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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Heart of Gold or Steel

This is a shout-out to my sisters and brothers with mentally ill adult children. This is to say: you are not alone.

You are not alone when another parent laments a horrible night fighting with a son or daughter over curfew, and you try to commiserate while silently recalling the weeks your child vanished with no word. You are not alone in feeling the stab of pain at the photos and mementos other parents take for granted. You are not alone when your silence at celebrations is a veil between you and shared joy. I am with you.

You are not alone when you run into your child’s classmates’ parents at the grocery store and hear stories of graduations, weddings, careers, and grandchildren, and are struck dumb. What can you say? “The electroconvulsive therapy seems to be helping,” or, “It’s been almost eighteen months since the last relapse and it looks like this new boss is very understanding about the absences”? You are not alone when you wonder what they’ve heard, and what they are not saying. I wonder too, in silence and gracelessness.

You are not alone in those other awkward silences, when you relate a funny story, an achievement, a talent, or a celebration pertaining to that mentally ill person whom you love. You know those silences: the person you’re talking to is momentarily confused, because they thought your child was that child, the one who…you know. How can you be praising that child’s talents or skills or achievements or sense of humor? And you want to shout, “This child of mine is NOT circumscribed by illness!”

You are not alone in your anger at your child over the behaviors which make life so much more difficult and painful. Or in your anger at the people who take advantage of a mentally ill person’s confusion verbally, financially, sexually, violently. You are not alone in your desire to protect someone who cannot be protected without also being imprisoned. You are not alone in your confusion over where to draw the line between making allowances for things mentally ill people can’t help, and enabling unacceptable behaviors that they can. There are others out here, like me, whose hearts are a battleground between the rescuer and the judge.

You are not alone when the phone rings in the middle of the night and you panic, clawing at the sheets, and flailing in terror that this is one of those times when the police, or the ER, or the psych hospital calls to tell you your child is arrested, unconscious, suicidal, hallucinating, self-harming, attacking orderlies, or any of a litany of other behaviors. Or, the worst call of all, the one you dread the most: the call to say your child has overdosed, successfully committed suicide, been shot or stabbed or bludgeoned to death by a cop or a drug dealer or a stranger or a lover. And you are not alone when the most shameful thought flickers momentarily through your mind: at least then it would be over. And you are not alone when you crush that thought desperately, so fearful that even allowing it to cross your mind will somehow make it true, make it into a hammer that will smash your heart to pieces forever.

My sisters and brothers, that hammer keeps pounding away at our hearts. Let us keep our hearts warm and pliable so the blows will be the blows of the forge, to mold and shape our hearts and leave them stronger and more resilient, and shining like metal, like steel, like gold! Let this be a flame to warm your heart: you are not alone.