If gun control isn’t the answer, then what is?

Once again, a mass shooter has demonstrated to the world the meaning of the word “evil.” Whether it’s some racist kid with a funny haircut, an introverted former IRS agent with a gambling problem, a BLM activist angry about police brutality,  or a Norwegian right-wing anti-feminist, the carnage is brutal and horrifying. Predictably, people who don’t think very much about guns before such an attack immediately demand that “we” (whoever “we” is) “do something” to prevent it from happening ever again. That call is immediately amplified by those who would enforce greater restrictions on gun ownership. I have to warn you: I don’t have the answer to preventing mass shootings, or massacres, or Islamist terrorist attacks, or for that matter, drone bombings,  forced marches, ethnic cleansing, genocide, or the carnage of starvation and disease under totalitarian governments. The title question of this essay was one I answered on Quora over a year ago that’s continued to get upvotes and comments and shares, so I wanted to share the information in it with a broader readership:

If gun control isn’t the answer, what is?
The answer to what? The question doesn’t say, so let’s see what possible questions one might have in mind and try to answer them:

  • If gun control isn’t the answer to the rising rate of homicide in the US, what is?

A valid question, IF the homicide rate were rising in the US. It is not. It is declining.

Even as the number of guns is increasing

But maybe that wasn’t the question you meant to ask. Let’s try:

  • If gun control isn’t the answer to the horribly high rate of homicide in the US compared to other countries, what is?

That would be an excellent question. Except the US is nowhere near the top in terms of number of homicides per 100,000 people

Hmm. Perhaps that wasn’t the question you meant to ask. How about:

  • If gun control is not the answer to the epidemic of violence against women in the US, what is?

Ok, let’s try this:

  • If gun control is not the answer to the rising rate of violent deaths among blacks in the US, what is

I know. Let’s look at:

  • If gun control is not the answer to the rising rate of GUN homicides, what is?

Even if you believe it is tremendously better to be knifed, stabbed, bludgeoned, or strangled to death rather than shot, it looks like this one doesn’t apply either.

  • If gun control is not the answer to the rising rate of accidental GUN deaths in the US, what is?

Okay, okay. Let’s try a question that might actually not contain a false assumption:

  • If gun control is not the answer to the US’s high rate of GUN death compared to other countries, what is?

The US is 26th in the world in gun deaths. But, aha! It is the highest by far in number of gun deaths amongst the 12 top nations in the Human Development Index. This is true. So, if you have a strong preference for a different means of dying, gun control is your answer! It seems rather obvious that in a country with more guns, gun deaths are more common. I’d also hazard a wild guess that swimming pool drownings are  more common in Australia than in Canada, and murder by pushing someone off a mountain is probably more common in Switzerland than in the Netherlands.

Perhaps, though, you’re the type of person who is easily affected by emotional media coverage of mass shootings, especially at schools, which are a tiny fraction of a percentage of homicides, even of children. Thus:

  • If gun control is not the answer to mass shootings, what is?
  • First, let’s disabuse you of the notion that mass shootings are a phenomenon predominantly confined to the USA:

    All but one of the 20 worst non-governmental mass public shootings, 45 of the worst 50, occurred outside the United States, the majority of them in Africa.

Global mass shootings CPRC

…And Europe’s rate is 25% higher than that of the US despite much stricter gun laws:

US vs Europe Mass shootings

And it appears that  the majority of locations where mass shootings take place in the US are places where guns are prohibited.

  • However, it does appear that a sizable number of the US mass shooters were diagnosed as mentally ill in advance of the incident

Of course, there were literally millions of people diagnosed with mental illness who did NOT commit mass public shootings, or any shootings, for that matter.

Psychiatrists admit that they can barely do better than random chance at predicting which of their patients will become violent, according to The British Journal of Psychiatry. On the other hand, mentally ill people living in the community are 11 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the average person. The actual degree of effectiveness of guns as self-defensive deterrents to violent crime for a given individual is still not well-established, but one must wonder if disarming all or most mentally ill people might not cause more violent crimes than it prevents.

And, finally, here is a really good question, which I think a person with a penchant for supporting gun control really ought to ask but rarely do. It is the only question about gun use and gun control which actually proceeds from concern about a problem which is getting worse:

  • If gun control is not the answer to American’s rising rate of suicide, what is?

Unlike every other means of violent death, suicide in the US is actually increasing

Looking at the chart above, it appears possible that suicides can be reduced by around 30% by requiring a background check for private handgun sales. This is easily explained by the fact that a gun is the most effective way of committing suicide, so more attempts are likely to be successful when guns are readily available. The preference for guns among male suicide attempters explains part of men’s greater rate of successful suicides. Furthermore, most people who are dissuaded from committing suicide once do not go on to commit suicide later.

On the other hand, the evidence from Canada, where registration of all guns was required beginning in 1993, shows that the rate of gun suicide decreased by almost the exact same number that the rate of hangings (the second-most-effective means of suicide) increased

The author of that paper concludes, “There were 3,605 suicides in 2000 before the registry started and 3,741 in 2005. Clearly, this analysis suggests that the money wasted on registering guns would have been better spent on suicide prevention efforts.”

So, my question is this: it’s been pretty clearly established that gun control does not decrease violent crime; it does not even decrease mass shootings. It probably doesn’t even decrease suicides. The one thing it does is do is decrease the rate of gun crime, which we’ve seen just represents the substitution of other weapons for guns. So when are the people shrieking about “doing something” going to recognize the reality of the situation and start focusing on what might actually represent some sort of solution to these horrific and dramatic events which affect a tiny percentage of the population but have such a disproportionate affect on the national psyche and mythos? I would really like to know.

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