A Liberal Gun Owner Explores Existing Data
My friend Brooks and I were discussing gun control, as we like to do, and I told him about the issue with Republicans blocking the CDC from researching gun violence. He responded by sending me this report from Harvard’s Journal of Law and Public Policy.
I took over two hours and read the whole thing.
I found it pretty compelling, but then in preparing an argument based on it I did the due diligence of researching the reception to the study, what other experts thought, etc. The results were disappointing, as it appears to not be a peer reviewed study, and one of the authors is apparently a lobbyist for gun proliferation.
I don’t see why being a lobbyist can’t come from your beliefs rather than the other way around, however, and I did find many of the themes in the report compelling, so I am going to describe some of the concepts here just as an exploration exercise.
Maybe the data is crap. Maybe it’s decent with a tinge of bias. I lack the time and/or expertise to determine this. So let’s just have some fun exploring the ideas.
Exploring the Kates / Mausero paper
[ NOTE: I’m making data claims as statements, even though they are just findings from the Harvard paper. I’m doing this to avoid saying, “They claim” in every case. ]
The primary finding is simply that when you compare gun ownership and proliferation rates across multiple countries and even within countries, you often find negative correlation with gun deaths.
In 2004 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences parsed 253 journal articles, 99 books, and 43 government publications and found that gun control didn’t reduce violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents.
They also claim that a 2003 study by the CDC showed the same.
Gun ownership skyrocketed in the United States throughout the 1990’s, but crime fell precipitously.
At the same time in the U.K., gun control was going up massively at the same time as violent crime.
Lott and Mustard conclude that concealed carry laws deter criminals from confrontation crime and lead murder and violent crime to fall faster in states that had these laws.
Donohue and Levitt, however, believe that the drop in crime is from the legalization of abortion, not more guns.
They talk about how crime has continued to fall over the last 15 years, in 2003, but we know now in 2015 that it has continued to fall even now–even as Americans have had more and more access to guns.
[ NOTE: If guns are so bad, how is the crime rate still dropping? Research the FBI statistics on crime. Maybe gun violence is up, but violence is down overall? Get the latest research from the FBI on crime over the last 10 years, for example. If crime is still massively dropping (which is my understanding, despite what most people realize) then the whole guns create crime thing seems suspect at a minimum. ]
A European study from 21 nations found “no significant correlations of gun ownership with total suicide or homicide rates.”
They seem to concede the WHO point that having a gun in the house leads to higher rates of suicide, but they conclude that people can find other ways to kill themselves. I find this both true but troublesome. Many many not do it, and end up getting help, if it’s not so easy to do actually kill oneself.
They’re making the point that people are overly worried about dying from guns, which is more possible in the U.S., but that you should be more worried about dying from murder period–not just from guns.
Their secondary major claim is that murder and suicide are societal health issues, not gun issues, and they’re using their main point (that gun ownership and murder/suicide are not correlated) to illustrate this. This is a point that I think I may agree with, and may be the entire undoing of the liberal side of the argument.
[ NOTE: As I’ve written about multiple times, I think the problem with gun violence in America is one of too many unwanted people, with poor upbringings, little chance for affordable or quality education, no prospects for self respect through employment, and general hopelessness and anger. I think *that* is what is causing this rash of gun violence. This is why I’m finding this study to be worthy of (at least) exploration. They seem to be saying the same thing: that unhealthy places have high murder and then add gun control, but the number of guns don’t really matter that much. And then health places have low murder, and often have lots of guns. That’s the basic claim. ]
They are not saying at all that gun control causes gun violence. They’re saying that when you have an unhealthy society you get violence (including with guns), and that the natural reaction to that is gun control (which doesn’t work).
A senior English official did a study for his thesis At Cambridge that said he had to come to the rather startling conclusion that the use of firearms in crime was far less before gun control, i.e. when anyone could get a gun anywhere without restriction. Again, this isn’t saying less laws would help now; they’re saying it’s unrelated.
They counter the idea that guns make it easier for law-abiding citizens to commit crimes (such as normal people shooting their spouses in a fight) by claiming the data shows that the vast majority of murders are committed by long-time offenders, not regular citizens with access to a weapon.
The statistics on fights happening in a home after an argument lead one to believe that these are regular folks, but the statistics show that where murder occurs the parties usually had prior illegal interactions beforehand.
A liberal gun owner’s analysis
Whether or not I accept all the data/claims above, here are my current thoughts:
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The most important element causing mass shootings is societal health, and thus the health of young men in those societies. This is caused by a lack of strong parenting, education, and employment prospects that can yield self-respect for would-be attackers. When young males don’t think they can be noticed and/or respected via legitimate means, they will find another way, and that’s precisely what a mass shooting is.
For this reason, any solution that does not address this core problem of having too many people, raised poorly, with limited education and few prospects for good jobs and mating success, will ultimately have limited (if any) results. The only way to truly address this issue is to return to a time when young males didn’t think shooting innocent people was the best way to get noticed. If you don’t fix that, you haven’t fixed anything.
Now that we understand that society is at a full boil with regard to access to education, a lack of jobs, and general frustration with the ability to thrive, it also makes sense to tactically try to limit access to guns for the most unhealthy among us, e.g., people who have demonstrated a significant potential willingness to harm others. This means having better, more unified tracking of those who are in this state, and not allowing them to acquire firearms until they are better. This means both purchasing them as well as self-policing by family and friends of existing firearms when they see that someone is unwell.
In healthy societies, i.e. where there are not people who think the best way to get attention is to kill people, having readily available guns is not much of a danger. Millions of people drive cars every day—multiple tons of steel hurling at great speeds—and yet very few people steer them into public areas. In an unhealthy society, all such potential weapons will become real weapons, because the cause is the state of mind of the assailant, not the mechanism for inflicting harm. So we should look less at the numbers of guns, and more at the health metrics for society.
There appear to be multiple studies showing that throughout history, and even today, having more guns in a society doesn’t automatically lead to more murder. Switzerland and similar countries don’t have less murder because they have fewer guns; they have less murder because they have a healthy society with very few people in it that are willing to commit murder.
In the United States we have two things:
An extremely unhealthy society full of people with no legitimate prospects for self-respect. This leads to mental health issues that directly cause a willingness to do harm to others.
A massive number of readily-available firearms.
It seems obvious that the reason school shootings were not common in the 1980s and 1990s was not that it was hard to get guns. It wasn’t. It was that fewer people thought it was a good idea, and were willing to carry out such attacks.
So “gun control”, on my view, at this stage in my education, is a massive diversion from the core problem.
Now that we have millions of borderline deranged people close to the point of being willing to hurt others due to our economic health, would it help if less of them had easy access to weapons? Sure. Absolutely.
But 1) how practical is that? And 2) how much would it really help? I think the answer is that it’s extremely impractical and would help very little because the real issue is health.
To fix gun violence—or any violence really—we have to see the self-respect of males simultaneously as a source of innovation and of dormant violence. Give people legitimate means for increasing their status in life, and they will take it. Fail to do so and expect them to find another way using whatever weapons are available.
Give people the ability to legitimately earn respect. That’s how you solve this problem. Guns are a distraction.
Image from Harvard.
I mention male self respect and innovation, and not womens’, because women don’t tend to shoot up the place when they’re stifled, and this is a conversation about violence.
Just because the strategy needs to be fixing our economic health and healing the middle class, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the tactical steps of separating mentally ill people from weapons. Just don’t let that become the focus because it won’t ultimately solve anything.
This obviously isn’t all gun data out there, and I’m quite sure there is tons of data showing that adding more guns to unhealthy populations leads to more violence. That’s kind of my point, actually: we need to separate the issues of health and gun proliferation.