"If guns were the answer to the threat of violent crime,
wed sell them at police headquarters."
Neil Behrens, former Chief, Baltimore County, MD Police Department
Gun availability is highly correlated with murder.
Sensible, Federal Gun control laws make the murder rate fall.
Murder can be broken down into three components? ??desire,?ability?and?feasibility.
A society's aggregate desire to commit murder depends on social factors, but its ability and feasibility to commit murder are heightened by widespread gun availability. indeed, most studies find a clear correlation between the murder rate and gun ownership, especially handgun ownership.
Most gun owners claim they buy guns for protection, but it appears that the problem (murder) and the solution (gun deterrence) are one and the same :
70 percent of all murders are committed with guns.We should also consider a failure any "deterrence" that is correlated to the very crime it is supposed to deter. But most damagingly, the FBI deems only I percent of all murders to be "justifiable homicides" using a firearm. Statistics from the nation's largest crime survey also show that a gun in 19 times more likely to be used in nonfatal crime than in nonfatal self-defense. Pro-gun advocates respond by trying to refute these statistics, citing a study that shows that defensive uses of guns outnumber their criminal uses. However, the survey they cite is not credible. Even if these dubious statistics were true, one cannot praise a social pathology (i.e., gun violence) that only partially cures itself (i.e., through gun deterrence).
This essay is divided into three parts :
1) a pro-gun control philosophy on thd relationship between gun ownership and the murder rate.
2) a review of the most relevant statistics.
3) an analysis of the statistics to see if they support this philosophy.
2) a review of the most relevant statistics.
3) an analysis of the statistics to see if they support this philosophy.
Every act of murder can be broken down into three components :
desire, ability and feasibility.
Without any one of these components, an individual cannot commit murder. Let's look at each one :
To be sure, not every person in society has a desire to commit murder. Murderous impulses occur only to a very small percentage of the population, to those who are sufficiently jealous, angry, drunk, drugged,insane, irrational, pathological, self-destructive or deceived enough to seriously contemplate killing someone. Some people may be only temporarily afflicted; others much more permanently. The more permanently ones we see as repeat offenders in our criminal justice system. How many people entertain an urge to kill in society varies; perhaps one country sees only 0.5 percent of its population in this state of mind over the course of a year, while another country sees only .001 percent.
The difference can be attributed to social factors like the availability of mental health treatment, substance-abuse programs, family counseling, poverty, media violence, racial tensions and hostilities, or any of countless other imaginable factors that contribute to the murderous impulse. Some social factors appear to have enormous impact on violent crime.
Two social factors in particular have been getting increased attention from researchers lately; the first is media violence. Many sociologists do not consider it an accident that the crime wave that hit America in the 60s and 70s coincided with the first television generation coming of age. Dr. Brandon Centerwall has produced one of the most famous studies, which found that the mere introduction of television into a region causes its crime rate to double as soon as the first television generation comes of age.
(1) In a 22-year study of 800 children from grade 2 to early adulthood, Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesmann found that the best predictor of later aggression was a heavy childhood diet of TV violence -- more so than poverty, grades, a single parent in the home or exposure to real violence.
(2) The second is income inequality. Although absolute poverty levels do not correlate too significantly with the crime rate, income inequality does (oddly enough). Two separate studies, one from Harvard, the other from Berkeley, compared state crime rates to their income inequality rates, and found that the states with the most inequality had the highest rates of homicide, violent crime and incarceration. This correlation holds internationally as well; Europe has much lower levels of inequality than the U.S., and much lower violent crime rates as well. In the U.S., the rising murder rate has accompanied a rising level of income inequality. In 1968, the Gini index of income inequality was a record low .348; by 1994, it had risen to .426, the highest level since the Great Depression.
(3) Unfortunately, the social factors that contribute to a society's overall desire to commit murder do throw a wild card into this debate. Still, there is enough data to reach certain conclusions about the link between guns and murder.
The second component of murder is ability. Killing a human being is a surprisingly difficult task, and that means that weapons with higher ability will kill in a greater percentage of attempts. Among common weapons, guns are unmatched for their killing ability, and this efficiency can be seen in attempted suicide statistics. on a national level, the statistics on suicide attempts and methods are sketchy, but there have been a number of more reliable smaller studies. The following one from Dallas yields a typical result. It showed that suicide attempts with a gun are fatal 76 percent of the time, compared to 4 percent when other methods are used.
The American Association of Suicidologygives an even higher estimate :
92 percent of all suicide attempts with a gun are fatal. Gun researcher Josh Sugarmann writes "Unlike pills, gas, or razor blades--which are of limited effectiveness--guns are rarely forgiving. For example, self-inflicted cutting wounds account for 15 percent of all suicide attempts but only I percent of all successful suicides. Poisons and drugs account for 70 percent of suicide attempts but less than 12 percent of all suicides. Conversely, nonfatal, self-inflicted gunshot wounds are rare--yet three-fifths of all U.S. suicides involve firearms.
Pro-gun criminologist Gary Kleck has argued that the higher fatality rate of gun suicide attempts "could be due to greater seriousness of intent among gun users. There is evidence that suicide attempters who use more lethal methods are more intent on killing themselves, rather than merely making an attempt as a 'cry for help, to those around them."
But this observation is irrelevant, because those with more serious intent are presumably attracted to guns for their greater killing ability in the first place. The heightened ability of guns has important implications for murder. When people experience a murderous impulse, they may attack no matter what the situation, and with whatever weapon is handy. Although they may attack with the same degree of ferocity and blind passion, a knife attack will probably result in injury, a gun attack in death. Thus, enhanced ability alone will drive up the murder rate. It follows that if a gun is lying around the house waiting for the next violent family argument to happen, the chances for tragedy are greater.
The third component of murder is feasibility. A person might have both the desire and the weapon needed to kill, but if the circumstances don't offer a feasible opportunity to carry it out, then a person will probably decide against it.
With weapons like knives or clubs, a would-be murderer faces enormous personal risk.
Here's why :
* Getting physically close to the victim might be impossible under a wide variety of circumstances.
* Getting closer to the victim reduces the odds of surprise, secrecy or anonymity.
* The intended victim might be taller or stronger.
* The intended victim might be surrounded by friends, family or bodyguards.
* The victim might shout out for help.
* A crowd might come to the victim's rescue.
* In the ensuing struggle, the murderer might be seriously wounded or even killed.
* The struggle will probably leave tell-tale signs of blood, skin or hair-follicles on the murderer.
* The intended victim might survive and testify against him.
A gun, however, dramatically reduces all above.
Guns allow people to :
Kill victims from afar.
maintain a much greater element of surprise, secrecy and anonymity.
Kill larger and stronger people.
Frighten away people who might otherwise help.
Assume almost no risk of injury from personal struggle.
Leave no tell-tale blood or other physical evidence on the murderer.
Leave the victim less likely to survive or see him to testify against him.
What guns do, then, is make it more feasible for a would-be killer to act out his murderous impulses.
Gun possession thus allows a crime to occur that wouldn't have otherwise.
A good analogy is robbery. in medieval times, wealth was usually stolen only when it was in transit, by highway brigands who outnumbered the drivers. But in modern times, a lone individual with a gun can walk into a bank and rob the entire establishment. Bank robbery became a widespread phenomenon only after the invention of guns.
Certain types of guns enhance feasibility more than others. Long-barreled guns like rifles and shotguns are difficult to hide and bulkier to carry; therefore, easily concealed handguns are the weapon of choice among murderers. One exception to this rule is the long-barreled gun which is super-efficient, namely, machine guns or assault weapons. These enhance feasibility in other ways that might be preferred by a would-be killer. For these reasons, gun-control advocates especially focus on handguns and assault weapons when it comes to regulation.
Let's imagine now two countries, both of which have populations of 250 million. Suppose 50,000 people in each of these countries are going to experience murderous impulses over the course of a year.One nation has a complete ban on guns. The other has universal gun ownership.Which nation will see the higher murder rate? Common sense would dictate that the nation with guns will realize its enhanced ability and feasibility to commit murder.
However, we should never underestimate the gun advocates' powers of rationalization! A common counter-argument is Robert Heinleinls : "An armed society is a polite society." This is hardly true, as the statistics below demonstrate; you could not get a more polite and murder-free society than Japan, which bans virtually all guns, or a more violent society than America, which owns the most guns in the world. But let's treat this counter-argument on a philosophical level.
If we were to arm everyone in society, then the ability to commit murder would become universal.
This is a serious step in the wrong direction.
To rescue their point, gun advocates must rely even more heavily on arguments of defeasibility. The fear of getting shot back, they argue, will deter most murderers. And there is a degree of truth behind this argument -- police, for example, wear sidearms precisely for their deterrence effect and protective benefits. Surveys of criminals show that they tend to avoid targets they feel might be risky.
But ultimately this argument fails, even in principle. A central tenet of game theory is that attackers have the advantage over defenders. A defender must defend against all possibilities of attack, and in doing so defends none of them very well. An attacker has to choose only one line of attack, and therefore can do it extremely well. Attackers have the advantage of surprise, planning and initiative.
An example is a careful, well-considered plan to shoot someone in the back, even if the person is openly carrying a sidearm. Another example is bank robbery. The fact that banks are extremely well-protected hasn't stopped their robbery even today -- criminals simply arm themselves more heavily and take advantage of the fact that they are the attackers. Or, in the face of heavily armed targets, attackers may simply alter their line of attack, selecting weaker targets : the old, the disabled, or children.
A useful analogy here is war. The fact that the entire world out-armed Hitler did not stop him from attacking it. And he nearly succeeded -- because, as the attacker, he had the initiative. Furthermore, even the certain threat of retaliatory force will not stop someone whose senses are impaired by drugs, alcohol, jealousy, anger, insanity, pathology, self-destruction or deception. Although we can identify some groups at risk for these behaviors, we can hardly predict them all -- jealous husbands, for instance. And the "failure to defeasell is a tremendously costly one, now that the ability to commit murder is universal. Thus, many people suggest gun control as a solution to high murder rates.
We should note there is a spectrum of gun control, ranging from licensing laws to the total banning of all guns. Comparing different societies for gun availability alone is insufficient, since we must also consider their different gun control laws. We should also note that gun control only reduces the ability and feasibility to commit murder -- it does not limit desire. That's something for other social policies to address. The interplay between these three components is where the debate becomes complex. Desire may sometimes counter ability and feasibility, which only confounds the issue.
Suppose two nations have the same population size, although nation A sees 50,000 people a year with the murderous impulse, but only 25,000 in nation B. If nation A has gun control, and nation B has high gun ownership, then nation A might still see a higher murder rate.
Gun advocates might then claim that this "proves" their case -- although gun control advocates would still claim that reducing gun ownership would reduce murder rates in both nations. many people debating these issues often fail to take these considerations into account. The interplay between desire, ability and feasibility makes for some unique case studies.
One example is Israel, whose entire population is armed, and yet has a low murder rate. However, their desire to commit murder is low, because Israel is usually either at war or the threat of war, and criminologists have long known that the crime rate drops during wartime. (One could say that the desire to kill is externalized in the case of war.)
Another example is Switzerland, which also has universal gun ownership by military-aged males, and a low murder rate compared to the U.S. Contrary to the suggestions of pro-gun advocates, however, gun ownership in Switzerland is not universal; only 32 percent of the general population own guns.
By comparison, this figure is 49 percent in the U.S. And Switzerland also has much stricter gun control laws. All military weapons (which are long-barreled) must be kept locked up, with their ammunition sealed, stored in a separate place, and strictly accounted for. Hence it is almost impossible to use these weapons for crime without detection.
Handguns are also highly regulated. Even then Switzerland has both the highest handgun ownership and highest handgun murder rate in Europe. Now let's review the statistics, to see how the correlation between gun ownership and murder rates is borne out according to the above philosophy. Although few correlations are ever exact in sociology, the ones below are generally clear (that is, you can see them without mathematically measuring them).
To the extent that they vary, the differences can be attributed to other social factors, like gun control laws, income inequality, etc.
U.S. GUN STATISTICS
According to a 1992 review of the scientific literature, most studies find that gun density is positively associated with the murder rate.
The National Institute of Justice, for example, reports a study of U.S. cities which found a positive correlation between gun ownership levels and felony gun use and felony murder.
How about other violent crimes, like rape and assault? The NIJ report says : "Greater gun availability increases the rates of murder and felony gun use, but does not appear to affect general violence levels." In other words, we generally have a constant level of violence in our society, but guns allow a greater portion of that violence to become deadly. "The fact that the United States is a violent society does not have much to do with guns," writes researcher Philip Cook. "The fact that our violent crime is so deadly has much to do with guns."
This coheres with the above philosophy that only a certain percentage of the population experiences the impulse to commit murder, and is prevented only by its lack of ability and feasibility.
Here's a closer look at the numbers :
In 1991, there were 211 million privately-owned firearms in the U.S., which then had a population of 252 million people. Of these firearms, about 71 million were handguns.
The long-term trend in both handgun production and criminal use has been away from manual revolvers and towards rapid-firing, semi-automatic pistols.
The domestic production of pistols has doubled since 1980, while domestic production of rifles has fallen 40 percent, and shotguns 14 percent. In 1980, pistols made up less than 15 percent of total firearm production in the U.S.; by 1993, they had climbed to 40 percent.
Gun Control - A public Necessity