What science says about gun control and violent crime

Does gun control mean fewer guns on the street and less violence? Does encouraging gun ownership mean better protected people and less violence?

I don't think it's too early to be asking questions like this. When you're faced with a tragedy like what happened today at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it's reasonable to start asking questions about violence prevention. It's part of the bargaining stage of grief — wondering if there's something we could have done that would have prevented all those needless deaths. And let's get one thing straight: Everybody wants to prevent what happened today.

So what can be done about it? And what does the science say?

I've been trying to get a handle on that for the last hour or so and here are three things it seems we can definitively say:

• It would be completely accurate for someone to tell you that studies in places like Australia and Austria found that implementing more stringent gun control laws reduced deaths from gun-related suicides and violent crime.

• It would also be accurate to say that a study of the effects of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in the United States showed no big reductions in gun-related deaths, except for suicides among people older than 55.

• And it's also true that a 2003 study of conceal-carry laws in Florida found that they seemed to make no difference one way or the other — neither increasing nor reducing rates of violent crime.

Yes, this looks like it's going to be one of those moments where science cannot provide you a clear-cut, absolute answer.

The issue is that studying the impact of gun laws on violent crime isn't really the single, simple question that it appears to be. Instead, we're talking about many different individual laws, written in different ways and enforced in different manners. One law might fail while another succeeds. How do you compare them?

Where those laws are implemented is also a factor, because a new, stringent gun law in a place surrounded by similar laws is likely to have a different outcome than the same law in a place where you can quickly cross a border and find completely different legislation. It's also not unreasonable to suspect that culture and other local factors play a part. There appear to be big differences in the number of violent gun deaths between geographic regions of the United States.

Some studies are funded by biased institutions. Some studies aren't peer reviewed. Some studies feature poorly thought-out methodology.

All of that leads to a mess of frequently contradictory conclusions that can, frankly, be used to support just about any position you'd like to put forward. So, basically, just because you can support your position, don't think that makes you absolutely correct.

And that leads me to another key theme that kept coming up on Google Scholar — if we really want to prevent deaths from violent crime we need to come to terms with the fact that most people reach their conclusions about the best way to do that with almost no help from science. In fact, I found multiple researchers who argued that solving our national debate about guns and about how to prevent violent crime had very little to do with the science anyway. It would be nice to know what's actually going on. But it really may not matter much in at a practical level.

Regardless of who you are and what you believe, when you start looking at the sociology of this, you'll find that statistics probably don't matter to you. Tribal affiliation does. Here's how Donald Braman — associate professor at George Washington University Law School — and Dan Kahan — professor at Yale Law School — put it in 2006:

For one segment of American society, guns symbolize honor, human mastery over nature, and individual self-sufficiency. By opposing gun control, individuals affirm the value of these meanings and the vision of the good society that they construct. For another segment of American society, however, guns connote something else: the perpetuation of illicit social hierarchies, the elevation of force over reason, and the expression of collective indifference to the well-being of strangers. These individuals instinctively support gun control as a means of repudiating these significations and of promoting an alternative vision of the good society that features equality, social solidarity, and civilized nonagression.

These competing cultural visions, we will argue, are what drive the gun control debate. They are what dispose individuals to accept certain empirically grounded public-safety arguments and to reject others. Indeed, the meanings that guns and gun control express are sufficient to justify most individuals’ positions on gun control independently of their beliefs about guns and safety. It follows that the only meaningful gun control debate is one that explicitly addresses whether and how the underlying cultural visions at stake should be embodied in American law.

Statistics don't convince people. People convince people.

And this fits pretty well with what we know about how people make up their minds on a whole host of divisive issues. We tend to find people we identify with and believe what they believe. When we change our minds, it's usually because our group's values changed. Or because someone (someone we felt we could identify with, even if they weren't a part of our group) convinced us that a new idea fit better into our group's values than we'd previously thought. Or that our values fit better in a different group than the one we currently belonged to.

If all of this sounds familiar, that's because I wrote a piece on this very subject for The New York Times magazine back in August. Same concept. Different application.

But even in Washington, understanding the power of stories could go a long ways toward bridging gaps that only get bigger when we expect those who disagree to rationally accept data and evidence. “We fight it out by throwing arguments at each other and are upset when they have no effect,” Haidt says. “It makes us accuse our opponents of bad faith and ulterior motives. But the truth is that our minds just aren’t set up to be changed by mere evidence and argument presented by a ‘stranger.’”

And now here's the part where I editorialize. Want to prevent gun violence and reduce the number of horrific events like what happened today? Great. Go stop being strangers to each other. Everybody wants the same thing here. Nobody has tapped into any ineffable truths about how to get there. If we want to hash this out in the political and socio/cultural sphere, we're going to have to stop vilifying the people who disagree with us and start trying to talk about how we can all solve the problems we want to solve while remaining true to our own values.

Image: IMG_0362, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from neontommy's photostream


    1. Don’t talk about gun control after yet another mass shooting? Give me a break. There is only one thing we know about gun control in the US: we’ve never seriously tried it. And every compromise on gun control has just introduced loopholes that invalidated its entire purpose.

      Let’s look at a couple of areas where the gun laws are broken:

      * You can buy online from a private seller online or offline and not face a background check
      * You can go to a gun show and not face a background check
      * You can have a restraining order, but still not have to prove that you handed over your guns

      Let’s look at a couple of areas where gun culture is broken:

      * Gun stockpiles allow children and family members who have a mental illness to take the guns
      * Killing power with assault rifles, drum clips, extra long clips, hollow point bullets, etc., is considered just fine because these guns are considered to be needed to fight the government in an emergency
      * Talking about gun control is political suicide
      * Talking about actual suicide or murder (less common) by guns isn’t acceptable

      There is absolutely no impediment in gun culture or our gun laws that will prevent mass murder. There could be, but you think the only area we should focus on is not gun-related. You are wrong. We could do both.

      1. This seems tangentially related to the discussion at best, esp. with a seemingly context-free opening of “Don’t talk about gun control after yet another mass shooting?”

        But it’s pretty clear what tribe you belong to, I think.

        1. It is hardly tangential. The article is about how the studies are inconclusive because there is no way to compare between a country like the US with a high murder rate and other countries with low murder rates that then banned guns. The studies are also inconclusive because they include red herrings like concealed carry permits, but not on actual gun ownership. The studies are also inconclusive because they fail to take into account the effect of the War on Drugs on creating a massive gun black market.

          It is possible to fix the US so that our rates of gun deaths and mass murder are closer to that of the rest of the Western World. These studies don’t say that gun control doesn’t work. They say that nobody knows how to study the complexities of its aftereffect on a country that has never tried it. They can only compare it to places where the culture wasn’t so damaged that gun control didn’t have a massive impact.

      2. Yes, it’s a mix of things converging at a terrible result. And the biggest disappointment is that this thing, at its core, is a public health crisis.  An unaddressed mental health crisis.  We have insane people popping up every week shooting randomly into crowds of strangers, so shouldn’t we think, “Hey, this is a mental health issue that we need to address on a large scale.”?  It’s been like this since the 1989 Cleveland Elementary school shooting a few blocks from where I grew up.  Nothing has changed except that there are more massacres now and they have become commonplace.

        1. It’s been like this since the 1989 Cleveland Elementary school shooting a few blocks from where I grew up.

          Isn’t it sad how many people have been near a school shooting? When I was a kid, another kid shot another kid in an elementary school in the small town where I lived and when I went to college, a man killed his girlfriend and himself about a block and a half from where I was taking a smoke break.

          1. It’s very sad, and sickness that needs to be more than just gawked at.  It’s like flu or AIDS or Diabetes or West Nile – it needs to be TREATED and eradicated by focused action.  Right now we’re not focusing anything, except too-late reactions and hand-wringing.  I’ll think more about this.  I bet there are specific ways regular people can put their heads into this problem and make useful change.

        2. This is an issue of American culture as a whole. Over-emphasized individualism with little regard given to social solidarity or empathy, no social support whatsoever, limited social mobility. People with discipline and skills have some mobility at a cost of heavy leverage and loan burden, but those with disability or lower capability are simply left behind and are treated with contempt. The balance is tilted the wrong way far too much and no gun control at the same time. This combination doesn’t work well – you have unhappy country with guns serving the imperialistic ambition of the elite.

      3. Please define what you would consider a “stockpile” of guns? For example, I own an AR-15, a Glock, a Mosin Nagant, a revolver, and a shotgun. Would you consider that a “stockpile?” Or would I have a “collection” of differing calibers of firearms, all designed and used for differing purposes. All of which are legal and valid. 

        1.  How about “both”?

          I’m not American and I find the thought of someone owning five guns sounds pretty extravagant. I understand what you’re saying when you say they all serve different purposes, but it’s quite alot more than the zero guns I own.

          1. It’s probably a good thing his weapons can’t shoot that far then.  :)  But really, I’m an American and I have no issue with him having these weapons at all.

            It’s just a different culture.  I have never felt uncomfortable in a store when someone was armed.  I’m sure that would change rather quickly in the event of it being unholstered.  In fact, I feel my life is in danger more driving with the invention of cell phones and the weird belief that you have to look at your passenger when you’re talking to them – even when you’re driving…  And even if they’re in the back seat.

          2. I recently watched a driver ‘listening’ to his passenger sign. He drove through an intersection without once looking at the road. Clearly, sign-language is a menace to society and must be eliminated.

          3.  Like I find it extravagant that golf players feel they need more than 2 clubs. Surely a 4 iron and a putter should be enough. It’s quite a lot more than the zero golf clubs I own.

            But one or five, I don’t see it makes a lot of difference which one is taken to commit the deed.

      4. This is an excellent and informative comment. Can you post it more broadly? I want to copy it to FB and I will credit “Funk Daddy”. 

      5. What about antidepressant control? All the perpetrators of mass shootings in recent years, including the one in Norway, were taking antidepressants or their medical records are sealed. Guns have been available since the start of this nation, however these mass shootings have become much more common only recently. Perhaps we should look at what else has changed and correct that. I pointed out antidepressants as a possible cause, but it could be any number of things, including the media’s glorification of these types of crimes.

    2. Em, yes gun laws are the primary influence. Illegality of gun ownership reduces gun crimes significantly. It’s too late for north america. Too many people already own them, there are too many in circulation, and making them illegal would simply drive them into the hands of gangs and criminals. They should NEVER have been made legal in the first place. Look at any statistic for any country where guns are illegal. It’s fairly fucking clear that the statistics are in the favour of eradicating gun ownership.

      They are not ever used for defense. They are used to kill people.

      1. I disagree, it is not to late. Do you draw breath (in North America). I do.

        If a people can do some of the other things that the US has done, they can address this too. 

        They were legal most everywhere they are illegal now, before they were illegal. America is just behind the curve, way, way behind it, and the problem is extremely exacerbated by many different and somewhat unique social pressures.

        In Canada less than 75-50 people die from gun crime each year, but guns are not illegal here. Even accounting for only having 1/10th the population of the US the difference is as night and day, though it is getting worse as more and more US guns are smuggled in and as Canada has been moving to the Right socially and politically.

      2. And if your government suddenly decides it’s your job to serve them?  Or your government decides it now controls all the money and it’s your job to make it?  Obviously an extreme, but one of the main points of the second amendment is to make the government incredibly wary of oppression.

        While many soldiers would refuse to attack their native brothers and sisters, a few would and that would certainly be enough to overthrow an unarmed uprising.

        Another main reason is defense against invasion.  No country will ever try to invade the U.S.  It has an armed army in every city and on every farm.  It has more bullets than any army has soldiers.

        And, of course the obvious, hunting and self-protection.  I will admit that there’s probably no reason to have automatic or three-round-burst weapons available to the public; except maybe to show our liberties

        1. The ‘it’s to protect us from the excesses of government’ argument for lack of US gun control laws is one of the most laughable of all…

    3. Yes and no. Nothing happens in a vacuum. To me, this article doesn’t really say anything new, other than that people have different ideologies that inform their views on gun control, and we need to address that if we want to make any progress on gun control. But to say this isn’t about gun control isn’t a key part of this multifaceted issue is a naive rationalization of our obsession with guns and the idea that violent implements, like guns, are pieces of honor. Guns don’t kill people, trigger fingers do. But trigger fingers only kill people if there’s a gun there.

  1. One of the comments I’ve seen in a lot of the comments on the article about the CT shooting posted earlier is that the screening should be tighter on those who are mentally ill. According to cops that I know, there are a lot of laws about this already. However, the carry through on them is not good. There is a lot of paperwork involved in reporting people who are mentally ill to the existing systems, and not much follow up once things are reported. I know a lot of people see regulation as a silver bullet (ahem) but, I’d be interested in the my dry sounding approach of figuring out how to make the existing laws really work.

    1. Mental illness is important screening, but let’s not also forget the domestic violence aspect. If you look back on many of these mass shootings, apparently including the one today, there is an enormous correlation between battery or failed relationships and a mass shooting. Both mental illness and domestic violence need to be addressed. Actually, I’m a little more worried about the domestic violence issue because of its relationship with murder-suicides. Here is a decent report on the prevalence of murder-suicides with firearms (90% and mostly due to DV).

      1. Yes, 110% what you have said. Most of the murders and murder/suicides that happen in an intimate partner context are by men who appear otherwise functional — ie they have jobs, housing, and a social group/co-workers/peers/neighbors who are often shocked by the revelations of abuse that had occurred in that relationship. Most of the female partners in an abusive relationship had become afraid of their partner prior to their murder, with good reason. Sadly, many of these victims had also been doubted by their friends/family/social workers/police, etc. as to the depth of threat that they were experiencing, and even worse were often painted as the “crazy one” “psycho bitch”, etc. by their murdering partner, to further isolate, discredit their concerns and stigmatize them. I think anyone who has had any charges laid with regards to intimate partner violence should be prohibited from owning a firearm for at least 10 years, if not life.

        1. If the charges are born out, yes.

          BUT, they are not always true. I had an ex I broke up with.  The only violence there had EVER been in the relationship is when she got liquored up and hit me (often, in front of many witnesses).

          A year post-breakup, I got engaged. On that very day the ex filed a TRO.  In it she said she was scared of me because I owned knives and swords (I do ren faires).  That I wouldn’t answer her phone calls.  That “every time I show up where Mick is, he leaves, angry”.

          I had to go to court to argue that SHE was the whack-job. Then, on the stand as she realized she was losing, she transparently began to fabricate instances where I had hit her.  It didn’t help her that a woman she confided in saying “I’m just trying to prove to Mick that he can’t just make me go away” showed up to testify to that fact.

          Had it not been for the MANY witnesses on my behalf ( and the fact that she was a horrible liar ) then I could have had a long term restraining order, and PERHAPS criminal charges.

          In a he-said/she-said you MUST judge on the totality of evidence.  You cannot start from the assumption that every allegation is true.

          1. So the justice system worked appropriately for you. Not sure what that has to do with anything.

          2.  Well since he’s talking about a near miss with the justice system I imagine he doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy about the prospect of it always working. Which seems to be on topic with the post he’s replying to.

            And I suspect your comprehension skills are just as good as mine.

          3. You are giving us the “he said” account. It is possibly to terrorize another person without ever touching them. You categorize her as a “whack-job”, which she may or may not be. Just because you are making a public statement here, Mick Magill, about how abusive that you feel you weren’t, it doesn’t mean that she didn’t experience your behavior as threatening, coercive, abusive, frightening, controlling, etc. 

            In reference to the link that bzishi posted above, in the study cited it is stated that 90% of murder/suicides are committed by men. This paper also includes murder/suicides of parents and children as well as intimate partner violence. Most of the murder/suicides that are committed by women are mothers killing their children. In the sample they used, 72% of these murder/suicides were intimate partner violence, and of these 94% were women killed by their male partners.

            So – is there any good reason that a man, with a history of domestic violence should have access to a firearm or other weapon ?

      2. That is exactly they issue, not the guns.
        How mentally imbalanced do you have to be to kill your mother, children and yourself? If you as person don’t believe you’re worth anything, then how do we expect these kind of mentally imbalanced people put any worth on anybody else regardless of age or gender.
        It is sad how as in most incidents like today’s, no one really knew or cared how unstable that twenty year old person was; not his parents, neighbors or school mates or teachers. No one wants to be involved, and that’s where we all fail.

        1. You could easily argue that mental health crisis + legal gun ownership would have very different results than mental health crisis – legal gun ownership. You simply cannot kill 30 people in an elementary school without  a gun. The shooters in these types of incidents (with the exception of the Ft. Hood shooting) are exactly the demographic of people who would have the most difficulty in, and be the easiest to catch, obtaining weapons on the black market. 

          If you had someone displaying intense psychotic behavior in your house, wouldn’t you feel safer if your large stash of weapons were in a locked safe, than if they were all lying, loaded, on various furniture throughout the house?

          It’s hard to argue that ease of access doesn’t make a difference.

          That said, yes, a thousand times, yes, we need to address the mental health crisis in this country. Taking  the guns away won’t make us less violent, it will only decrease the body count.

          1. I agree.
            That’s what infuriates me; the ease of access to the weapons within the house.
            Too many gun owners do not understand the responsibility of owning even one gun.
            I am in favor of owning a gun(s) even though I do not own one. I did however grow up in a household that did, and to my family, owning a gun meant a great responsibility. Not only to my father but grandfather and uncles.
            When I think about buying a gun, I start thinking about the best safe I can buy for it and that’s just to start with, once I start adding up all the expenses I usually end up not thinking about it anymore. It is nowhere as simple as just buying a gun and leaving it laying around.
            I agree with you, that is completely irresponsible.

          2. That was meant to be a bit of an allegory, but you certainly shouldn’t leave guns laying around the house.

            That said, houses with guns in them are less dangerous to visitors than houses with swimming pools (and significantly so). 

            In a country where any 20 yr. old can legally buy a handgun for the same price as an xbox, not being able to swipe one from your relatives isn’t really going to deter crimes like these.

  2. since everyone is gungho crazy about free health care, how about making mental health care easier to obtain. even if you have insurance it’s likely you will get denied, if the provider even takes it (which many don’t, because it’s such a hassle to prove a patient needs it). stricter gun policy might help, but if you’re batshit crazy enough to kill kids i would like to start with the reason you are batshit crazy, because it’s likely you are going to find a way to lash out regardless of how hard it is to get a pistol.

    1. “it’s likely you are going to find a way to lash out regardless of how hard it is to get a pistol”

      Totally. Couldn’t agree more with your post or this sentence. Yet, choosing a gun to do the lashing out, isn’t really batshit crazy. It’s batshit easy. Because guns are so ample, highly effective and disposable. I doubt this nut would of had the time or discipline for murder on this scale choosing any other form of carnage. So yeah, mental health, hell, all health for people like this, sure, but we also gotta look at guns, which might be a stop gap to the larger hurdle of good healthcare.

      1.  i’m not sure about him having the time or discipline. things like this tend to be thought out. look at columbine, they found all sorts of planning and stockpiling going on. i wouldn’t be surprised to see that here as well. on the flip side, i was surprised when doing research after the aurora shootings how few states require you to register weapons. hard to stop people from bypassing the background checks if there is no paper trail after you walk out of the store.

        1. But they didn’t make a bomb. They choose a gun. I mean we could nit pick what they didn’t do, but we know what they did, and they choose this weapon because it was easy and it was what was available to them. 

          1. But we DON’T know why they chose guns. We can /guess/, but we don’t know. And guns have a mystique, an appeal, that bombs lack. Bombs do not give a sense of control, a sense of power, in the same way guns do. The goto for mass killings after guns is swords and knifes. Significantly less effective, yes, but especially prominent in cultures where blades have the same sort of mystique that guns have in American culture.

            I’m not so sure “easy of acquisition” is the driving force for choosing guns (though their availability could certainly be a factor in how many that would choose guns actually go through with it and how much damage they can do)

          2. Ease of acquisition is a factor to be sure.

            Ease of use is bigger though. 

            Drawing a bead on someone and pulling the trigger is horrible and hard for normal people to do, but it is hella less personal and easier than doing the same with a blade, as well as more effective.

            If the young man today had to do by hand what he did by gun it likely would not have happened at all, and would have been a fraction of the toll if it had.

          3.  i don’t have a problem with gun control. i used to, i was really against it. you won’t ever be able to ban guns, and i’m not sure that’s what people want anyway. if they do, they are dreaming. however, i have no problem with stricter regulations at this point. i have 2 kids, both in elementary school. i’m tired of seeing people die like this. you don’t have to be able to easily buy a gun to enjoy shooting them, hunting, whatever you responsibly do with your firearms.

    2. if you’re batshit crazy enough to kill kids i would like to start with the reason you are batshit crazy, because it’s likely you are going to find a way to lash out regardless of how hard it is to get a pistol.

      Actually, no. If you PLAN a mass shooting where you also plan to kill yourself, then the ability to quickly kill yourself is part of the plan. Implementing this with a weapon other than a firearm would be difficult. There are billions of sharp knives and axes and other types of weapons, but when people go on a killing spree they use firearms. Part of the reason is that firearms are more lethal, but it is also because the ‘escape plan’ of the shooter is suicide, and firearms are the only guaranteed method. The access to firearms allows these shooters to have access to their ‘escape plans’ which increases the probability of mass murder.

      1. When people go on a killing spree in the US they use firearms. In Asia, they tend to use knives and swords. Other than that, it remains a good point – the availability of such effective tools could certainly contribute to how often they happen if this is a consideration in the mind of the shooters.

      2. suicide bombers do the same thing. it’s pretty easy to make a bomb. kids were doing it when i was a kid (and that was years ago). i watched two friends blow the tire off a truck with something they found how to make in a book (yes, that book).  i’m not against gun control, it’s far too easy to get a firearm these days. hell, you can print one off now. it doesn’t change the fact that if you’re the type of person who will do something like this, you’ll find a way to do it. at this point in society it’s not going to be impossible to get a gun, period. and it’s only going to get easier as technology advances. let’s tighten up guns, fine. registration is a great place to start. but let’s also look at the root problem. if you can get 1 in 100 people some help so they don’t do something like this, it’s a win to me. if you can get more, even better. but if you don’t try at all, you’re not really trying to solve the problem, you’re just pushing an agenda.

        as mentioned below, people use what is available to them. a guy just went on a stabbing spree in china, because that’s what he could use, not because of his “escape plan”. the aurora guy didn’t kill himself.

        1. Stabbing spree was indeed horrible, but far less died.

          Make it really easy to kill lots of people, the local psycho will take advantage. To argue otherwise is to argue that guns aren’t extremely efficient life-ending devices. 

        2. Friends of mine went to the high school across town from Columbine a decade or two before the shootings there.  Being a bunch of geeks, we reflected on how we and many of our friends had also been bullied as kids, and one of the scary things was that it could have been us or people we knew that snapped, only the big bomb that those killers left behind would have worked.

          At least with knives and swords, you can gang up on the attacker and fight back, and chairs and tables can be weapons or defense; with guns that just doesn’t work.

        1. Very hard to kill 28 people in a classroom with a car.

          *reply to below as comments are closed*
          No, this is simply realising that mental health issues and firearms are a far more dangerous mix than mental health issues and cars or mental health issues and other weapons.

          1.  This looks like trying to justify a position against guns rather than taking a position against the enemy who would like to kill 28 people.  This approach is ineffective.  Let’s get in the mind of one of these enemies for just a moment: is there an opportunity, using a car, to kill a bunch of children at some time and place related to the school day?

            If someone’s goal is to ban guns, great, another round of murders can provide conversational fodder towards furthering that position.  If someone’s goal is to prevent mass murders, one must think clearly and honestly about how possible that is with any technology, and also one must think about preventing the underlying causes.

            For example, I can’t fathom why this guy wanted to do this.  I don’t begin to have a clue.  Most people came up with an immediate analysis of the Columbine motive and could easily see there was a lot of missed prevention.  People need to talk and think about what the hell went wrong with this person’s mind, and look into addressing that kind of problem before such an individual takes guns, knives, cars, or his bare hands out on a mission to kill a lot of people.

    3.  In my city mental health care is being cut back in the name of austerity. People are literally protesting and sitting in clinics to try to stop them from closing. This is one of the things the much mocked occupy has been trying to stop, along with other local activist groups.

  3. As someone who holds no stakes in the gun debate because of the logic in this post, I’m glad someone with an audience made this point.

  4. As an Australian who is a frequent visitor to the US, I don’t know how useful our experience is. Australia never had the type of gun culture America has. It was very rare for anyone other than a farmer, to legally own a gun. We don’t even have a hunting culture here. So yes, gun control works, but America needs more than just laws it needs a change in the people.

      1. Americans love guns, but what else?

        Money. A serious buy-back program could drag in the weapons in seven-eight-even nine figures and would be one hell of a stimulus package for the people.

        If there are between 270mil – 300mil an a large number are safely in the hands of competent people, what is a reasonable fugure to make available, in the context of a federal government giving hundreds of billions, multiple trillions over time, to banks & industry?

        Then melt them down, give the steel to Detroit, cause fuck guns let’s buy cars. I don’t even like cars but I like the sound of that.

        1. Although you’ve gotta be careful with how you structure gun buyback programs, to avoid cases of people making horrible zip guns just to get the buyback money.

          1. True that. Every station collecting them would need at least one cynical asshole to fend off the gold diggers.

            “You couldn’t massacre yourself with that piece of crap, get out of here and come back when you have a real gun!”

          2. I think you’re right, if someone has to have the job of insulting the efficacy of guns that are presently in the hands of desperate people, we should definitely steer the cynical assholes towards it.

          3. That doesn’t actually bother me at all. 

            Scams perpetrated by poor folks (and yes, if you are doing the above, you are poor, no matter what kind of job or possessions you have) to get a few hundred bucks worth of gov’t money will never, ever, register on my radar of reasons to, or not to, implement a public policy. 

            I don’t mean to get into the weeds, I just feel the need to say that, since this kind of bogeyman gets thrown at literally any public policy that provides anything to anyone, in spite of the fact it (also literally) never meaningfully affects expenditures on large-scale initiatives.

        2. Global warming is on track to kill more people, by several orders of magnitude, than were ever the victims of non-government-sanctioned shootings (i.e. war).

          Which brings me to my second point:

          the perpetuation of illicit social hierarchies ~ Kahan

          By all means, disarm governing establishments.

          A tragedy such as this mornings mobilizes more outrage than the wholesale capsizing of our planet’s ecosystem, because it’s easier to draw a clear line between the bullets this human garbage fired and his victims than between someone’s Escalade and millions of victims of famine, drought, hurricanes and pestilence. That, and America’s relative wealth has so far largely insulated us from the worst effects of climate change in this, it’s earliest rumblings.

          1. Whether global warming will wipe us out is a different question. 

            But I can tell you this, whatever toll it takes, and it will, social cohesion the likes of which is eroded by gun culture will mean more to survivors than whether or not something more could have been done.

            As well, if the effects of gun culture and many of it’s proponents could be reversed you will find a larger more wiling body of people acting together to address the looming larger issues.

    1. Missy

      As as Australian I can say that whilst we don’t have the type of gun culture that the US has, we have always had a gun and hunting culture. We had a very relaxed and accepting culture towards guns for many years but as we became increasing urbanized we also became increasingly fearful of guns in society. It wasn’t that long ago that people would buy rifles from shops on the main streets of Sydney and walk to the train station with them to take them home, and no-one batted an eyelid. Now this would cause a major police operation.
      As as been said before it is not the guns themselves or the acts that are carried out with them it is how society has changed around them that is the greatest problem.

    2. Yes, but you can’t own semi-automatics any more, so we don’t have assault rifles floating around. That goes a long way toward limiting the possibility of mass shootings, like the one that brought about the new legislation.

      1. You couldn’t prove that by my sample.  When assault rifles got banned, the number of AK47s in my immediate social circle went up like a rocket.  I know at least two dozen people that have them and practice with them… yet, surprisingly, none of these people have ever harmed anyone with a gun.  Ever.

        1. Fully automatic assault rifles have been banned here since the 30’s, so your immediate social circle of assault rifle owners needn’t have worried about the new laws.

  5. Hmmm! what kind of gun did this guy used?  Would it be by any chance an assault rifle with large magazine?  It would seem like it to do that much damage in a short time.  Then it would be the same type of gun used in all the previous slaughters this year.  And maybe, JUST MAYBE, to be practical at this time, the conversation may best be oriented about the ready availability of these types of guns and their ammo: after all, if all was available was knives, in all those tragic events in the last year, a few people would have died but a smaller number than the ones who were hit would have just been cut (some badly).  Then after that, a discussion about the science and the philosophy of gun ownership could start.

    1. according to the AP (i think it was the AP, i can’t find the article now) he used 2 pistols. he had a rifle but it was found in a car, not in the school. of course, now the media is changing up who the suspect is, so who knows what was actually used or by whom.

    2. I believe the two weapons found on site were Sig Sauer and Glock. These are handgun brands. Not sure what else yet, there was some mention of a .223 rifle, which is a hunting rifle with a small but high-powered round.

  6. Yes, it’s a cultural thing. But if the end that we want to prevent is seven year olds getting shot in school, then the problem we need to solve is not a gun problem — thousands of people own guns and do not kill kids. It is a mental health problem. People who are depressed, nihilistic, unmoored, irrational, delusional, paranoid, and filled with a violent rage don’t NEED guns to do their horrible things. Guns make it easier, but that’s a thorny political point. What SHOULDN’T be a thorny political point is the idea that the people who do this need the attentions of a psychiatrist or a therapist regardless of the gun laws. The way we prevent this isn’t gun control, it’s self-control.

    1. Also kind of a doomed idea in the US. Assuring people can access to the medical attention they need has been demonstrated to be just as thorny an issue as gun control. 

      Even if such care were available, I haven’t seen anyone suggest how to deal with the problem of mentally ill people who don’t want treatment.. forcing Americans to do something they don’t want to is yet another thorny issue.

      The situation is so absurdly complex it’s hard to even identify where to start.. it’s a puzzle with no edge pieces.

      1.  it’s a start to provide it to the people who do. nobody is going to stop a hardcore crazy person from doing crazy things. giving someone having a hard time in life the chance to get help before a tragedy happens, just seems like a good thing to me.

      2.  Health care is “thorny” in that the debates are fierce.  Gun control, I’d argue, is beyond that level.  Back in the day, it was one of my few (I’m more Libertarian than any other labeled party line) disagreements with the Democratic Party’s platform.  Since they’ve almost entirely dropped it, I’ve been a lot more comfortable with them.  Look at how strongly Obama campaigned, in ’08, and in ’12, on a gun control platform.  Look at how much debate and acrimony between the two parties has gone on in the last decade over gun control.

        Health care is a topic people and politicians still discuss, debate, write and pass laws about.  And given that the *cause* of these murder sprees is clearly not the guns themselves, but a mental health issue, that’s yet another good reason to aim there if your goal is preventing this kind of issue.  If your goal is more to do with guns themselves, then yes, ignore this line of thought entirely, please.

    2. I can exercise self-control all day long, and it doesn’t do a thing for today’s shooter – or his victims.

      A huge part of the problem, seldom discussed, was the mainstreaming of millions of mental patients in the ’70’s, and the closing of most of America’s mental institutions.  The theory was that the patients would show up as outpatients, take their meds, and become good citizens.  Instead, they became the homeless and the gun-hoarders and the self-medicaters and the chronic recidivist inmates.

      But the state saved a pile of money, which allowed some tax breaks, so that’s nice.  And a lot of people ended up in for-profit prisons, which is nice for the owners.  And so it goes.

      1. First off, it was determined that the state was violating the civil rights of these patients and that they had a right to less restrictive treatments. While it is easy to blame them (and you provide no evidence) for all the faults of society, what you are doing is only bashing people with mental illness for being dangerous and different. I suggest you read up on the reasoning behind O’Connor v. Donaldson before you continue to advocate for violating the civil rights of millions of people.

        1. I’d say you’re both right.  De-institutionalization was a step forward for patients’ rights, but there was a massive lack of follow-through on the planned community support.  This has resulted in a situation where the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles is the de facto largest treatment center for people with mental problems.

  7. This is spot on, Maggie.  (I had Dan Kahan as my Criminal Law professor.  Sometimes he layers on contextualization with a trowel before he gets to his point, but I think he really tries to put a lot of thought into finding common ground where none seems available).

  8. There will be people who end up feeling so alienated or deranged that they contemplate killing many others. And (citing Gideon Jones above) there are 300+ million guns in the US. 

    Here’s another variable to consider:  the role of mass media in propagating the meme of mass murder.  The data points evidently cluster (Portland, now Newton).

    Is selective censorship a possible tool?  Not of the event itself, but at least any personal details on the shooters… it’s this that seems to establish a narrative model of the anti-hero for others to emulate.

    1.  it sickens me to see news outlets putting kids on the tv today. i would be all for stopping things like that from happening, along with making these guys the focus of days worth of attention.

  9. Sorry, I did a double post by accident. Thought I wasn’t authenticated to post yet. See the comment below Lynda’s. My apologies.

  10. Sandy Hook (in Newtown) is just next door to our town and I am (like everyone else around here) stunned, in all senses of the word. The article about gun control is, of course, timely.  And there is, of course, no easy answer.  I know people who are intent on evil will find the means to do it and that they would get the weapons they want, whether by legal or illegal means.  I know that there will always be sociopaths who see other people as less important — and utterly insignificant compared to their own warped beliefs or desires.  I know the world is an inherently dangerous place and we could never make it safe and still find it possible to live in.

    But I still despise the gun culture and the macho ethos that fuels it.  I abhor guns for their ability to make mass murder quick, easy, and emotionally detached. (Yes, some psycho could conceivably kill that many children with a knife but he would have to have seen, just for the moment, each little face as he ended his or her life,  One would hope some shred of humanity would stop him sooner.)  And (especially now that gunmen are wearing bullet-proof gear) I do not believe that if everyone is armed it will make the world safer as many gun-promoters suggest.  

    Perhaps the only way to address these issues is to find the core reason it happens — maybe having free counseling and therapy available to everyone at all ages in order to defuse stresses or deranged thought processes before they are acted out on.  

    Too many lives have been destroyed.  This has to stop.

  11. I’m having a hard time being eloquent with trying to write this down, but does anyone else wonder if the lack of morality in the U.S. government has some kind of *indirect* effect on the people who do this?

    I’m not thinking of morality in terms of religious dictates. Rather, the constant foreign wars, the dehumanization through torture, etc of people suspected of terrorism, the impunity in which high level officials can assassinate people; the stats of military persons who committed suicide; the non-prosecution of fraud from the 2008 banking debacle; Waco. (That list is pretty varied – like I said, having a hard time writing this).Maybe this analogy helps: if a boy grows up with an abusive father, the abuse becomes the child’s norm. The likelihood of the child growing up to be abusive is high – unless he receives help and support to overcome those ill-taught lessons. Abstracting it out, if society primarily views the state as fatherly – providing food, shelter – but that father is abusive (for the reasons listed in second paragraph), does that violence become society’s norm?One of the biggest differences – aside from gun control, population size – between the United States and other nations is that the US government is actively violent, actively seeking conflict in different parts of the world.This isn’t meant to be an argument. What happened in Connecticut was horrific and it’s difficult for me to process. All I’m saying is that violence begets violence, and when the U.S. government is mired in violence, what does that say about our society and what impact – if any – could that have on someone mentally unstable?

    After I showed this to my boyfriend, he said “hey, I think Michael Moore wrote something about this.” So, I’m going to link to it here because he’s hell of a lot more eloquent than I could ever be.


    1. You have a damn good point, and left off the war right here:

      When it is normal, proper, and appropriate, as stated by the authorities in this nation, to perform a no-knock intrusion into any house, shoot the occupants if they react in a startled manner, and pat themselves on the back for a *good job*, well done, to prevent people from owning, using or selling the *bad* substances du jour (even when they got the wrong house), well yeah, we all become a bit more animalistic as a response.  Alcohol prohibition saw some of the greatest violence on the part of the citizenry in this nation, as well as some of the greatest violence on the part of the government agents themselves… and without the government creating that situation, that spike in violence would not have occurred.

  12. Great article.

    It’s interesting though, because I would say I share more of a tribal affiliation with the latter group (rejecting violence etc) but I am against gun control laws because most of the statistics I have read on the subject have convinced me otherwise.

    For example, AU and GB gun violence or gun-related homicides may have gone down, but what I read is that overall violent crime stayed the same or even rose.

    I rather wished we lived in a society that could reject guns and violence altogether, but I don’t think that’s a realistic scenario no matter what gun laws you put into place, and putting gun laws into place because it makes people feel better rather than because they’re statistically effective seems horribly dangerous to me.

    1. Amy if violent crime stayed the same because human nature, then what did change? 

      Life and death? 

      Look to the comparison in the other post, where a deranged man in China only managed to wound 22 children, and ask yourself if violent crime must remain what form would you have it take?

      If I were among the parents who lost today, I would give my own life to learn my little one were only wounded.

  13. Sons of Guns, Discovery Channel, PRIMETIME 9pm every Wednesday. And you wonder where these crazies come from. You definitely have a problem alright, America.

    1.  eh. that show is a joke. i’d point to the movies showing people getting murdered en mass while the nudity is cut out before i would to a show about morons on discovery.

    2. There are serious problems all over the world. Waving things off as an “oh it’s _____ being ____ again *roll eyes*” type problem is really unhelpful. It trivializes an extremely complex issue.

  14. Without doubt some violence will take place with other weapons when gun control is implemented. Britain, a pretty difficult place to get a handgun, has a big problem with what they call knife violence, a term that doesn’t even register in the U.S. Some British politicians have even called for knife control, which I find absurd. That said, I would probably vote for any gun control proposal you care to name up to a complete ban.

    1.  We don’t have a ‘big problem’ with knife violence, but we DO have some profoundly fucking stupid tabloid papers, politicians (who, as a group could probably do with a good knifecriming if you ask me), and a small number of people who sometimes do violent, stupid things. We don’t have very many guns mind, which is nice…

    2. The US also has Knife Control.  A Dutch friend of mine got arrested in DC for possessing a switchblade (I forget if he’d bought it in the US or brought it with him), and you can be arrested in much of the US for carrying a knife with a blade longer than 3 inches if it looks like a weapon (i.e. isn’t a kitchen knife or hunting knife, or is one of those if you’re male and a teenager or non-white or wearing “gang colors”, unless you’re currently in a kitchen or hardware store.)   I remember a few decades ago the NYTimes had an article that mentioned that somebody had been arrested for “illegal possession of a (linoleum knife)”, which hadn’t been illegal at all until he’d stabbed somebody with it. Please don’t do anything suspicious-looking while carrying your Klingon batleth.

      And a lot of the classic ninja weapons are farm tools, which were legal in Japan back when the samurai and their masters were forcing Sword Control on the peasants.

      1. “Please don’t do anything suspicious-looking while carrying your Klingon batleth.”

        But if you have a Romulan or Jedi batleth, go right ahead.

  15. I suspect that gun control laws have some effect on society. By comparison we know that heroin is illegal and therefore won’t be found on the streets. By another comparison, fear of attacks on school children in Israel causes the effect of teachers being armed so as to protect their students from attack. Here it would be illegal for the teachers at the Sandy Hook school to be armed, therefore the gun could carry out his task in relative safety.

      1. i think that he’s saying making drugs illegal haven’t stopped them, and that in israel violence is so bad that armed teachers protect the kids. and that here you can’t do that. he doesn’t draw a conclusion that i can see, so i assume he means teachers need guns.

  16. We need sane gun laws, but like others have noted, it’s about our culture and it needs to be examined.
    People were up in arms when Michael Moore put out Bowling for Columbine saying that he was advocating taking away your guns.  Which is complete BS.  That movie, and like-minded people ask the question – “why are we so violent?”
    I’d like to know, too..

  17. On the link detailing frequency of gun deaths per population by state, Maryland is one of the top. The rest are South and old west, so Maryland really stands out. I wonder why? D.C. metro?

  18. a deranged man violently attacked 22 schoolchildren today.  in china.  with a knife.  they’re all still alive, because deranged nuts in china can’t get their hands on guns.  the attacker also survived, and will now face justice for what he has done, unlike the ct tragedy.  

    what would have happened in china, if china permitted rampant and senseless gun ownership like the us does?  there would be 22 dead children, and a bunch of gun nuts telling us that the solution to the gun violence is–you guessed it–more guns.

    1.  This is a very appropriate comparison. Spooky and sad that fate would provide us this: a mass attack on children in two countries on same day: one with guns, one without.

      Both are bad. We’re reminded that terrible things can happen even without guns. But the major difference in lethality is the difference here …

  19. To many of the posters here, I’m a US ex-pat, and I don’t understand how my brethren see universal health care as such a great hurdle when they come from the country of the moon landing, of MLK, of universal suffrage, of countless other major changes that readily compare.

    I mean c’mon, if only 8 years after the last century of hella changes we can elect a black man to the White House, we can stop with the “can’t be done” and start looking at the hard questions with an eye to doing it.

    1. We put him in office twice, even. But there’s still the question of his citizenship that we need to figure before we can turn to anything of importance.

  20. There will be a lot of hand wringing and loud back and forth about gun control and nothing of any substance will be resolved. Then in 6 months or so there will be another mass shooting. Rinse and repeat. Face it…there’s something seriously wrong with our culture.

  21. As someone who knows a fair number of responsible gun-owners in the US, it seems to me that focusing on how to encourage comprehensive responsibility is the way forward in this culture. There are roles for the police (background checks), for owners (gun safes and trigger lockers), for health professionals (intervention counseling), for friends (early alerts), for stores (registration & compliance assistance), and for the gun industry itself (takeback programs?) to create a truly comprehensive responsible gun ownership system. What we have now in the US is incomplete, and the gaps are killing innocents.

    As for public buildings (schools, shopping malls, multiplex cinemas, etc.) which have hosted these horrors, I wonder if building to allow for maximum scattering and evasion is inherently safer than fortifying.

    1. When you’re building public spaces with evading gun nuts in mind it’s safe to say your society has slid right into toiletville.

      1. Most of the things that you’d do to make public spaces safe from gun nuts are the same things you’d need to do to make them safe from fire.  I don’t think any of the classrooms in my elementary, middle, or high school had multiple doors, except a couple of them that were extra-large or some but not all of the chemistry labs.  On the other hand, they were mainly built back when the rooms had windows for light and cooling, so you could jump out a window to escape a fire.  (They did have nice solid interior walls, which they said would keep us safe from nuclear bombs, though!)

  22. Your three conflicting studies don’t actually conflict when you clarify the question. “Gun control”, like “assault weapon”, doesn’t mean much. It’s an arbitrary phrase that could be loaded in any direction, depending on who’s using it.

    Instead of asking if “gun control” has worked, ask if a law has removed guns from the hands of those most likely to use them to commit a crime. They did in Australia, and that’s why the study showed a decrease in crime. They didn’t with the brady bill of FL CC laws because they weren’t effectively conceived or written.

    Banning guns does not prevent crime. The sort of people who will break a law against shooting other people are not going to have a problem with breaking a law against possessing a gun. In the US, outright bans like Australia’s are not logistically possible. Between the couple-hundred-million unregistered guns in circulation and the prevalent from-my-cold-dead-hand attitude, America CANNOT be disarmed. Your only good bet is to keep the number of crazy people to a minimum.

    1.  removed guns from the hands of those most likely to use them to commit a crime

      A lot of what we’re seeing in this thread is that “crime” per se is not the issue.  I can’t imagine anyone seriously believing that those among us who steal for a living are going to give up the main tool of their trade.

      Instead, what we desire (and what is debated here) is getting guns out of the hands of the man who “acted so normal” up until that one morning when he started spraying lead out of the blue.

      And since every one of us who owns guns now and wants to keep them believes that we “act normal” every day, we see that desire as one day leading to our guns being confiscated.

  23. So…the world is complicated. Ok. What’s the common ground? Some people are really comfortable with violence and death, and others aren’t. How do we get these two groups talking?

    Where is the common ground?

  24. Canadians by geography and socio-economics are not that different from Americans. There are proportionally probably just as many Canadians as Americans with mental health issues. There is a gun culture in Canada, but it is a hunting related culture. There is “national gun control” in Canada but there are still millions of Canadian who legally own “long guns” – shotguns and rifles. However it is very difficult to get permission to buy weapons that are not long guns — hand guns, semi-automatic and automatic weapons and high capacity magazines (and such weapons used in crimes in Canada are often found to have originated in the States). Canada has far fewer mass shooting that the United States. Coincidence? I think not. 

    Gun control doesn’t have to be the two solitudes that Brahman and Kahan speak of. One should be able in an adult and scientific manner be able to distinguish between “weapons that can cause mass human casualties and are not intended for hunting and therefore should be strictly regulated” and “weapons for hunting (that can also be used for in-home protection if that is a must) that almost any non-criminal who is not mentally ill should be allowed to own”.

    1.  You may be overlooking the nearly-an-order-of-magnitude difference between the population size of the two countries.
      The 4 spree school/uni killings in my lifetime would equate to 40 in the US, and I cannot find that many even counting back before 1900.

  25. Good post about tribal affiliation. This is something I’m sensitive to in gun control debates (and less so on other topics, unfortunately). I grew up in the country, the son of a hunter. While I don’t think we had the pro-gun ethos described in the post, I will say that early and repeated exposure to guns in harmless or positive situations… tends to make you react to guns, emotionally, as if they were harmless or positive. I’m not bothered by hearing a shot in the woods on a fall afternoon, or by seeing men carry hunting guns down the street. This is just personal experience, not statistics! But the people I know who grew up in cities or significant urbanizations (like where I live now in NJ) have completely different emotional reactions to guns. There’s no hunting or target practice here, so afternoon gunshots mean somebody got shot. And it is the ‘criminal’ at the corner who has the gun, not your loving father, grandfather, aunts and uncles, cousins, et cetera.

    1. I grew up in the suburbs.  I knew a few people who hunted (not many, and we mostly thought they were weird, but a lot of people fished.)  I don’t remember seeing guns in any of my friends’ homes, but we learned riflery at Boy Scout camp, and my city-kid wife took riflery for college gym one semester because you could do it lying down.  And we had cap guns as kids, so we could play cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians more noisily, and some kids had BB guns.  Guns in the woods really bother me if I can’t see who’s shooting them, because I assume they can’t see me.

  26. I cannot recommend Mark Ames’s “Going Postal” enough. He digs deep into the cultural reasons why America became the home of workplace and school shootings in the early 80s to present. It’s very informative and just a great book. 

  27. We all can see the Australian study above shows gun control doesn’t work right?
    “For the same period, despite the declines related to firearms,overall suicide and homicide rates in Victoria did not show asimilar decline”

  28. Best single thing I’ve ever read on a computer screen.. Wisdom that applies across so many different realms.  I’m truly in awe Maggie, thank you for this:

    Go stop being strangers to each other. Everybody wants the same thing here. Nobody has tapped into any ineffable truths about how to get there. If we want to hash this out in the political and socio/cultural sphere, we’re going to have to stop vilifying the people who disagree with us and start trying to talk about how we can all solve the problems we want to solve while remaining true to our own values.

    1. So the solution to gun violence is to collectively sing Kumbaya ?  If only we had figured that out decades ago.

  29. “And let’s get one thing straight: Everybody wants to prevent what happened today. ”  Unfortunately you’re wrong right here, because someone clearly wanted this to happen. The killer. And if we didn’t have guns in the world he would have used something else. People snap and others are mentally ill, but for whatever reason they do it, they are the cause for all these tragedies. We need a better understanding of what makes this happen in people and how to help and stop them from doing what they do. People will always be able to get or create weapons capable of ending a life, even using their bare hands. The question we need to answer is why not how.

    1. No. How is also a major component. 

      Knives, bare hands are preferable even though that sucks too.

      You think someone with the urge to pull a trigger 100 times is the same as someone able or willing to kill dozens of people with bare hands at one sitting? Wrong.

  30. Full disclosure. I’m Canadian. What I don’t get is how Americans don’t see the direct correlation between access to guns and gun violence. In Canada it is much much much(!!!) harder to gain access to most types of fire arms, and, (coincidence?) our per capita gun death rate is a small fraction of the US. That’s it. All you need to know.

    1. But that’s ridiculously illogical.  Rich people have vastly more access to guns than poor people, yet rich people commit less gun crime.  Your statement makes as much sense as pointing out that cigarette smoking good for you – since, after all, the majority of people who are dead did not smoke cigarettes, and therefore if you smoke you are less likely to be dead (true fact, incidentally).

      It’s just as likely that the reason Canadians don’t commit as many crimes is because they are Canadian.  It’s magical thinking.

    2. Did you actually read Maggie’s article? She makes it pretty clear the problem is more complex than that, and statistics will do nothing to change people’s opinions.

      If it was as simple as “do whatever Canada does” it would have been implemented already.

    3. Also Stephen, there’s guns at the Canadian Tire if you need/want one. 

      It is definitively too complex to limit the solution to mere access, although less and more stringent access would definitely help if it were real. So far none of the efforts are terribly effective, although many a shooting has already been averted in places that force people to wait 7 days to get their licensed firearm. 

      But something like that is hardly a fix when licensed firearms belonging to the bearer aren’t the only source. You see how in 2 1/2 paragraphs we’re already in too deep to just call the problem access alone? It’s also social, but to be fair some of these answers too can come from Canada.

      I surmise you a city dweller. I used to be one too. Guns are harder to get there, but let me tell you I’m in the sticks now and around here we are thick with guns. Mostly long rifle to be sure, but not exclusively.

  31. Yes, banning guns would only retard citizens who are concerned for abiding by the law.  Look at marijuana legislation, many people choose to just close their doors and temporarily hide themselves from society.  Do we want all guns sales to happen (and they will happen) behind closed doors?  Trust is infinitely more assured in an open society. An open society=a free society.

    And the problem with limiting access for those with mental illness:  Mental illness is a state of mind deemed by the state, and Provisions such as the Patriot act make concepts such as “terrorist” subjective. Questioning blind authority may one day be considered, mentally ill.

    1.  I hate to break it to you, but it is highly unlikely that marijuana will ever been widely allowed in public. So they will still be doing it behind closed doors.

    2. Exactly.  On one hand, people make the argument that drug prohibition and abortion prohibition won’t work because people will still use drugs and have abortions, so the best thing to do is allow safe access.  On the other hand, they act like gun prohibition will work at keeping guns from the people who tend to do most harm with them.

  32. These individuals instinctively support gun control as a means of repudiating these significations and of promoting an alternative vision of the good society that features equality, social solidarity, and civilized nonagression.

    I agree, but I would say that the obsession with gun control is misplaced and gets in the way of making the situation better. Far greater reductions in violence would occur if we actually followed this alternate vision and increased efforts at poverty reduction, drug abuse treatment, and far more mental health care for our citizens. The noble sounding message stated here is undercut by the willful indifference to actually addressing the root causes of violence.

    Sensible controls on weapons will help, but are not the panacea that most gun control adherents wish they would be.

  33. One problem with gun laws in the US, as I see it, is that they are completely ineffective. We have highly organized crime throughout the country that is extremely good at moving contraband around, they could add some guns to their shipments of coke, pot, and heroin and nothing would change. If you want to reduce the availability of guns, you must first break down the drug cartels, and the only way that works is to take away their income by legalizing and regulating drugs.

    One must also consider the positive effects of guns on society. The only reason that we have national forests and wetlands in the US is due to hunters. The hunter-as-conservationist thing is problematic, since only a minority of hunters are conservationists, but as a group they provided $500 million dollars in conservation money through hunting licenses in 1994 (http://www.amfire.com/statistic.asp?page=32 ), and duck stamps (overwhelmingly purchased by duck hunters) raise about $25 million a year (http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/federal/sales/images/USRevenue34-03.gif ). 

    I agree that now is an okay time to discuss gun control, in that there’s an opportunity to do so. (However, bear in mind that horrific killings of children causes a huge part of the population to do and say stupid things.) However, we should be quite sure that gun control will significantly reduce crime rates before we even propose it. It’s quite clear to me that it won’t, and that furthermore we have much better ways to save lives and reduce crime.

    [ edit for url fixing ]

    1. However, bear in mind that horrific killings of children causes a huge part of the population to do and say stupid things.

      Like constantly repeating the same canned narrative about how guns don’t kill people and it’s all the fault of the crazies?

      1. No, no, those people say those stupid things all the time. (Although this really is a matter of perspective, you could repeat the exact same narrative replacing guns with cars.)

    2. You’re talking out your kazoo. We have way better hunting and more of it up here, but way less gun crime by any metric.

      Any claim that gun control would have an effect on hunting is an immediate tell. You don’t know because you choose not to.

      1. The problem with gun control laws as suggested in the US is that they would directly affect hunters. Furthermore, it doesn’t look like Canada’s (you’re from Canada, non?) laws are significantly more restrictive than most US laws. Significantly  there doesn’t look like there’s any difference in the regulation of the weapons used at Sandy Hook. (US laws are odd in that they’re different in each state.) 

        Anyhoo, the fact that Canada has similar gun laws, and much less gun crime indicates that the difference lies somewhere else.

        1. The killer at Sandy Hook used 2 handguns for the most part.

          Those are not for sale here. 

          Those are hard to get, with good reason. They suck for hunting and are good for killing your fellow human being.

          1. Huh, you mean Wikipedia misled me‽ [ Edit: no, I just can’t read. ]

            But, yeah, I still contend that unless we get the drug-funded gangs under control, we’re going to be drowning in handguns. They are very east to transport.

    1.  But as an Australian I would be horrified to be in the same street as you, or share a train or cafe with you. I do not expect my fellow citizens to have any weapons on them at any time, for any reason.

      It is my right as a citizen to not have to be around people with guns, unless I join a shooting club, attend a shooting sports event or legal hunting trip or I am on a rural property with a farmer who may have one to put down injured stock.

      On public land no person has to tolerate being in the presence of an armed person, other than the police (and even that is debatable in my opinion.)

      This is just to explain how the majority of Australians think. We do have people who use guns, but they are regarded as aberrant, and not part of the social norm, unless they target-shoot for Olympic-type sports. The rest; we call them gun-nutters.

  34. It’s just not true that “people who want to kill will”. A truer statement is that people who want to kill and have immediate availability of tools to kill, so they don’t have time to cool off, and feel the costs are low enough to be tolerable, kill. In Italy there are a lot of assaults and fights, but few deaths because they are using knives. Another reasonably true statement is, people who want to express fear and rage will, and if they have a gun, it is that much more likely that they will kill.

  35. • And it’s also true that a 2003 study of conceal-carry laws in Florida found that they seemed to make no difference one way or the other — neither increasing nor reducing rates of violent crime.

    I feel like I’ve read a number of times that Florida has been not forthcoming with its actual gun violence info.

  36. Is see the false choice between “banning!” all guns vs. demanding that every unstable person should have the right to buy a military style weapon while they shop for Corn Flakes, because: “Mah RIGHTS!” is still alive and well in these comments.  If only there were a way to find some common sense between these two extremes……

  37. I favor national gun registration, mandatory training, a purchase waiting period, and universal background checks, with sufficient taxes on guns and ammo to cover the administrative costs of it all.  I also favor a 3-shot capacity limit for all guns, and no clips at all.  If you haven’t dropped the deer by the 3rd shot, you’re shooting wildly and should stop, calm down, and reload before firing again.  If you’re defending your house, which is extremely rare, 3 shots will be enough to get to a point where you should stop and assess your situation before firing again or calling police.

    I understand that these numbers may seem arbitrary to some.  So be it.  I’m sick of the only number being “as much as you can afford”.

    1.  “If you’re defending your house, which is extremely rare, 3 shots will be enough to get to a point where you should stop and assess your situation before firing again or calling police”
      WHAT ??? Denfending your house, family and personal propperty, rare???? 3-shots ????? You must be an expert marksman. Law inforcent officers and trained military can unload many round witout hitting thier target undaer extreme circumstances. Gun control is not the answer. Contolling irrational thinking is one part of the equation that needs to be addressed

    1.  Repealing the Second Amendment would take the Federal protection of the right to bear arms off the table.  States would still, by the Tenth Amendment, be allowed to regulate gun ownership within their borders.

      And if the appropriate process of constitutional amendment were followed, and my state took action to prohibit gun ownership, I would give up the two guns I own.  But not before.

      1. Yes, exactly. What I am arguing for is a reclassification of gun ownership as a privilege, not a right.

        Repealing the 2nd Amendment would do this, allowing each state to control guns as they see fit, without federal interference.

  38. I’d like to applaud the BB editors for allowing discussion of the issue of gun control after this horrible incident.

    After the shooting last summer in Aurora, all comments for or against gun control were quickly removed.  My understanding is that this was due to the risk for discussion of this issue to degenerate into something destructive to the forum.

    But in the wake of another terrible shooting, I expect many of your readers are grateful for the chance to hold a meaningful discussion.  I hope it stays as intelligent and thoughtful as this article, and doesn’t lead to you to regret taking a different approach.

    I expect this wasn’t an easy decision, and I wanted you to know that it is both noticed and appreciated.  Thank you.

  39. It seems to me like 0 + 0 + -1 = -1. When laws that make guns more plentiful fails to make things better for society or prevent deaths (and really, how could we realistically ever expect that?), but laws that make guns more difficult to get somewhat reduces horrifying situations, even just a little, then going with the latter is probably the better option.

    Furthermore: the biggest problem area we have in the USA is gun shows. Clamp that shit down already!

  40. I was thinking about gun control earlier today (for obvious reasons), and I came to a question:  Why not place a huge tax on weapons?  Like $1000 per weapon or something?
    – It won’t stop people from buying guns or curb their right to bear arms, it will just reduce the number of impulse buys and probably the overall number of guns in the market
    – There will be a boom in the secondary market among private traders who will cheat and not pay the tax _for a while_.  These people see guns as investments: eventually, the pre-tax $500 guns will be horded away or broken, and only the $1500 guns will be in the market.  The traders will start charging each other $1500, which will (theoretically) reduce the number of guns on the street.
    – Gun manufacturers won’t make any additional money.  With lower demand, they may actually lose some money (hoorah)
    – Pawn shops will be required to collect the tax every time they sell a weapon– a lot of them will drop them as items for sale.

    What am I missing?  Would this work?

      1. But it was really useful as a precedent for taxing marihuana, so the Prohibitionists could protect us all from getting Reefer Madness and from Ethnic People corrupting our children, just as gun control laws were largely intended to keep Ethnic People from shooting whites.

        On the other hand, while the War On Drugs accounts for a fairly small fraction of the number of people carrying guns in the US, it accounts for a large fraction of gun murders and probably a large fraction of illegal sales of higher-powered guns.

  41. Allot of you don’t know the laws pertaining to gun shows you have it wrong. Most states that have these gun shows require everyone purchasing guns to go thru background checks. There are a Very Very Few gun shows where If you buy a gun from an INDIVIDUAL at these gun shows then you do Not have to go thru background check. However at EVERY Gun show when You buy from a DEALER then you MUST have Background check on your gun purchase. You are only talking about a very few guns bought that do not go thru the background process, just like if your neighbor sell you his spare hunting rifle, no background check for that.
     Lastly; In all Honesty you can a good bit of these gun killings on the Fact that the USA does NOT have Nationalized HealthCare for every citizen. If we as a Nation had Affordable HealthCare for every citizen, then some of the Families of these Madmen would have gotten them the Help they needed thru Mental Health Care. This is the Ultimate Reason WHY we here in the USA are having these sorts of Killings. We as a Culture are Only Concerned with “ME FIRST” are everyone else that can’t afford to keep up with me are just Lazy and Mouchers. Until We all start Recognizing our responsibility to those less fortunate, then we will see these Mentally Unhealthy People lashing out at Society. These Killings are an indicator of the health of our culture. We are VERY Selfish society and this is the price we pay for that selfishness !

  42. We’ve had two major attempts to ban classifications of products.

    (1) Ban of Alcohol. Prohibition. It actually was effective in reducing the consumption of alcohol, but mostly among those who drank socially without any real negative social effects. Those who would drink to excess were able to get alcohol without much trouble, and organized crime was funded and empowered by it. Eventually, the lack of effectiveness and negative effects resulted in repeal of prohibition.

    (2) The war on drugs. It’s hard to argue it’s at all effective on keeping marijuana out of people’s hands, and those who want to get harder drugs can usually get them. Meanwhile, gangs make money from the drug trade, and the drug trade is the source of a lot of violence and death. Legalization of marijuana passed in many states last election and ending the drug war is a regular discussion.

    So what is it to say that a gun ban would be different, that we’d be effective at keeping guns away from those who use it in ways that hurt others without significant negative effects?

    I’ll admit it, my personal political and philosophical positions lean against a gun ban. But I try not to be doctrinaire on things like this, and I’d love a simple solution that would end these sort of horrific events. I just don’t think there is one.

    1. So what is it to say that a gun ban would be different, that we’d be effective at keeping guns away from those who use it in ways that hurt others without significant negative effects?

      Besides the fact that it’s reduced violent crime in countries that have it, where prohibitions of drugs and alcohol haven’t?

    2.  A ban on driving without training and a license and periodic testing and insurance hasn’t been perfectly effective, but it *HAS* cut down on the negative outcomes.

      A gun may, indeed, be no more dangerous than a car. A bullet may be no more subject to misuse than an antibiotic, though that’s stretching it. They’re no less dangerous or subject to misuse either. If the NRA could unbend far enough to accept those parallels, I think the rest of us could unbend far enough to accept that as a reasonable compromise.

      The requirement for insurance would, indirectly, pressure folks to keep their guns/ammo under tighter control and to not have guns in a household where someone is known to be unstable.

      If “people kill people”, then let’s make sure the people who buy guns are at least as competent to use them as drivers are. Yes, this means your guns would be registered, just as your car is, and neither would be “the first step in taking them away”. If you can tolerate it for the car, you can tolerate it for the gun.

      1. Comparing guns to cars in this manner is misleading at best.  I have 2 vehicles which I do not drive on public roads, neither is registered nor taxed, one does not have a title.   I started driving on private property when I was 13, didn’t need any sort of formal training or a license until I began to drive a registered car on a public highway. My state also does not mandate insurance.

        So no, I don’t tolerate licensing/registration/taxation or forced insurance for my cars, UNLESS I want to operate them on public roads. Same goes with firearms in most US states — generally you don’t need any sort formal training or license unless you choose to carry concealed in public.

          1. I agree.  Amend the constitution to require formal training, an application fee of $200 (adjusted annually for inflation), insurance, a waiting period, and a license to drive a car on public roads, speak in public or publish, post on the Internet, exercise a religion in public, vote in public elections.

            The problem with mandatory training and  licensing is that many US municipalities use these rules to discourage either all citizens or subsets of the population from exercising their constitutional right.  Chicago is a prime example of turning a registration law into a ban.

            Back to your selective quoting (jerk!), my “track car” never had license plates or registration, I don’t pay taxes on the car or fuel for it, didn’t need a license or training to buy this car.

  43. I think it’s pretty obvious that (if it were logistically possible) a federal ban on handguns and semi-automatic rifles would immediately reduce homicide deaths. 

    There are no statistics that would meaningfully indicate whether or not this is true in the case of the US, but you don’t need them. 

    People are capable making intelligent policy decisions without having seen a similar policy play out among a similar demographic on a similar scale. 

    The fact that there is no obvious statistical result to point to likely means that we have a lot of data from situations that aren’t similar/relevant and very little data from situations that are.

    In any case, Americans, in general, really like guns. Gun control is not popular with the majority of Americans, it is extremely unpopular in rural areas, and shooting incidents like these are not changing their minds. This means that for a long time, provided we maintain a democracy, we will not choose to take our own guns away.

    We’ll simply have to wait for urbanization to take its inevitable course.

    We might choose to improve our mental healthcare system, but only if it doesn’t cost anything.

  44. Whenever mass murders occur there is call for gun control.  The first weapons they go after are assault rifles followed by high magazine capacity semi automatic pistols.  These types of weapons have no purpose among the general public unless one wants to go on a shooting rampage.  Interestingly, Vasili Blokhin, generally assumed to be the most prolific mass murderer, used a .25 ACP pocket pistol to murder over 7000 people.

  45. Quick and skinny: I disagree with Maggie Koerth-Baker.
    Accepting as a premise that facts, figures, science, and logic are pointless is a foolish starting position. This has the taint of “both sides do it” or “bi-partisanship” (in the face of obstinancy and refusal of truth). Ignorance has a cure y’know! It’s called truth, education, understanding, compassion, and patience. These are real and veracious values that exist…not like the premise of foolishness that this article portends to promote.

  46. The argument that convinced me against gun control is a liberal one, which is that the people who don’t trust me to have guns are going to send armed police to take them away from me.  Sorry, either guns are bad or they’re not, and they don’t get to hire police to carry guns around for them if guns are bad.  (Conservatives aren’t at all bothered by this, because obviously they’re the ones who get to decide who can be trusted with guns.)  If the Amish want to do gun control, that’s different; they’d do it by send unarmed people to talk to you, and if that doesn’t work they’d stop talking to you.

    It wasn’t that long ago that English police didn’t carry guns, and neither did most criminals there.  The police might still beat you up with clubs if you didn’t cooperate, but they wouldn’t shoot you.  Unless you were Irish, of course.

    1. Sorry, either guns are bad or they’re not, and they don’t get to hire police to carry guns around for them if guns are bad.

      Quite a fallacy there.

  47. Reading your sophisms from Europe, it really looks very simple, funny and sad.

    You want your children and loved ones to risk to be suddenly shot for no reason at all.

    That’s it. Really. If North Americans actually cared about each other, there would be no discussion. Playing the part of the action hero in your head is a goal in life just as respectable as protecting your neighbors: accepting the consequences is simply the right price.

    However, I wouldn’t want to be there when the Continental Shootout begins, sooner or later.

    1. I am afraid of traffic accidents so I drive to work in a tank.

      If people were not allowed to drive to work in tanks, how could they protect themselves from traffic accidents involving tanks?

      I mean, a good friend of mine was crushed when he forgot to put on the brakes, but still – tanks don’t crush people, people crush people. In China some bloke crushed people with a rock.

      If people want to crush each other, they find a way to do it.

      You say I could crush children with my tank? Well a child on the streets should be inside a tank anyhow, driven by a veteran – veterans are in need of jobs.

      Yes you have fancy statistics that say less people are crushed when people are not allowed to drive tanks. But you will think otherwise when your car is crushed in an accident.

      Besides, when tanks are not freely available, people will just build their own tanks. Tanks. Rattatatatata. I need my tank.

      Because Zombies.

      Disclaimer: a tank could actually transport people. Guns can only kill.

      I think gun control will have limited effect in the U.S.A.. The perceived need to shoot other people is part of national culture.


  48. Dear Ms. Koerth-Baker,
    I usually appreciate your posts a lot, but this particular one was, i my opinion, way sub-par. Just to stick to one point, the begining of your argument, invoking sciece.
    A quick pubmed search for “gun ownership mortality” yielded 50 articles; I believe I could get more with a better search strategy, but in any event I found the following, just as an example:

    Soc Sci Med. 2007 Feb;64(3):656-64. Epub 2006 Oct 27.
    State-level homicide victimization rates in the US in relation to survey measures of household firearm ownership, 2001-2003.
    Miller M, Hemenway D, Azrael D.

    J Am Board Fam Med. 2007 Jul-Aug;20(4):385-91.
    Children and firearms in the home: a Southwestern Ohio Ambulatory Research Network (SOAR-Net) study.
    Forbis SG, McAllister TR, Monk SM, Schlorman CA, Stolfi A, Pascoe JM.

    LDI Issue Brief. 2003 May;8(8):1-4.
    Guns in the home: risky business.
    Wiebe DJ.

    Ann Emerg Med. 2003 Jun;41(6):771-82.
    Homicide and suicide risks associated with firearms in the home: a national case-control study.
    Wiebe DJ.

    I don’t have the time or resources to make a systematic review, but since I’ve been looking at this subject for a while now, I’ll go out on a limb and state that gun ownership has been established as a risk factor for violent death.

    That there are not enough examples of actual successful police that bears on that fact says more about the political climate in the US in the last decades than about the policies themselves.


  49. The writer seems to miss one massive gaping point. She says the science is ambiguous (actually, I think the largest most well conducted studies DON’T show a correlation or a small POSITIVE correlation) but even assuming she’s right and that the science is ambiguous. She doesn’t seem to realize that this would be a total win for 2nd amendment advocates because the burden of proof is on control advocates and moreover, the burden is set high because this is a constitutional issue. Rather than wage a fight with the powerful gun lobby and a large percentage of Americans who support it, we ought to choose our fights wisely and focus on mental health issues and other social issues which IS the major cause of gun violence in this country.    

    1. You know, gun ownership could be cause and symptom.of mental health issues.

      At least that’s what it looks like watching the discussion from this side of the pond.

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