Gun Control – An Unemotional Analysis

Guns Gun Control   An Unemotional Analysis

The first thing to make clear is that a ban on guns is not a ban from existence, it will not automatically make guns disappear from society. (This should be an obvious and trivial point, but some of the arguments used in favour of gun control rely implicitly or explicitly on assuming the ban eliminates guns!)

A ban on guns is simply a legal device that makes the owning of guns a crime.

The effectiveness of legal bans is not 100%. e.g.

There is already a ban on the shooting of innocent people with guns.
Its called murder and has always been a serious crime.

However, this has not stopped innocent people being shot. Indeed every person murdered with a gun,  was murdered… despite the ban on shooting innocent people!

Of course, not being 100% effective does not mean that making gun ownership illegal would have no effect.

I can see two effects.

1.  Criminals wouldn’t be able to buy guns legally, making it  more difficult for them

2. Law abiding citizens would no longer own guns

The Impact on Criminals of Making Gun Ownership Illegal

If gun ownership were made illegal, the difficulty of acquiring illegal guns by criminals would probably not be very high.

Drugs have been illegal for a long time and yet they are available in every city for anyone who wants to buy them.

In the UK, which has strong gun control and no widespread culture of gun ownership, it is still very easy for criminals to acquire guns.

Even without gun control in the USA, only 20% of convicted felons purchased their firearms through a licensed fire arms dealer, 80% preferring the black market.
(Armed & Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons & Their Firearms  - Aldine de Gruyter – 1986)

However, it must be acknowledged that banning guns, would have some relatively small effect in reducing criminal gun ownership.

The pro gun control argument  runs: “Well if just 100 criminals who would have murdered somebody with a gun, no longer have access to a gun then we have saved 100 lives.”

This argument commits the fallacy of denying the antecedent

The confusion here is that if  A wants to Murder  B and he doesn’t have a gun, he may still murder Mr B….with a knife, with a baseball bat, hitting him with a car, or in any one of a multitude of other ways.

Guns may be the most convenient tool for the would be murderer (and lack of convenience may stop some murders).  But certainly if you hate someone enough to murder them a little inconvenience is hardly an insurmountable obstacle.

Currently 68% of all homicides in the USA involve firearms:
(The claim by the pro gun lobby that more people are killed by baseball bats than guns is an urban myth)

FBI Homicide Data
Murder Victims
by Weapon – 2011
Weapons 2011 Percentage
Total 12,664 100%
Total firearms: 8,583 68%
Handguns 6,220 49%
Rifles 323 3%
Shotguns 356 3%
Other guns 97 1%
Firearms, type not stated 1,587 13%
Knives or cutting instruments 1,694 13%
Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.) 496 4%
Personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)1 728 6%
Poison 5 0%
Explosives 12 0%
Fire 75 1%
Narcotics 29 0%
Drowning 15 0%
Strangulation 85 1%
Asphyxiation 89 1%
Other weapons or weapons not stated 853 7%
1 Pushed is included in personal weapons.  

But, a criminal, intent on murder without access to a gun, clearly has a variety of alternative options for killing his victim.

Empirically, you can analyse gun ownership rates against against homicide rates for different countries to see if higher gun ownership leads to more murders, or if a reduction in gun ownership simply substitutes other methods of murder.

A positive correlation would indicate that higher availability of guns increases the homicide rate.

When you actually  look at the data there is no statistically significant correlation. On a worldwide level, the relationship is actually negative, for the OECD excluding outliers it is also negative. (If you include the USA and Mexico outliers, you get an insignificant positive correlation. If you don’t understand why its correct to exclude these outliers, then your statistics needs a brush up, for a start you should read this!)

Taking a look at the USA specifically, comparing the  state data for homicides with the state by state gun ownership statistics shows no statistically significant correlation either.

gunsvhomicides 300x200 Gun Control   An Unemotional Analysis

For the Statisticians the adjusted R squared is 0.0%!

For the non statisticians, this means that there is absolutely no relationship between the two.

It seems clear to me that both logically and empirically, the impact of banning guns on reducing criminal homicides would be negligible.

Even the argument that banning assault rifles would stop school killings doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In most of these cases the killer ends his shooting spree by turning the gun on himself or being shot by the police. It is essentially a suicide mission.

What is to stop the would be killer, without access to such firearms, from becoming a suicide bomber instead, killing as many or more than with an assault rifle but using a few pounds of fertilizer and some home electronics ?

So, moving on to…

 The removal of guns from law abiding citizens

The most obvious and visible benefit of removing guns from law abiding citizens would be the elimination of accidental deaths through firearms accidents.

However, as Steven Levitt pointed out in Freakonomics (p149) the risk of firearms accidents very low. The chance of a child drowning in a house with a residential swimming pool is 1/11,000. The chance of a child being killed by a gun in a house with firearms is 1/1,000,000. (i.e. Swimming pool ownership is 100 times more dangerous than firearm ownership!)

If you want to ban fire-arms because they are too risky for private individuals to own, then to be consistent you would also need to ban swimming pools, cars, knives, bicycles, ladders and lots of other fairly innocuous household objects which are far more risky.

The pro gun control argument then runs: ”But if even 100 people where saved from accidents then it would surely be worthwhile. People don’t need guns, they do need cars, ladders, etc”

This line of reasoning suffers from the Broken Window Fallacy, which is to take into account only the superficial and clearly observable effects and ignore significant less obvious effects.

The gun control side of the argument point to the clearly quantifiable deaths caused by gun accidents. They ignore from their calculations all the lives saved because a potential victim was armed when encountering a potentially violent criminal, or the crimes avoided because the criminal feared the potential victim might be armed.

It is analogous to saying that surgery kills thousands of people every year.

That is true, but it is certainly not the whole story, millions of people are also saved from death each year by surgery.

We can only decide if surgery, or gun ownership by law abiding citizens, is a good or bad thing by looking at both sides of the equation, the lives saved as well as the lives lost.

In the case of deaths avoided because law abiding home owners had guns, it is difficult to quantify, but:

A 1982 survey of male felons in 11 state prisons dispersed across the U.S. found:

• 34% had been “scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim”

• 40% had decided not to commit a crime because they “knew or believed that the victim was carrying a gun”

• 69% personally knew other criminals who had been “scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim

Clearly the deterrent effect on criminals of law abiding home owners being armed, or having the potential to be armed, has a significant effect in preventing both crimes in action and reducing the number of attempted crimes.

The other difficult to quantify benefit of gun ownership is perhaps the most important from a libertarian point of view.

It is the one that was in the minds of the US founding fathers when they drafted the second amendment to the US constitution, which gives US citizens the right to bear arms:

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
― Thomas Jefferson

 In 2002, the JPFO published a list of genocides in the 20th century that have occurred in countries with gun control.

# 1915 – 1917 Ottoman Turkey, 1.5 million Armenians murdered;
# 1929 – 1953 Soviet Union, 20 million people that opposed Stalin were murdered;
# 1933 – 1945 Nazi occupied Europe, 13 million Jews, Gypsies and others;
# 1927 – 1949 China, 10 million pro communists;
# 1948 – 1952 China, 20 million anti communists;
# 1960 – 1981 Guatemala, 100,000 Mayan Indians Murdered;
# 1971 – 1979 Uganda, 300,000 Christians and Political Rivals of Idi Amin murdered;
# 1975 – 1979 Cambodia, 2 million educated persons murdered.
# 1994 Rwanda 800,000 Tutsi’s murdered.
# 1992 – 1995 Bonsia 200,000 Muslims murdered.

Of course there could never be oppression of the people by the state in the 21st century, just ask the residents of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, North Korea…..

The American constitution did not envisage an impeding tyrannical US government, but it was drafted to protect the citizens from the possibility of one.

So far at least, it has worked:

The beauty of the Second Amendment is that
it will not be needed until they try to take it.”
― Thomas Jefferson

Summary

On the negative side:

Gun control would not stop criminals from killing people either with easily obtainable illegal guns, or with legal substitutes such as knives, bats, etc.

Gun control would disarm law abiding home owners, making them more vulnerable to attacks on person and property by the armed criminals.

Gun control would open the door to the potential of future state oppression.

On the positive side:

Gun control would prevent a small number of firearms accidents, the risk of which is less than drowning in a swimming pool or falling off a ladder.

If you can think about the issues logically, rather than being swept along by, a natural, emotional response to the most recent tragedy, the conclusion seems obvious.

Answers to Objections Raised

 

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  • Geoffstovold

    “Gun control would not stop criminals”…..it would stop young men from good middle class families murdering a load of their school mates because they have become temporarily deranged, simply because they could help themselves to Mummy or Daddy’s guns.

    “Gun control would disarm homeowners.” Burglars in Britain hardly ever carry guns because a) they are difficult to get hold of b) not necessary to carry out a burglary c) less risk of things getting out of control and someone (they or the victim) getting killed.

    “Gun control would open the door to future state oppression” Perhaps we should all have a helicopter gunship in the back yard to!

    • Dailyhammer

      BlackhamVillage – I have a suspicion your comment is a wind up but I am going to respond anyway

      “Gun control would not stop criminals”…..it would stop young men from good middle class families murdering a load of their school mates because they have become temporarily deranged, simply because they could help themselves to Mummy or Daddy’s guns.

      If the School had not been made a gun free zone it is likely he would have been terminated far quicker by a member of staff. It is because of this stupid policy so many children died. If that kid knew that were armed people in the school it is very unlikely his fantasy would have developed to the point where he felt the need to act it out. 

      “Gun control would disarm homeowners.” Burglars in Britain hardly ever carry guns because a) they are difficult to get hold of b) not necessary to carry out a burglary c) less risk of things getting out of control and someone (they or the victim) getting killed.

      This very argument you have provided suggests that there would be significantly fewer burglaries if guns were legal because the burglar would be concerned about being shot. So you like  more crime this is a good thing form your perspective. People in the UK are regularly killed in their own homes by burglars without guns but the burglar should be protected from serious injury of being shot. I am sure you would feel the same when confronted with two homicidal, rapist burglars in your house. You have obviously never been a position where you truly fear for your life and how helpless you are when faced with unknown assailants. Unless you are in these situations regularly your adrenalin will cause your body to shake uncontrollably, this is the flight reaction kicking in but you can’t because you are trapped in your own house. The next problem this causes is when in flight mode fighting is difficult the shaking looses accuracy in your punches and strength. Basically you get destroyed. This is what it is like for us normal people who realise we are not secret ninjas or commandos and that we do not fight well. What we rely on are the odds – the chance that they will break into my house is very low – that is how we sleep at night. Not thinking if someone breaks in I have the means to eliminate that threat there and then.

      “Gun control would open the door to future state oppression” Perhaps we should all have a helicopter gunship in the back yard to!

      I am not entirely sure what is meant by this comment, but I am sure the people of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and a few others might be able to give some input on the matter. If you think that oppression and tyranny are things of the past then you are very misguided. If the populations in these countries had been armed do you think the likes of the Taliban could just wander in and setup shop?

      The truth of the matter is this if they legalised guns in the UK it is more likely there would be a reduction in the murder rate. Number 1 reason all the people that are prepared to use guns to murder another person are already carrying one. 
      Number 2 If normal members of the public were armed the members of group number 1 would be less likely to start shooting for fear of being killed themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/steveellwood Steve Ellwood

    Mmm. Couple of things:

     See http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/2012/04/george_washington_guns_quote.php “Anyone arming themselves against the government should ask the Branch Davidians how that turned out”

    Also, my understanding was that over the years guns have become both harder – and more expensive for criminals to get see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6179019.stm and http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/1137869_gangland_armourer_faces_jail and so on.

    A country with 5 times the population of the UK with a murder rate *how* much higher?

  • Budvar Yorks

    I take exception to the view of the price of guns has increased. With the influx of east europeans, the availability of guns has flooded the market.
    The availability of guns on european market stalls and ease of importation (HM Customs only look out for dodgey baccy in my experience). Drugs have been illegal for how long? I can buy anything I want within 50 yds of my front door at any time, day or night.

  • http://twitter.com/sweasel Stoaty Weasel

    Lot o’ jerking knees in your comment section.

  • http://twitter.com/c3iq Owen Williams

    A death is a death and, if by accident, best avoided.  A death in a hostage situation, helicopter crash, from fuel poverty or choking on a horse burger are all deaths.  I like your approach in this article.  That you point out the relative dangers of many of the things in our lives.  However, a parent owning a gun and a swimming pool too possessed by their work to look after the safety of their children…well, that’s a problem.

    The second amendment doesn’t mean that US citizens are free.  Owning a gun is not freedom.  The market and rate of profit has effectively enslaved millions of them.  They are distracted from the idea of revolution by bullet points like the second amendment.  They are distracted by issues like these and war, Fox, religion, Consumerism, debt etc.  They are missing several important freedoms that should lead to revolution.  They are not free to be educated or to be treated at a hospital.  They, as are we, are deliberately divided so that they won’t organise.  They are not free to revolt.

    Thatcher said there is no such thing as society and it stuck.  Our newspapers, all of our press, re-enforce the notion everyday.  The Press, UKIP, BNP, EDL Labour and the Tories have us at each other throats.  If we had guns and were really pissed off we wouldn’t know who to shoot first.

    I like the idea of shaking things up but legally owning a gun isn’t even the first step.

  • Dailyhammer

    One point is being overlooked here with regards to the gun fatality levels in the USA is the demographics of the population and prison population.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States

    If you then break down the prison population to their country of origin and look at the gun crime figures in those countries a pattern certainly emerges.

    The problem is a social one and has no doubt occurred from government policy. A large immigrant population that does not pursue education, or a career and prefer to shoot it out ghetto style leads to higher crime rates that do not represent the majority. These statistics are then used by attention seeking politicians who know that one dares point out the who is causing all the gun crime as they may as well open Pandoras box and coil a steamer right into it while wearing a “I am a racist bigot” sign. The press would hang them out to dry. 

    If you compare a country without a large immigrant population where you can legally own a gun such as Sweden the homicide rate there is 1 person per 100,000 people of which 37% are shot. In the UK the homicide rate is 1.2 per 100,000 people and 6.6% are shot. So even though you are less likely to be shot in the UK you are more likely to be murdered which is good news if you think being bludgeoned to death is a better way to go. This just proves again the murder will still happen and the tool is inconsequential. Instead we now have the situation we you are more likely to be murdered and less able to defend yourself.

    Look at it from this point of view during the Cold War what discussions were there for gun control and disarming the population. Err well absolutely none of course , if the guns are pointed at the Governments enemies then that is OK. Fast forward to today now they want to disarm the population. The problem with people is they will point their guns at whoever is threatening them they have no allegiance to anyone but their own survival. An oppressive government is very aware of this.  

    This is the real reason behind them pursuing a ban.

     

  • http://twitter.com/psycho_pigeon PsychoPigeon

    Gun grabbing is a red herring. All the ‘progressives’ are cheering Obama on as if he’s achieving something. The only thing he’s doing is drawing attention away from all the poverty and unemployed that he hasn’t dealt with and will never deal with. Man of the people my arse. 

    America’s society is sick and needs help, if guns were the cause then Switzerland would be in chaos. Obama, prove you aren’t a shill and go tackle some of the real issues. If that is done then you’ll see the murder rate drop, but then how would you rally support for banning guns? Agenda in play at the White House.

  • @simonr916

    You asked me on Twitter to comment on your blog so that you could reply, so here I go. Mainly repeating what I’ve already said to you…

    My main contention with your blog is your argument that
    there is no correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates. You take your
    analysis here from another blogger who gets their data from a range of sources
    including Wikipedia pages of disputed accuracy and pro-gun websites.

    This analysis makes no attempt to adjust for socio-economic
    factors such as population density, poverty and inequality, levels of
    corruption within government and law enforcement etc.

    A peaceful and prosperous rural area – such as the
    Cotswolds, in England – is likely to have relatively high firearm ownership
    (mainly farmers and sportsmen with shotguns and hunting rifles) but low levels
    of crime (particularly violent crime). A deprived urban area – such as
    Manchester’s Moss Side – will have comparatively low levels of gun ownership,
    but high levels of crime. A direct comparison of the two, without adjustment,
    will not provide any meaningful insight into the relationship between guns and
    crime.

    This blogger says of his own analysis “Because of the many uncontrolled variables
    involved in comparisons between countries, I don’t believe such statistics can
    help the case for or against gun control.”

    You may have seen similar
    analysis, looking at gun ownership and homicide across Europe, which was
    recently published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy (http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf)
    and found higher crime rates in countries with gun control.

    This study did not
    adjust for socio economic factors either, was riddled with absurd and circular
    arguments and was published in a student edited (not, so far as I can tell,
    peer-reviewed) journal with a stated agenda of promoting libertarian and
    conservative views.

    Interestingly, that
    article did acknowledge that many of the European countries with strict gun controls
    had introduced them in response to high crime rates. In other words, the
    causation (if there was one) may well have worked the other way – high crime
    causes gun control.

    This article from
    the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc1447364/)
    looked at gun ownership and homicide rates and homicide across the US, made
    adjustments for socio-economic factors, and concludes that there is a
    correlation between gun ownership and homicide.

    Summaries of other
    scholarly articles with similar findings can be found here:

    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199310073291506

    and here:

    http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearms-research/guns-and-death/

    and this article
    shows that gun controls introduced in Australia in 1996 were followed by
    accelerated declines in firearm deaths:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2704353/

    You also make the
    argument that gun control will not prevent criminals from obtaining guns, and
    you draw a comparison with illegal drugs.

    However illegal
    guns are, almost without exception, legal guns that have become illegal –
    either by being stolen from their lawful owner, by being transported across a
    border, or by a decommissioned weapon – sold as a replica – being re-commissioned.

    As such, reducing
    the availability of legal weapons would have the result of decreasing the
    availability of illegal weapons. This reduced supply will not eradicate
    availability altogether but would keep guns out of the hands of many criminals,
    and would reduce the cost to others.

    You argue
    availability of guns in the UK based upon a single newspaper article quoting an
    anonymous source ‘close to the trade in illegal weapons’. The reliability of
    this as evidence to support your case is highly debateable but, in any case, it
    is unquestionably more difficult to obtain an illegal weapon in the UK than it
    is to walk into Wal-Mart and buy one in the US. Increased control of replica
    weapons and improved border controls could make this access even more
    difficult.

    Whilst it is likely
    that hardened criminals with the right connections will always be able to
    access weapons, controls limit their availability and ensure that, by doing so,
    they face the risk of prosecution and imprisonment even if they do not use the
    weapon.

    In the case of
    school shootings, where the killer is usually an isolated and troubled
    teenager, such controls are likely to put guns completely beyond their reach.

    Yes, they may
    choose another weapon. Around the time of Sandy Nook, a man attacked a school
    in China. 22 children were injured but none were killed. He used a knife (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-20723910).

    Your argument that
    school killers’ motive is murder/suicide and so they may choose to use a bomb
    instead, makes an assumption as to the killers’ motives without evidence. Other
    possible motives may be the feelings of power and control they expect to
    experience, seeing others in fear, the glamourisation of gun use and so on.

    Following the Dunblane
    massacre in 1996, gun laws in the UK were tightened. There have been no mass
    school shootings in the UK since, and – notably – no school bombings either.

    You go on to argue
    that gun ownership provides protection against violence. This ignores statistical
    evidence that guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in accidental
    or criminal shootings than self defence – and more likely still to be used in
    the suicide of the gun owner or another family member (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9715182).

    And yes, some
    criminals may be discouraged from some crimes if they believe the intended
    victim may be armed. It seems likely that they will simply move onto another
    target instead. Equally, it may be that fear of an armed victim may encourage a
    criminal to carry a gun or use a greater level of violence than would otherwise
    be the case.    

  • Simonr916

    In my previous comment, I meant to say that reduced availability of illegal guns would increase – not reduce – the cost. My apologies.

    Simon

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  • Zabilde

    One point, you claim that the pro-gun community claims that bats kill more than guns. That is not the claim. What is claimed and what the stats you cited prove is that bats (or blunt object actually) actually do kill more people very year than rifles. If someone says bats kill more than guns they are wrong but if as the real meme says the person is claiming that bats kill more than rifles (of all types), then they are correct. This is an important point with all the efforts to demonize and ban Modern Sporting Rifles like the AR-15.

    • Steven

      I was about to post this, and I chose to search the comments, first. This is exactly the point I wanted to make.