Time To Fix Americas’ Gun Problem

The world has been shocked by the news of the shooting in Newton, Connecticut. Although we don’t have all the details, it 28 people (20 of whom were children) were shot. What makes this massacre particularly tragic is that it occurred in an elementary school for children aged between 5 and 11. I was horrified and like most Europeans I wondered if America would now do something about its serious gun problem. It seems that every couple of weeks there is a new gun rampage and massacre. To those who say we should not politicise this event, let me say that we must learn from this incident so that it never occurs again. If this isn’t an event to make America re-examine its laws, then what is?

America and guns looks very strange from an Irish perspective. Over here, guns are extremely rare. Only farmers and hunters have guns (and hunting is not a large pastime like in America). There are no gun shops or clubs and even the police are unarmed (a system that works very well despite what you might think). It would be highly unusual for someone not on a farm to own a gun, especially if it was just a hobby. So America seems a whole other planet with its casual relationship with guns. It seems quite obvious that with more guns, there are more shootings and more deaths. But this is a message that the NRA hasn’t got.

The simple fact is that guns make killing people a lot easier. Regardless of which way you want to measure it, research by Harvard found that more guns = more homicides. This is true whether you compare across states or across countries.  States with gun control had lower homicide rates that those that did not. Interestingly, even do shootings are often blamed on the insane or drug dealers, this study found no link between homicide rates and either mental illness or illegal drug use. America’s murder rate is between 10 and 20 times that of the developed world. Do you want to know what one major difference between America and the rest of the developed world is? There is almost one gun for every single American, while guns are strictly regulated in the rest of the developed world.

Two thirds of murders in America are committed by guns. Yet gun advocates claim “Guns don’t kill, people kill.” Yes, but guns make it an awful lot easier. You can’t massacre a large amount of people with a knife, only a gun has that firepower. You can outrun a knife or struggle with the assailant, but with a gun anyone can slaughter a crowd. Others point to the fact that many mass murderers have mental illness. Again, this is true, but guns make them far more dangerous.

People claim that guns keep people safe. But in fact you are four times more likely to accidentally shoot a member of your family than you are to shoot an intruder. In fact the person you most put in danger by owning a gun is yourself. A gun in your house is 22 times more likely to be used to shoot either yourself or a loved one.  The thing about suicide is that it is often a spur of the moment idea that comes in waves, not a constant thought. Studies show that having a gun in your house makes you less safe.

The problem with guns is that they lead to an arms race. If a criminal pulls a knife but you pull a gun then you win. However, it doesn’t end there. If criminals know civilians are armed then they will get guns to. If everyone has guns, then gunfights erupt, which leads to more deaths (including from people caught in the crossfire). There is a direct correlation between the use of a gun in a robbery and the chance of the victim dying. What gun advocates forget is that the assailant always has the element of surprise, the first move. So they can attack before the victim has time to reach for their gun if they armed. In fact, a gun puts the victims life in danger because they are now a threat to the criminal who may fire to protect themself.

Gun advocates try to suggest that guns protect women from rapists. Even ignoring the fact that gun owners are disproportionately male, guns harm women more than they help them. A gun is the weapon most commonly used in domestic homicides (by the aggressor not the victim). In fact, three times as many women are murdered by their husbands/boyfriends using guns than by strangers using any weapon. Studies find that access to firearms increases the risk of domestic homicide by five times compared to situations without guns. It was also found that abusive men who had access to guns were even more abusive. For every one woman who used a gun to kill their partner in self-defence, 83 were murdered by their partner using a gun.

I am not going to even discuss the idiotic notion that if everyone had guns and could bring them everywhere, mass shootings would not happen. Nor the idea that not saying prayers in schools caused it (the religious right are already making this argument). (This does raise the question of what sort of God would stand by while innocent children were being massacred and do nothing, but that’s an issue for another time.)

Gun advocates claim the Second Amendment protects their right to a gun. What it actually says is:  “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Now this clearly is a reference to a militia, not individuals. At the time, there was a genuine fear Britain may invade or that there would be conflict with the Native Americans. A militia was cheaper than a standing army so it made sense for people to keep guns. But the world has changed since the 18th century, there is no longer a threat of invasion. The Second Amendment has got to be the most (deliberatively) misinterpreted parts of the Constitution. It does not offer the rights its advocates claim, instead it is a dated and obsolete right from another era.

Some claim that prohibition won’t work, that if guns are restricted, then only criminals will have guns. The NRA wants all law abiding citizens to have guns. The problem is that the day before the shooting, most mass murderers were law abiding citizens. Most murders are not committed by hardened citizens but by regular people who get pissed off and express this anger with a gun. If you reduce people’s access to guns, you limit their capacity for killing. Europe is a prime example of this. In most countries, few people have guns. Instead of being overrun by criminals, they have a lower crime rate than America. In Ireland, almost no ordinary people have guns and neither do criminal gangs (they use knives instead, which are much less dangerous). Gun control makes it harder for everyone, including criminals, to kill. The ideal situation would be to get rid of all guns, but this isn’t politically feasible so any gun control would be a good start. Obama, it’s time for action.

America has a serious gun problem that it can no longer ignore. It is far too easy to get hold of guns and far too many people are dying as a result. Guns do not make people safer, they create an arms race that leads to more deaths. They are a threat to us all. Unless America learns from the tragedy in Newport, Connecticut, it will be doomed to suffer it again and again.

20 thoughts on “Time To Fix Americas’ Gun Problem”

    1. I understand why you think we should wait before discussing gun control, but we have waited long enough. We waited after Columbine, we waited after Virgina Tech, we waited after Aurora, we waited after the shooting in the Sikh temple. The longer we wait, the longer this problem will persist. We must act before we suffer another tragedy and while there is still national focus on the issue.

  1. Where I live only criminals, the police and the well to do have guns. The criminals got guns because of our porous borders and poor policing making our lives less safe. We have not had so far as I can tell a mass shooting though of late we have had some idiots throwing grenades in public places which I think is also a result of poor policing. We went to Somalia to deal with the Alshabaab but gave them free rein here in the country.
    I think the Americans need to consider gun control measures that results in disarming the civilians. They do not need more guns! A dead child is one too many and only god does such stuff.

  2. “any gun control would be a good start”… you’re probably aware that there already is gun control in many places in the forms of background checks, registration, etc.

    “I am not going to even discuss the idiotic notion that if everyone had guns and could bring them everywhere, mass shootings would not happen.”

    Why not? Have you noticed that every massacre takes place in an environment where guns are banned?

    This video is an example of what happens when a good guy has a gun. Is a criminal going to be just as happy to rob some place if there is a risk of this happening? Or would he prefer if he knew that none of the good guys had guns?

    Guns don’t just have the potential to protect us from common criminals. They also have the potential to protect us from public criminals, AKA the State. This doesn’t make very much sense from an Irish perspective, Ireland being a very small country without much modern history to talk about compared with other countries. But looking at the history of events in other parts of Europe, the Soviet Union, communist China, Cambodia etc. makes clear that the route to absolute tyranny and genocide includes first of all disarming the people. Making them helpless and dependent on the government for safety is a necessary condition for tyranny,

    Having said all of this, I don’t think “everybody should own a gun”. It can be a matter for private individuals and their agreements with local councils, property owners, insurance companies, etc.

    I wouldn’t argue against your claim that more gun control might cause fewer people to die from guns, at least in the short-term. On a “ceteris paribus” basis, I would agree with you that suicide attempts and random acts of violence are more likely to be deadly when more people own guns. The difference is that I would prefer to let people make up their own minds about this question of whether they would like to risk having a gun in their house.

    We let people drive cars, and driving a car can be incredibly risky even at low speeds – all you need to do is take your eye off the road for any reason. People drive carelessly sometimes because they are tired, angry or stressed. Does that mean we ban cars? No. We let people take the risk of owning a car even though it’s probably riskier than using public transport or staying indoors. Given the number of people who die from car accidents, maybe it’s riskier than owning a gun. But letting people take risks is part of the foundation of a free society. Letting people take risks means that, over time, society as a whole learns which risks are worth taking and which are not.

    You may find it surprising that I personally would prefer to live in society where people generally didn’t own guns. However, I would prefer if this outcome was reached as a result of people not perceiving that they needed guns, rather than this being imposed by government. Obama’s presidency has led to an unprecedented increase in gun and bullet buying by private citizens as they expect him to keep cracking down on their liberties and security.

    1. Ok point by point. Yes there is gun control in America, but it is incredibly weak. Background checks are little protection.

      “Why not? Have you noticed that every massacre takes place in an environment where guns are banned?”
      Are you telling me that if everyone walked around with guns in their pockets constantly, there would be no negative side effects? Murder rates would go down?

      Your video shows only one side of a gun fight. Imagine if instead of fleeing, the robbers shot back? Imagine how many innocents would have been shot in the crossfire? The next time those guys go to rob a place they will bring a bigger gun and be more ruthless. Also it was lucky that the man was able to pull his gun, in most cases he wouldn’t have the chance (the criminals would see him and shoot).

      I think its a gross exaggeration to claim that America is anyway comparable to a vicious dictatorship like China. Gun control and armed rebellion are two separate issues that don’t really have much in common. Its a gross exaggeration to say that gun control is the first step to genocide. When the Communists took over China they had to fight a bloody civil war to gain power. So people did use guns against the government and still lost.

      The thing about cars is that they are so dangerous that they are regulated. You have to pass a test to get a licence, your car has to pass a test to be road worthy. There are various regulations to minimize the dangers cars pose. Some gun control advocates argue that guns should be regulate like we regulate cars.

      The fundamental difference between cars and guns is a difference of purpose. Cars are designed to transport people. Guns are designed to injure and kill. If you magically make cars 100% safe so that no one ever died, then it would be brilliant and an improvement we could all enjoy. If you could make all guns magically harmless, then they would be useless and it would defeat their purpose.

      On your last paragraph, the thing about guns is that they are based on game theory. So everyone would prefer a world with no guns, but they will only give up their guns if everyone else does. So I may be opposed to guns but if I am surrounded by people with guns, I may feel unsafe so I get a gun even though I wish I didn’t have to. This has the knock on effect of making people who don’t have guns feel even more unsafe, so they get guns and so on.

      1. Hello there.

        “Your video shows only one side of a gun fight. Imagine if instead of fleeing, the robbers shot back? Imagine how many innocents would have been shot in the crossfire? The next time those guys go to rob a place they will bring a bigger gun and be more ruthless. Also it was lucky that the man was able to pull his gun, in most cases he wouldn’t have the chance (the criminals would see him and shoot).”

        This reminds me of the disagreement over whether income tax reduces the incentive to work. I said that if people were faced with a worse risk-to-reward outlook for various actions they could take, they would be less likely to take those actions. Facing progressive taxes, I said people would be less likely to work hard than if those taxes weren’t there, whereas you said the opposite. You argued that people would be willing to work twice as hard to overcome taxation, whereas I believe that more people would be more likely to work twice as hard if the taxes weren’t there and if working twice as hard would on average lead to twice the reward.

        Again, with this debate, we are in opposite land. I say that if the risk-to-reward outlook worsens, in this case for a criminal activity like a robbery, then the criminal is less likely to make the attempt. The possibility of customers and workers having guns makes the risks of the robbery worse for the criminal, not just the risk of the criminal himself getting shot but also the risk of being forced to commit a more serious crime than is worth trying to rob the store over. You see, the rewards for robbing the store have not increased. Only the risks have increased. You are a smart guy but I think you are living in an upside-down world where giving people incentives not to do X makes them more likely to do even more extreme versions of X.

        As for other points, I said explicitly in my comment that I do not think everybody should own a gun. I also said that you’re probably right about suicide attempts and random acts of violence being more deadly and frequent in a society which is overflowing with guns.

        The point about gun control, from a historical perspective, is that it is has proven to be a necessary condition for tyranny. That’s what I said, I didn’t say that America today is comparable to Communist China. Once Communists are in power, after a Civil War or whatever, not just in China, they disarm the people to remove the fear of those people fighting back against them, and to ensure that the people are dependent on them for their safety.

        “The fundamental difference between cars and guns is a difference of purpose. Cars are designed to transport people. Guns are designed to injure and kill. If you magically make cars 100% safe so that no one ever died, then it would be brilliant and an improvement we could all enjoy. If you could make all guns magically harmless, then they would be useless and it would defeat their purpose.”

        Do you think the government should not have access to guns? I doubt it. Correct me if I’m wrong: you probably think it’s ok for the government to have guns, but nobody else. So you don’t really think that no guns should exist, you think that some people should have them but nobody else should. You would agree that guns, at least in the hands of some people, have a legitimate purpose. Therefore this paragraph above does not make any very serious point; it’s not an argument that no guns should exist.

        “On your last paragraph, the thing about guns is that they are based on game theory. So everyone would prefer a world with no guns, but they will only give up their guns if everyone else does. So I may be opposed to guns but if I am surrounded by people with guns, I may feel unsafe so I get a gun even though I wish I didn’t have to. This has the knock on effect of making people who don’t have guns feel even more unsafe, so they get guns and so on.”

        It depends on whether I trust the people who live around me. It depends on the sort of society I live in. It depends on my own personal situation and preferences. These things are complex.

        1. If guns make people safer, then America should have the lowest crime rate in the developed world. Instead it has the highest.

          You are referencing the economic theory of crime devised by Gary Becker. The theory is loved by economists but derided by sociologists and criminologists. Criminals don’t make a cost-benefit analysis. If your desperate enough to steal then you will do it regardless of risk. The threat of jail and long sentences doesn’t deter many people. If you commit crimes for other reasons (being in a gang, to gain respect etc) higher costs won’t necessarily deter you.

          Do you believe that gun control will lead to tyranny in America?

          Western European countries have strict gun laws, are they on the way to becoming tyrannies?

          Actually in Ireland, the police are unarmed, a system I think works very well. We have a tiny military and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with getting rid of it altogether. You fail to differentiate between civilians and the police. The police are trained to use weapons for the good of the community and to uphold laws. Whereas civilians have guns to boost their ego, kill animals or self-protection. There is a huge difference and it is fallacious to imply that a gun in the hand of a civilian and the gun in the hand of a police officer are the same thing.

          1. I promise you that I really don’t have any interest in defending the work of Gary Becker or anyone else. It’s just a matter of fact that people decide what to do based on their understanding of how likely it is to achieve their goals. You’ve rejected mainstream economics, which is fair enough, but you’ve thrown away all economic reasoning with it. Your position now on this thread is that people will continue to act the same way regardless of the incentives and disincentives around doing it. Which is the same position as you held when we were talking about income tax, This is an absolute rejection of economic logic.

            Nowhere did I fail to differentiate the distinction between the police and civilians. Rather, if anybody did that, you did. You talked about guns as if they were purely malevolent without mentioning that you think it’s ok for the government to have them.

  3. It’s a hard thing to accept, but in a country of 350 million privately owned guns, the people who are inclined to do bad things with guns will always be able to get them. One might as well combat air crashes by repealing gravity.

    It’s helpful to think of gun control as akin to marijuana prohibition — useless for almost everything except turning otherwise law-abiding people into criminals and fomenting cynicism and resentment.

    Humane people react to the lack of ready solutions for tragedies like this by crying out for gun control. I do not believe that gun bans can overcome the basic socio-economic and cultural factors that produce violence. When God is openly ejected from public schools and our children are not raised to understand that life is a cherished and sacred gift that is to be protected we get what we get – chaos and an unfettered disregard for life. Are we to also ban violent killing video games as well? What about violent TV and movies with random and violent killing?

    Americans assume that such laws have produced Europe’s low rates of violence. But criminological studies find that these low rates long preceded the gun bans that supposedly caused them. Indeed, such laws were pioneered, unsuccessfully, by high-crime American states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when most of Europe had no gun laws.

    It was only in the 1920’s, when severe American gun laws were generally being abandoned as unworkable, that Europe was adopting them. However, European laws were aimed not at crime but at the political unrest of the post-World War I era.

    Banning guns has not prevented modern Europe from suffering rates of political assassination, terrorism, etc., far exceeding those in the United States. Moreover, over the past 25 years even apolitical violence has risen more steeply in Europe than in America (although since Europe’s crime rates started out far lower, its absolute rates remain lower).

    I have never understood the flaw in the argument that when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. And, of course, there are already laws against murder.

    The whole problem of guns and killings is complex, and saying “gun control,” or being angry at the NRA simply does not get us very far. I am not happy a crazy ungodly man kills innocents but I am also not for government disarming everyone but criminals.

    1. The problem with your argument is that you completely ignore Europe. Here is an example of a place where extremely strict gun control is in place. Gun crime is almost nonexistent. So its not true to simply say criminals will always get guns, it has been shown that they can’t always get guns.

      Cannabis gets you high, guns kill people. There is a fundamental difference in use. Cannabis should be legalised because it is harmless, guns aren’t.

      Are you telling me that unless you pray to God at the start of school mass murder is the inevitable result? I’m sorry but that’s stone mad crazy. America is the most religious country in the developed world yet it has the most mass shootings. If removing God causes massacres, then why isn’t secular France or Scandinavia overrun with shootings? Especially as law abiding citizens can’t own guns and shot back they must be drowning in blood. Except they aren’t.

      You mention the European gun laws. They have never been that important because people rarely had guns to begin with. I’m not sure if your right when you say American states tried to ban guns, there is a problem that you can simply buy a gun in a lax law state and bring it to a strict law state. For a ban to be completely effective, a national law is needed.

      “Banning guns has not prevented modern Europe from suffering rates of political assassination, terrorism, etc., far exceeding those in the United States.” Where are you getting this from? This is completely untrue. Western Europe has been relatively peaceful, its America that is in the war on terror.

      Do you realize that criminals can easily buy guns under American law? That the government cannot confiscate them unless they can prove they were used in a crime? The line between criminal and law abiding citizen is not as clear as you suggest.

      1. Comparing Europe and America is like comparing apples and oranges. What works there will not always work here.

        I’m telling you the removal of God in our schools, homes and lives have consequences and trade offs. There are about 90 Bible verses with the word “fool”. Here’s just one…

        “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2

        But between you and me we have a much bigger problem facing us and that’s our unsustainable and increasing debt. The US dollar peaked in value in 2000-2001 and has been in a significant decline ever since.

        With President Obama’s most unprecedented spending plans in history, with trillion-dollar budget deficits as far as the eye can see, and the potential to more than double the US national debt in the next 5-10 years, there is now widespread speculation that the dollar is headed for new all-time lows and a possible collapse.

        As a result, we are seeing and hearing calls around the world to end the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency and replace it with something else. The US dollar is by far the largest currency in the world; many commodities around the world are priced in dollars; and most international transactions are settled in dollars.

        To quote an article in the NY Post dated 9/13/12

        “As if we need any more evidence that Obamanomics has failed this country miserably, Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke yesterday announced that the nation’s central bank will keep on printing money to try to keep the economy afloat.

        The scary thing about the move (known as QE 3, after Quantitative Easing 1 and QE 2) is that people who know Bernanke tell me he harbors no illusions that it will actually result in stronger economic growth anytime soon.

        Instead, they say, Bernanke is just trying to stave off economic disaster — a severe recession that many recent economic numbers suggest is a very real possibility — because the economic policy offered by the Obama White House has been such an utter disaster.”

        1. Why are you so casually dismissing Europe? Its not another planet, it has many similarities with America. It is the closest thing to an experiment. Have one country with few guns and one with many and see who has the highest murder rate. Or do you ignore it because it contradicts your beliefs?

          Doesn’t the Bible also say God is everyone? Wouldn’t that make it impossible to remove him from schools? Doesn’t the Bible also say that God is all-loving and not a petty and vindictive creature like you describe him? You would have to be extremely vindictive to let children die over something as petty as school pray.

          Are you unable to stay focused? You rambled off onto a completely unrelated point. The Federal Reserve has nothing to do with guns or God. Why are you trying to change the subject?

  4. I am focused. I’m just pointing out the fact that we have a bigger problem than private gun ownership. When our gov bankrupts itself, defaults on it’s loans, and looses world currency status, gun ownership will be the least of your worries. The national debt is set to surpass 100 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2020. By 2020, half of all income tax revenues will go toward paying interest on a $23 trillion national debt. About 40% of all the tax revenue received by the gov now goes to just pay the interest on our dept.

    We can outlaw private gun ownership but it will do no good. Does outlawing anything really prevent anyone from getting what they want? No. If there is a market for a certain item that one can not get legally then there will always be someone to provide it.

    1. Yes but your comment is also completely irrelelvant. It would be the same as if I suddenly started talking about abortion, property tax or Palestine. All important issues, but completely off the point.

      “We can outlaw private gun ownership but it will do no good. Does outlawing anything really prevent anyone from getting what they want?” Yes, as I mentioned Europe and Ireland are examples of where this has occurred.

      “If there is a market for a certain item that one can not get legally then there will always be someone to provide it.”
      I presume you are then in favour of legalising all drugs, prostitution and pornography?

      1. Outlawing gun ownership is unrealistic, it will never happen. Politicians sole purpose in life is to get re-elected and most everyone voting for a gun ban will never get re-elected. Heck, they can’t even balance the budget or come to any real consensus on most tough issues, what makes you think they will ever attempt to ban guns? It’s kind of like the sinking of the Titanic. Once they sighted the iceberg it was too late to avoid it. It’s too late now to ban guns because too many people own them.

        It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people in the US own firearms. Statistics from the FBI show gun ownership has significantly increased in the US by almost 30 million people. 17 million women were first time purchasers of guns last year. The FBI now estimates more than 43% of all households in the US own guns, up from 37% just a year ago.

        Talking about the debt danger is relevant because it poses a bigger threat to us all. When the debt becomes unsustainable, as it certainly will at this rate, maybe then you will acknowledge the gravity. Gun ownership, abortion, property tax or Palestine does not pose the kind of threat to our overall well-being than debt default.

        1. I’m aware of the debt situation, I’m just not taking about it now, for the simple reason you can only talk about one thing at the moment. There is also no chance of America defaulting on its debt (countries with their own currency don’t default). But that’s all for another time.

          Its not politically possible to completely ban guns, but control is possible and you can work from there

  5. Hey Mate,

    Such a lot of thought in such a short amount of time. What you write is the position of many political Progressives such as me. However, Conservatives and Libertarians don’t accept these concepts and statistics. It would take too much of a time investment on my part—not to mention emothional—to address the arguments some have posed against your post, so I’ll just leave it with. Good job, and thanks. I’ll repost this and hopefully get you some moe readers…

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