide is that gun control is not going to make violence disappear. Not even gun violence!
The mechanics of gun control are a pointless and inefficient bureaucratic process. Unless you’re using it as a mask to eventually outlaw gun ownership altogether, any gun registry that couldn’t actually affect number of gun owners will make a ZERO dent in gun related violence – especially since a huge percentage of the people who engage in non-suicide gun violence already don’t obey the law. What kind of magical thinking leads anyone to believe that if you add more law the Crips and the Bloods and the Zetas and the meth-dealing biker gangs will suddenly start magically obeying it?
If they’re honest about the global perspective on gun violence, Americans need to admit that the solutions will be much more complicated than the simplistic and liberty-denying answers the Left wants to offer.
Photo by Elrepho385/Getty Images
Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at therpgpundit.blogspot.com. Follow Kasimir on Twitter @KasimirUrbanski.
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