Built on Facts

The shootings in Connecticut are a monstrous act of incomprehensible horror. For all the atrocities visited upon the world in the last hundred years, this is still without doubt among the most appallingly evil acts ever performed by a single person. And he is dead, and beyond the reach of human justice.

Normally I’d wait for the story to wane and passions to cool before commenting on the nakedly political aspects of a catastrophe, but this story is so hideous, so devastating, that many people have been viscerally compelled to speak: How can the permissive laws preferred by people like you possibly fail to end in tragedy?

This question is a legitimate one. I am a gun owner – an owner of an AR-pattern rifle like the one this monster used, for that matter – and so I had better be able to give that question a good answer. Decency demands it. How can I possibly oppose the laws that could have stopped this event?

The answer is simple: I don’t. I support laws that could have prevented this and might prevent similar tragedies in the future. What I do oppose are laws that sacrifice freedom but don’t actually hinder people who might be inclined to commit similar atrocities. Here are some of those laws:

Gun registration: The shooting was carried out using firearms which were stolen from a person who legally purchased them, had a background check, and filed and was granted a purchase permit. The mass shooter in Norway acquired his weapons under a  regulatory regime of full registration, as did the perpetrators of the two infamous school massacres in Germany in the 2000s. Registration of firearms prevents mass shootings in the same sense that automobile registration prevents DUI – they don’t, they can’t, and they’re not intended to.

Assault weapons ban: Connecticut has one, and the weapon was legal under it. The reason is simple, and common to all versions of the assault weapons ban – “assault weapon” is an inherently meaningless concept whose legal definition is essentially cosmetic. Most people are inclined to think of machine guns when they hear the term, but machine guns have already been generally banned since the 30s. The only meaningful version of an assault weapons ban would be a ban on semi-automatic firearms generally. These are the weapons that fire one shot per trigger pull (as opposed to weapons like muskets, pump-action shotguns, and bolt-action rifles). However this category is just “most guns”. Almost all pistols, most hunting shotguns, and many hunting rifles are semi-automatic. A ban on scary-looking firearms in any nontrivial way is effectively a ban on all firearms. Which leads us to:

Total prohibition of firearms: In a country with well over two hundred million firearms, it is logistically impossible. But if it weren’t, there is not much reason to believe it would do any good. Guns can be acquired illegally and are not required for mass murder in the first place. The worst school massacre in US history was carried out by a bomber in Michigan. The Oklahoma City bombing killed nineteen children and a hundred and fifty adults. The Columbine shooters attempted to go down in infamy as the Columbine bombers and would have killed many more people had their improvised propane bombs not mercifully failed. While bombs require a modicum of effort, more lethal than any single mass shooting was the 1990 Happy Land arson, the perpetrator of which killed 87 people with a gallon of gasoline. The most lethal mass shooting prior to the shooting in Norway was carried out by a South Korean police officer in a country where civilian possession of firearms is prohibited. Norway itself does not completely prohibit firearms ownership but the restrictions are extremely tight. Prohibition has a terrible track record at preventing dedicated psychopaths from mass murder. For that matter, is has a terrible track record at preventing violent crime of the more mundane sort.

Does this mean there’s nothing we can do, and that I’m just proposing defeat? Not at all. There are concrete steps we ought to take. Here are a few.

Improvement of NICS: If you buy a gun, you have to fill out paperwork and undergo a background check. These checks have been very good at preventing purchase by people who are disqualified by criminal records. But while adjudication as mentally incompetent is also disqualifying, such records are only poorly integrated into the system. This flaw was the source of the Virginia Tech shooter’s weapons.

Repair of the catastrophically bad US mental health apparatus: There’s a dire article in Gawker making the rounds, a first person account of a mother trying to raise an extremely troubled kid. They have basically two options – prison or muddling through alone. There is almost no systematic way of helping the helpable deranged, and almost no systematic way of containing the non-helpable deranged until they commit a violent crime and get sent to prison. This must be changed, and changed immediately.

Secure schools: If you’re determined to herd children into buildings with no law enforcement or other responsible armed adults (mass shootings almost exclusively happen in areas that are both 1) “gun free” and 2) don’t have law enforcement presence), at least build the buildings in a safe way. Though the accuracy of the initial days of reporting have been an unmitigated debacle, it now appears as though a few decent door locks would have kept the shooter outside the school and away from the kids. People sometimes miss or (worse) dismiss simple security solutions, but like airliner cockpit doors post 9-11, they have been proven repeatedly in ways that huge invasions and drone campaigns have not.

Maintain previous success: We are already doing many things that do work. Violent crime in the US has fallen continuously and dramatically over the last three decades. Gun crime specifically has also fallen radically, even as gun laws have become more permissive. Every murder is a horror, but this horror should not fool us into missing the fact that what we’re doing is resulting in fewer of them.

In short, this tragedy ought to cause every person to stop and take honest stock of their views, whatever they are. The black and bitter emotions ought to spur us to evaluate our options, not to sit on our hands. But thus spurred, we are obligated to be coolly rational about what will help and what will not. “Something must be done, this is something, therefore it must be done” is one of the most dangerous impulses in democratic politics. If we want to prevent future tragedy, we must avoid it.

Comments

  1. #1 Marion Delgado
    December 17, 2012

    John Lott/Mary Rosh BS.

  2. #2 robert nelson
    December 17, 2012

    sorry guy. when you build on facts, you can’t build your own facts. the comparison is simple; gun homicides in nations that do not allow people to have guns versus gun homicides in nations that do. and you have an AR? why?

    • #3 Matt Springer
      December 17, 2012

      Even if you pretend that the world consists solely of the US and western Europe, that comparison is not nearly so clean as you think it is. If you don’t, it’s nonexistent.

  3. #4 Mark
    December 17, 2012

    I tend to agree, much of this reasoning is off. I responded here Matt, and would be happy to engage in a continuing debate addressing these issues.

    • #5 Matt Springer
      December 17, 2012

      Thanks for the intelligent and thoughtful response. I’ve responded on your blog.

  4. #6 Lyle
    December 17, 2012

    It is reported that the shooter shot the glass out of the door windows and was able to use the exit bars to gain entry. You do need the exit bars across the doors on the inside so that folks can get out in an emergency. Of course there should be alarms on all exit doors except the ones that have humans monitoring them.

  5. #7 T
    December 17, 2012

    Any fire gun, it is a assault weapon, if somebody pulls first the trigger you don’t have time to react.
    If you are attacked by knife, you see the agresor aproaching, you read the body language, you see pulling the knife., so you have time to run.
    The gun can be used only in preemptive strikes. If you have to protect some kids, if you have to shoot first.
    How you reconze the would be attacker? Let’s say you shoot somebody with a weapon in the pocket. Why you shot him? Maybe he carried it legally.
    If the it is illegal to carry a weapon, it is easier for you to deffend with a gun against an armed assault. Any person who would carry weapons, will show a criminal intent.

  6. #8 allan j
    U.K.
    December 17, 2012

    It’s not just the perpetrators of these acts who are guilty – it’s everyone in the U.S. who supports your ridiculously lax gun ownership laws and continue to make irrelevant excuses. Matt Springer – you are partly morally culpable for the anguish of bereaved parents and the lives these children will never have. Be honest and face up to your moral responsibility.
    Japan had 2 deaths by firearms in 2006. Here’s how you do it. (this is taken from an article in The Atlantic.

    “Japanese tourists who fire off a few rounds at the Royal Hawaiian Shooting Club would be breaking three separate laws back in Japan — one for holding a handgun, one for possessing unlicensed bullets, and another violation for firing them — the first of which alone is punishable by one to ten years in jail. Handguns are forbidden absolutely. Small-caliber rifles have been illegal to buy, sell, or transfer since 1971. Anyone who owned a rifle before then is allowed to keep it, but their heirs are required to turn it over to the police once the owner dies. The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do”

    • #9 Matt Springer
      December 18, 2012

      1) I hold your nation morally culpable for producing a person who still believes in collective guilt in 2012.

      2) There is a much more parsimonious explanation for Japan. Here’s a hint – the violent crime rate among Japanese-Americans is microscopic.

  7. #10 Mike
    December 18, 2012

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. In the aftermath of this evil, there have been many have tried to not let this tragedy go to waste. The key question to ask is would the proposed law have prevented this from happening? In almost all cases, the answer is no.

    In terms of total numbers of gun and in per capita levels of guns privately owned, the US is far and away beyond any other country. For those who are suggesting banning guns or banning semi automatic guns, how would you suggest these guns be removed from society? There appears to be no reasonable way to do this.

  8. #11 mandas
    December 18, 2012

    You can make all the excuses you want, and all the apologies you want, but the simple fact is that the reason there are so many gun deaths in the USA is because there are so many guns in the USA. Full stop.

    Guns may not kill people, and people may kill people, but people with guns are able to kill other people far more easily and in far greater numbers than those without. Having guns does not make you safer – it means that the smallest domestic dispute or bar argument can turn into a gun related homicide.

    This is supposed to be a science blog – how about you stop waving your hands and look at the evidence. And it is crystal clear – take guns out of the hands of the general population, and gun deaths decline. You may not stop all the deaths, and you may not stop the occasional mass shooting by someone who managed to get their hands on a gun, but they will go down. Of that there is zero doubt.

    But unfortunately, people will go on about this for a short time, then it will pass without any significant effort being made to fix the problem. The gun lobby is too powerful, politicians are too gutless, and the idea of owning a gun is too ingrained in the American culture. Just ask yourself Matt – of what possible use can you have for owning an assault weapon, apart from the satisfaction of making a lot of noise and blowing a lot of holes in a piece of paper? And if you answer you own it for the safety of yourself and your family, then you are deluded. It will make you less safe, not more.

    Yes, the world does not consist solely of the USA and western Europe. My country – Australia – is also part of the world too. And you might want to look at what we did in response to a similar event – and what has happened since.

    • #12 Matt Springer
      December 18, 2012

      I have, and the numerical facts are pretty simple. You followed up the Port Arthur massacre with strict gun laws. Violent crime in general and gun crime in particular declined. The same thing happened everywhere in the developed world over the same interval, including in the United States, which in fact loosened its gun laws over the same period. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

  9. #13 TSlow
    NY
    December 18, 2012

    You can’t control a gun, nor can you control people. There is only one solution, get rid of all guns. The Japanese got it right and Matt, your reply seems a touch racist. It’s not logistically impossible to eliminate guns. It’s very difficult in a country that is romantically attached to violence and guns–and thinks that killing people will solve all it’s problems–but not impossible. To say it’s impossible is just another excuse, and we are full of excuses. It’s time to face the facts, change the constitution, collect all the firearms and melt them down. If you are found with a gun after the final collection date, you go to jail and they throw away the key. End of story, problem solved.

    • #14 Matt Springer
      December 18, 2012

      While I strongly disagree with your policy recommendation, I appreciate your candor. I note the irony that your policy requires a massive quantity of violent force at the point of a gun.

  10. #15 Andy
    December 17, 2012

    “Fix the gun, not the Law”
    Matt, I have seen arguments for better gun control and more gun regulations, and I feel they will be ineffective in trying to prevent acts of sorrow such as Newtown. I would like to push for better crime control, not just gun control; sadly the media and politics are focused on guns being the problem. So I want to run something by you: instead of stricter gun regulations and trying to fix the law, fix the gun and make it safer.
    If you have not seen 007 Skyfall, the movie features a gun that only works to a particular coded palm print (James Bond). The technology is here and not difficult; for example, your car keys have a chip inside them that is needed to start the car.
    Have a registered key, chip in wrist band, thumb print safety lock, etc to the gun that the owner can then keep and limit any unwanted gun violence. I do not believe a law/ the government can do anything effective so use your head and “Fix the gun, not the law”
    Let me know what you think
    Andy

    PS: Thank you for a factual argument and discussion.

    • #16 Matt Springer
      December 17, 2012

      It’s a good idea, but the technology isn’t quite there yet. So far it’s mostly still in the movie-only stage – note for instance that neither the military nor police departments have adopted it. Eventually the technology will probably mature, and I’d consider that kind of feature something I’d like to have on my guns.

      That said, a gun is fundamentally just a box of springs that puts a cartridge in a chamber and hits the back of it with a pin. They’re very simple devices. As such, high-tech locks would probably be impossible to make tamper-proof. But in principle those kind of devices might be at least as good as a gun safe.

  11. #17 John Haigh
    UK
    December 18, 2012

    Matt, you keep avoiding the question “why do you own guns”? I think it’s at the heart of the problem. A rational response is a cost/benefit analysis, what do people get out of gun ownership and what are the associated risks? This is likely to vary from a medium benefit & low risk for a farmer who owns a shotgun for pest control, to low benefit & high risk for someone who owns one or more guns to “protect their family”. Ironically, the evidence is that the risk in the later case accrues mainly to said family through accidents and suicide.
    Famously Canadians own more guns than the Americans but have a much lower rate of gun deaths, perhaps the cause is that Canadians do not see gun ownership as part of a paranoid fear of crime or as essential to being a “free man”. Maybe Canadians see guns as useful for shooting animals, not people.

    • #18 Matt Springer
      December 18, 2012

      You shouldn’t read too much into my reasons, which are different from a widow in Detroit or a farmer in Montana or a trap/skeet Olympian in California or a hunter in Louisiana. Different people have different reasons.

      Mine are for:
      1) Sport shooting
      2) Collector’s appreciation of firearm design
      3) Self defense
      4) Hedge against breakdown of civil order (Katrina, riots, etc)

      The first two purposes comprise the entirety of the reasons I have actually fired a gun. The last two purposes I consider very unlikely. I have never used a firearm in self defense and never expect to, but like life insurance, I’d rather not be without it should the unexpected happen. Note that hunting isn’t on the list – I have no objection to hunting, but I’ve never done it myself.

  12. #19 Charlie Tall
    December 18, 2012

    Strange isn’t it?

    The Japanese have virtually no guns (except for their organized crime syndicates and government) yet their suicide rate is about double that found in the US.

    Faced with this indisputable fact, gun-grabbing fanatics still insist that gun suicide is another good reason to confiscate firearms.

  13. #20 Tomato Addict
    WI
    December 18, 2012

    I have been trying to push an alternative approach: Don’t ban firearms. Insure them.
    http://dreadtomatoaddiction.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-case-for-firearms-insurance.html

    This has generated quite a bit of discussion off of my blog. Links to that here: http://dreadtomatoaddiction.blogspot.com/2012/12/discussing-firearms-insurance.html

  14. #21 mandas
    December 18, 2012

    “Mine are for:
    1) Sport shooting
    2) Collector’s appreciation of firearm design
    3) Self defense
    4) Hedge against breakdown of civil order (Katrina, riots, etc)

    Sorry, if these are your reasons for owning an assault weapon, there is not nicer way to say this – you are a fool.

    1) Sport shooting with an assault rifle? Since you don’t hunt, I can only assume that your ‘sport’ consists of making lots of noise and blowing lots of holes in pieces of paper. Or do you own target rifles – which are an entirely different argument from assault weapons. I have no argument against rifles designed for target shooting.

    2) I can get this, but if that’s the case, it would be better if the weapon was rendered unusuable. It would have the same value to ‘look at and appreciate’, but would not be dangerous.

    3) The point has been made over and over and over again, but gun nuts still refuse to accept the evidence. The ownership of guns does not make you safer, and they are far more likely to result in your death as the result of a domestic dispute, be stolen by criminals, or be used in a suicide, than they are to be used for self defence.

    4) You should appear on the TV show – ‘Doomsday Preppers”. That shows is full of similarly rational people.

    • #22 Matt Springer
      December 18, 2012

      1) The distinction you imagine to exist between “assault weapon” and “target rifle” is purely cosmetic. In any case, rifles of any description come in well behind “bare hands” in the list of most common implements of homicide.

      2) Collecting broken things is not very fun.

      3) [citation needed]

      4) I was fewer than 80 miles from the point of landfall when Katrina hit. Maybe I hallucinated that whole hurricane aftermath thing, but I don’t think I’m quite that irrational.

    • #24 Matt Springer
      December 18, 2012

      These three ought to embarrass their authors, even by the already hilariously dismal standards of observational studies in the social sciences. For instance: the first only counts instances of justifiable homicide. But most defensive uses don’t involve shots being fired, and most that do don’t result in death. The second has as its sample only those people who have actually been shot(!), in Philadelphia(!!). The third does the same thing – only counting people who have actually been killed. By definition such a study doesn’t count someone like, say, me, who owns guns but isn’t dead.

  15. #25 mandas
    December 18, 2012

    Wow – and here is me thinking this was Science Blogs. I must have stumbled into Wingnut Daily by mistake.

    If this was Science Blogs, and someone provided a number of studies by way of evidence, the rational science person would have examined the evidence. But alas, not here. Tell me, did you even access the full document before airily dismissing them, or was the abstract sufficient?

    I was going to ask you to provide the evidence for your position, but it looks as if evidence and reason has no place in this discussion.

    • #26 Matt Springer
      December 18, 2012

      You might just well claim unicorns cure cancer and link a bunch of papers about how to translate Sumerian cuneiform. The studies you link have no bearing whatsoever on the general population of gun owners. Abstracts? For some of them they were nice enough to put the problem in the first sentence. They are not analyses of people who own guns, they are analyses of people who have been shot. This is the rankest base rate fallacy.

  16. #27 Nate
    Virginia
    December 19, 2012

    So of course, foreigners who like the government doing thinking for them and American regressives all as the same illinformed question about “why do you NEED to own a gun?”
    1. No one informed me the 1st 10 ammendments made up a bill of NEEDS…they are called a bill of RIGHTS granted not by government but by the creator.
    2. The 2nd Amendment, guarantees me the ability to protect the other 9…as well as my own God given right to LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THR PERSUIT OF HAPPINESS…now certainly when only the government and criminals own guns, I lose my ability to speak freely against my government when it puts jackbooted thugs on the streets determined to make sure I do what they say…need I remind you limeys about Hitler and Communist Russia? The first thing tyrants do is take guns out of the hands of the citizens before making the drastic changes that most of the citizenry would object to…America through off tyranny in 1776 and determined in 1791 to ensure we had the ability to protect ourselves not only from each other, but also from our government. So I NEED my guns to ensure the government criminals, along with the other criminals know I have teeth to do so. There is no deeper definition than I have the RIGHT to KEEP and BARE ARMS. Just so you know, that means I get to have anything I can use to defend myself that I can carry. It cant get much more clear. The guidance counselor in CT had applied to carry to school but was denied due to not having a conceal carry at the time of application. Think how many lives could have been saved if the shooter could have been put down after shooting out the window.

  17. #28 Gil
    December 19, 2012

    I would say pretty much the pro-gun ownership arguments are akin to pro-marijuana arguments – they are weak and insipid when in both cases you’re only valid arguments would be of personal freedom. In other words,marijuana users are shooting themselves in the foot by claiming they’re trying to legalise a most healthful herb when they should be simply arguing it’s their right, their body and as long as they harm no one else then it should be legal. So too gun owners should be simply saying “I have the right to own pretty much whatever weapon I want for whatever reason I want as long as I’m not putting anyone in danger”. Next to nil gun owners will chase off a violent intruder, be in a chaotic social downturn and wouldn’t have the guts to dare shoot at the U.S. Government.

    Maybe mass shootings should be put in the same category as shark attacks in which the solution is the same: do nothing at all. Both events are incredibly rare ways to die but get the media attention. Children should be more afraid of his relatives or that their parent might accidentally back an SUV over them than some random shooter. After all, people should be more afraid of cows and bees than sharks.

  18. #29 dab
    December 19, 2012

    >implying a link between this event and mental illness
    Ah, so they’re repeating this trite canard over here, too. Good to know. People with mental disorders who probably already felt marginalised and suspected enough are thankful for your consideration.

  19. #30 mandas
    December 19, 2012

    And there is no clearer indication of what is wrong with this whole debate than the insane rant by Nate, and that someone who is supposed to run a Science blog adopts an ideological position and refuses to even look at the evidence.

    Congrats America – you win the Darwin award for 2012.

  20. #31 ron
    December 19, 2012

    Matt, critic from your side. Tightening the NICS noose is dangerous. You say we should have more people declared “mentally ill” and strip them of their second amendment rights (or at least a more fully integrated system). Do you recognize that mental illness diagnosis is rather exponential currently? That it is rumored 1 in 10 Americans experience depression? That hoarding is now considered a mental disease? That nothing constrains the boundary of “mental illness”?

    You recognize that if you vote for certain candidates, have beliefs about JFK, 7 days of food, etc. that you’re already considered a terrorist? Should this be part of the background check also? http://tinyurl.com/cf4ntsk

    So I ask…should the expanding ranks of the “mentally ill” enjoy the Right to assemble, speech, the press, due process, avoiding self incrimination, etc? Stated differently: Are the “mentally ill” subhuman?

    • #32 Matt Springer
      December 19, 2012

      More or less everybody has brain-based problems at one time or another. I wouldn’t want to infringe on their rights. “Mental illness” as such wouldn’t be the disqualifying criteria – it would be judicial determination that a person was an immediate threat to themselves or others. This wouldn’t even really require any new governmental authority, since such determinations are generally part of state law and are already supposed to be part of NICS.

      It could potentially be abused – it has been – but with basic safeguards, time limits, and appeal mechanisms the risk should be minimal.

  21. #33 Paulino
    Brasil
    December 21, 2012

    ” The distinction you imagine to exist between “assault weapon” and “target rifle” is purely cosmetic.”

    Since you like numbers and facts, would you care to compare the muzzle energy of a .22 or .38 to assault rifle cartridges such as 5.56 NATO (AR15) or 7.62 × 39 mm (AK)?
    .22 – 150J
    .38 – 420J
    5.56 – 1,796J
    7.62 – 2,070J

    Cosmetic? Are you sure?

    • #34 Matt Springer
      December 21, 2012

      Absolutely. 5.56×45 is among the smallest centerfire rifle rounds. In many states it’s illegal for hunting because it can’t reliably and humanely kill a deer. Here are some of the most popular hunting rounds:

      .308 Winchester – 3,500 J
      .30-06 Springfield – 3,900 J
      .338 Winchester Magnum – 5,200 J
      .338 Lapua Magnum – 6,600 J

  22. #35 Paulino
    December 21, 2012

    Humanely kill a deer… absolutely… all in good fun, for sure…

  23. #36 mandas
    December 21, 2012

    Well I was wrong. I thought the post from Nate and the lack of evidence based thought on behalf of a science blogger perfectly encapsulated how deluded some people are in this debate. But even that insanity that has now been beaten by the NRA. More guns in schools huh guys? Just what we need. Idiots with guns.

  24. #37 Joseph Hertzlinger
    The People's Republic of Nassau County
    December 25, 2012

    It looks like the comments here can be summarized quite simply: MATT SPRINGER IS A HERETIC! STONE HIM!

    As for the claim that nations with lower crime rates have tighter gun regulations, in order to show which is cause and which is effect we need to see if gun regulations cause drops in crime rates. As far as I know that is not the case.

    • #38 Matt Springer
      December 26, 2012

      Honestly I’m a little surprised I got as much support as I did. ScienceBlogs tends to be pretty monochromatic politically. Which doesn’t bother me a bit – physics is what it is regardless of anyone’s ideology. Since I mostly write about physics, I don’t really have to worry about politics here. But this issue is something I care about and something that’s attracted a lot of commentary, and I wanted to write something registering a short but hopefully sensible dissent.

      Early in the new year, Mark of the Denialism blog and I are going to have a discussion/debate on this issue. I think we’ll talk about the statistics of things like post-Port-Arthur Australia, post assault weapons ban America, and so forth. This will hopefully shed some light on the causal relationship (if any) between gun control and violence.

      And of course I’d like to reiterate the fact that I generally dislike reading my non-political favorite writers flogging their political views in public. As such, political posts will be clearly marked, easy to ignore, and outnumbered strongly by physics posts.

  25. #39 Thomas
    December 27, 2012

    Matt, I have been a casual “student” of the gun control debate for almost 20 years. Most of the studies I’ve seen are badly flawed, cherry-picked and massaged to show a clear trend or support a conclusion. (These are the ones you’ll find on the front page of public policy websites.) Even the best studies have problems which raise questions about their validity.

    The problems I’ve seen come from picking specific subsets of data, or by “controlling” for various parameters (usually to show a trend). For example, focusing only on gun-related crime; or choosing a specific window of years. The difficulty with establishing clear trends is that there are so many variables. Studies that purport to show a relationship or trend — one way or another — fall apart as soon as you pick a slightly different set of data or change the equations slightly.

    I put together a couple of scatter plots which IMO help shed a little light on a subject filled with much rhetoric and subjective research. I picked these data sets because they are very inclusive and because they are a “snapshot” in time. So there is no need to dig into the “what else changed in that time period” issue, with all the resulting complications.

    The first plot I did compares the violent crime rate with the strictness of gun laws, on a state by state basis. It shows that there is NO relationship between the violent crime rate for a state and how strict its gun laws are. The second plot compares the overall gun ownership rate with the violent crime rate, again on a state by state basis. This plot also shows no relationship between gun ownership and the violent crime rate.

    In other words, when painting with a very broad brush — including as much data as possible, without controlling for anything else — it appears that there is no relationship between gun laws and crime rates or gun ownership and crime rates. Positive or negative.

    This agrees with the conclusion I’ve drawn after reading much of the available literature: if there is any causal relationship between guns and crime it is difficult to find and measure. I am confident your discussion with Mark will only support this conclusion, as you will both be able to poke sound holes in each others’ statistics and research.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this. And I’d be glad to share my data and plots if you’re interested.

  26. #40 GJ
    January 3, 2013

    I’m sorry to have to point this out, but many of you are out of touch with reality and have failed to actually look at statistics on gun control. People that would use guns to perpetrate crimes will not adhere to any kind of gun control laws. People that will use guns to protect themselves will adhere to the laws because they are law abiding citizens. Therefore you have bad people with guns and you have good people that can’t protect themselves. An example of this is Washington, D.C. and even the entire UK, where homicides rose more than 70 % after strict gun control laws were implemented. Look at states that have strict gun control laws vs. those that do not. The ones with lax laws have less crime. Also, guns do save lives. The colt 45 stopped a man from hurting my father when he tried hijacking his truck. Another 45 stopped my uncle from bring beaten to death with a baseball bat. Violence is an unfortunate part of humanity and will exist even without guns. At least with them, people can protect themselves.

  27. #41 JV
    Germany
    January 3, 2013

    “4) Hedge against breakdown of civil order (Katrina, riots, etc)”

    From an European point of view that statement is just bizarre mad.

  28. #43 Tmatsci
    Australia
    January 5, 2013

    Matt you need to look at the statistics. Australia, Canada and the USA have almost identical statistics for murders committed without firearms ~0.5 murders/100,000 of population. Canada and Australia have firearm related murders at the rate of about 1 and 1.2 murders/100,00 population. Australia has always had fairly stringent restrictions on the owning of guns and now requires police checks before purchase and registration of firearms. Once purchased all firearms and ammunition must be locked up and separately. I do not know what is the firearms regulation situation in Canada but it would seem to be similar to Australia. The consequence of this long term stringency is that the numbers of firearms available in Australia is limited and they are mainly found in rural areas for control of feral pests and as with my neighbour who is a butcher for killing animals for food. The statistics for gun related murders in the USA are around 5/100,000 of population. So it would seem that the availability of firearms makes it easy and I agree totally with Mandas in this respect. It is the easy access to guns that allows this and converts a domestic dispute into gunplay and death. An example from the time that I lived in the USA. One of my coworkers apparently offended someone on the freeway on the way to work. The offended (and the offender) pursued my colleague off the freeway on the slip road which passed on a bridge across the highway. As my colleague turned to cross the highway the offended put two shots through the tray of his truck and then continued on the slip road and back onto the highway. So first why does anyone need a firearm in a vehicle and what is the justification for using it in this situation?
    Having said all of this there is no easy answer to this problem because the number of firearms in America is enormous by any standards and I don’t think that it is even feasible to try to reduce them.

    • #44 Matt Springer
      January 7, 2013

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. In the debate I’m doing with Mark later this week, I’m going to be discussing some of these points extensively. To very briefly touch on one of them, I’d suggest taking a closer look at the statistics. The total murder rate is about 4.8/100,000, but only 2/3 of these are gun related. But that’s still a high rate, compared to most of western Europe and y’all Brit-colonized English-speaking nations.

      The question is whether or not gun laws have much to do with this. I’ll be making the statistical case that no, they don’t.

  29. #45 Roadkillstewie
    January 8, 2013

    Tm look more into thos statistics… Australia, on the surface seems to have had somewhat successful gun control, yes seems to have reduced Gun related homocides.. if one then looks at the austrailia criminal stats with the decline of gun related offense there appears to be a corresponding rise in knife related instances. I’ve had a hard time finding the UK data, but digging with will that after guns… UK moved to a knife ban. What would follow next, cricket bats, hammers and rolling pins….and what would be the stopping point? A gov’t mandate to wear sparring gloves at all times?

    Look at the FBI stats… California reputedly has strict laws, as does the District of Columbia…Texas not so much yet compare their numbers in regards to gun related homicide.

    As to the AR-platform,… there’s modularity. Swap some parts and it’s an excellent hunting platform, others and it’s great for plinking or varmint control. Possibly reducing the want/need for mutiple weapons.

  30. #46 Albert Harum-Alvarez
    Miami
    January 9, 2013

    The Second Amendment mentions militias, not individuals. Why not license weapons to groups of three or more? Each could be liable for the safety, security and use of the weapon and its ammunition.

    Nancy Lanza would have had to find two other legally competent adults to agree that she should keep an arsenal in her home, given what they knew about her son and their lives together.

    Gun advocates usually already have a strong sense of group responsibility toward weapons. Certainly the NRA does. This could be a measure that they could support. It might even increase their membership, since the NRA itself could be a sponsor of the groups of three or more who would license weapons.

  31. #47 g
    cleveland
    January 10, 2013

    It’s not the gun that’s harmful, It’s the person behind it. Like Cane and Abel. Cane took a rock and hit Abel in the head with it and killed him. Does that mean back then they should’ve banned all rocks? A rock can be a peaceful thing, it just depends who’s using it. That’s why i think their should be mental screenig checks and background checks for who ever owns a firearm. Anyways for all you people who think they should ban assault rifles. Bolt action rifle have much more power than an assault rifle, like a .338 lapua. One well placed shot even a poor placed shot like the stomach and the person is either cut in half have a whole the size of a watermellon coming out of their back. Pump shotguns would do worse anyways.

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