Are Guns The Problem

The news coming out of Las Vegas are truly disturbing. On Sunday night, a 64 old, local man, fired multiple rounds of machine gun fire into a big crowd of a country music festival. As I write this, at least 59 are dead, and 527 have been wounded. Most baffling of all, it seems difficult to attribute a clear motive for this senseless massacre. Right now, the best explanation we have is the disturbing, and unsatisfying, inside that there are some truly crazy people out there. People for whom even the best attempts to try to understand their motivation will fail.

The fact that the world is not a save place, certainly is a scary truth. Terrifying as that inside is, there are a lot of people who simply won’t accept it. In their view, the world could be an almost completely save place. The only reason why it is not is the lack of enough rules and regulations. Once we have those, eventually, the state will be able to save us all.

This idiotic idea, which goes against the empirical historic evidence, is difficult to fight. The utopia seems too attractive to let it go. In case of mass shootings, the solution of the more regulations crowd is, to simply ban the tools used, that is guns. It always amazes me how many people believe that this is a no brainer solution. It simply is assumed to be a truism that gun control, enforced by the state will make us all save.

A little bit of critical thinking however is all it takes to realize that this solution is far from being a no brainer. There are several problems with it.

The first one is that any kind of gun control has to be enforced with guns. That means, clearly we are not getting rid of guns all together. A technology can not be un-invented. We will continue to live in a world with guns in it. The only question is, who is going to be allowed to have those guns, and who is not. The answer of gun control advocates is that only people working for the state should have them.

This is not very convincing. Worst, it is in itself dangerous. The first thing to note is that it is an entirely unrealistic goal. Criminals are the people who we potentially most would like to see unarmed. State regulations, however, are not necessarily something the bad guys care too much about. This city, London, is a good example. For all practical purposes, private gun ownership is essentially outlawed. That means that no law abiding person will have a gun. But, what this clearly does not mean is that no one other than the police and the army has guns. There are literally hundreds of shootings in London every year. All of them committed by criminals.

It is difficult for gun control advocates to not admit this. But they will object that without gun control, there would almost certainly be much more shootings than that, as guns would be more readily available. That is probably true, and a fair point. However, I am more worried about the fact that currently all of the guns are in the hands of the bad guys, and none in the hands of their victims. This is not a very comfortable situation to be in. It feels more like sacrificing certain people for the sake of some nebulous greater good.

But even if we could get guns off the streets, a bigger worry of mine would still prevail. The state is on record to be the biggest weapon of mass destruction ever invented. And I am not exaggerating. In the 20th century alone, tens of millions of people have be murdered by their own government. This does not even count the people murdered in wars. A big factor of why these governments were able to commit these murders was, because they had a monopoly on violence. To me that means that the solution of exclusively giving Leviathan all the guns is at best not obvious.

It is precisely this problem that motivated the founding fathers of the US to put the second amendment into the constitution. Maybe, Europeans in particular, would be well advised to tone down the arrogance towards criticizing the lack of gun control in the US. Yes, there is clearly a lot of violence in the US, but overall, if we are actually counting accurately, and include murders committed by the state, the US does not have a bad track record at all. In fact, in the US too, the biggest mass murders were committed by the state.

But of course we are not counting accurately. This is politics, and as always in politics, we are told to only look at one side of the balance sheet. People are quick to point out that we now live in a democracy, and we can therefore trust the government. This completely ignores that the Weimar Republic, which brought the Nazis into power, also was a western democracy, with full human rights guaranteed in the constitution. This also ignores that we are currently seeing democracies in many places turning totalitarian. Turkey, Venezuela, Hungary, the Philippines, and Poland come to mind.

But it even ignores the tyrannic history of the US government. Let us not forget that in 1993 for example, the Clinton administration stormed the compound of the, completely peaceful Branch Davidians in Waco Taxas. This resulted in the brutal murder of 76 US Citizens, many of which were children. The government, till this day, has not admitted any real wrong doing. It also ignores the fact that the current President got, to some degree, into the White House by campaigning to take away rights of minorities. Finally it does not take into account that the US already has a big problem with police brutality.

But it is not just the government’s victims that we don’t count. We also often forget about those who were able to save their lives by being armed. There are a lot of criminals out there, and in many cases, those bad guys could be stopped by an armed victim. Advocating gun control is to advocate the disarmament of victims.

I said earlier that we cannot un-invent a technology. But when it comes to guns would we really want to? There are certainly some type of guns that we could really live without, but not all of them. Guns are equalizers. A world without guns would throw us back into a world, in which physical body strength is king. Sure, if you are a young 6’5” healthy guy, this might not sound as such a bad idea. But what if you are a 5′ woman, or old, or disabled etc.? Without guns, these people, to a significant degree, would be at the mercy of the good will of the people around them.

It seems to me that advocates of gun control are very short sighted in their argumentation. Their arguments appear to be more driven by wishful thinking rather than facts. Given what happened historically, I don’t feel comfortable to give all guns to the government. And I find it outright cruel to take away tools from weak people, which could help them to defends themselves.

On the other hand, I accept that freedom does not work in every single case. We will never have a perfect world. There are cases, in which a police state might have prevented a crime. Maybe, the shooting in Las Vegas is such a case. Looking at the bigger picture though, there are far more cases, in which the reverse seems to be true. Overall, advocating liberty is not just the most moral position, it is also the one that works better than anything else. Therefore, advocating gun control, on the basis of single bad events, seems irresponsible.

11 of top 14 states with “best” gun-laws fail to beat grade D jurisdictions

I’ve been taking another look at FBI crime stats. I’m interested in how they correlate with the kind of gun-laws that the “Demand a Plan” people have been advocating for the United States. Last time I looked at this I found that, in all areas rural and urban, the middle-of-the-road mediocre gun-laws were best, but overall there was really no strong correlation. Oh and to be clear I was looking at overall violent crime, not limited to just murders or just gun-crime. My focus is on what is safest, and for once I’m allowing myself to look through an unpricipaled strictly consequentialist lens.

Removing rural areas (and Minnesota, due to missing data) from the picture hasn’t improved matters at all, take a look.

urban-crime-gun-laws-graph

FBI crime stats vs quality scores from smartgunlaws.org

The two states with D- laws (Florida and South Carolina) I’ll put aside, but looking at the 8 states with D grade laws, it’s clear that they usually have less violence than states with “better” gun laws. In fact 11 of very-top 14 states with “best” gun-laws fail to beat grade the average grade D jurisdiction, and overall it’s 11 states to 3. Those top states, by the way, include Massachusetts where a new gun law seems to have made matters worse. This is interesting because I think urban violence is something people care a lot about; and is more significant than the narrower measure of gun-homicides. Non-gun violence affects more people, though perhaps less seriously, and it is illogical to disregard the suffering of those victims if you are taking a statistical approach. It does seem that preventing access to firearms for self-defense can make violent crime worse.

Here is the league-table of jurisdiction-groupings, sorted by the strictness of gun-law:

urban-violence-table

Another interesting factoid here is that taking the “worst” 23 states – those with the least gun control – on average they have less violence than many of states with “better” gun-control laws. Gun-control does not always lead to safer or nicer places, far from it.

I don’t have much time to dedicate to this issue, I only did so tonight because the BBC had a very biased Panorama episode on it. I would like to look at this more, but it seems to me that naively making gun-laws stricter is not going to give people the safe environment they really want. It’s pretty clear that safety isn’t about taking guns away and imposing more laws. I think that to solve their gun crime problem the US has to look harder at itself.

Demand mediocre gun laws

Since the Newtown shootings I’ve been hearing a great deal, understandably, about murder and violent crime statistics. Richard compared UK and US homicide statistics and Michael looked at the media angle. It’s time to look at the two together.

You may remember that a variety of celebrities took to TV to demand that the people of the US demand a plan from their politicians to, well, demand criminals to kindly not commit the crime of murder again, please. A lot has been said already about how asking criminals to obey a law that takes guns away from them is unlikely to be ineffective, but lets not dwell on that. Let’s take at the laws the celebrities were, in effect, endorsing.

It turns out that the people behind the “Demand a Plan” video called the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (owners of smartgunlaws.org) have a plan of their own to sell. In fact they’ve been cataloguing and grading the gun laws of every US state (excluding, for some reason, the District) with a score from A- to F. They did not award any A or E grades. It’s their goal, as you may not be surprised, to reduce gun violence in a “smart” way using laws as a tool. Obviously, at least to you and me, the choice of murder weapon is of little consequence when you’re dead so I had a look at total homicides (inevitably combining non-negligent manslaughter) from the FBI crime statistics.

I wanted to know whether the states they graded highly had better overall homicide rates. The results are interesting:

Homicides by Law Quality

Law’s graded by SmartGunLaws.org. Crime stats by FBI.

The graph shows the mean rate per 100,000 people as calculated by the FBI, then averaged across states. The X axis is the grade assigned by gun-control advocates, listed alphabetically. The Y axis reflects the combined performance of all laws in the same grade-band in all the states awarded that grade by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. As you can see, C grade laws tend to produce fewer homicides regardless of the perpetrator’s choice of weapon. Bizarrely, A-, B-, D, D- and F grade laws all produce more homicides.

What about other forms of violence. Frankly, I have no idea if it’s better to survive a gun shot wound or a beating with fists, I’d like to avoid both. So I wondered how does the “quality” of gun law impact overall violent crime? Most gun-ownership advocates would say that more guns means less violence, since guns are a force-leveller. Most gun-control advocates, I have noticed, don’t seem to care much if I get beaten with an iron rod for want of a firearm.

Violent Crime By Gun Law Quality

Law’s graded by SmartGunLaws.org. Crime stats by FBI.

A second time, it seems as though mediocre C and D grade laws produce better outcomes in terms of the amount of reported violent crime. Even A- states reported nearly 383 crimes compared to just over 362 in F grade states. Nearly 21 extra violent crimes, per 100,000, were caused by “better” gun laws. Wowser!

So what do I think is going on? Well, seriously, I don’t know. The case for gun-control is done no favours by the fact that A-, B-, C and D- states are all more violent that F graded ones, but the averages actually look random. I am not a US citizen and I don’t know enough about each state’s circumstances to speculate at why. The raw stats are there for others to work with and if you want my tabulated spreadsheet and pivot tables, write in, I’m happy to save you a couple of hours of making annoying formulas that I already made. Most likely there are a lot of better mathematicians too, for example, I would like to control for population density and poverty rates but I don’t have a grasp of the required mathematics.

My feeling about it is that actually gun laws are making no difference whatsoever. States have the problems they do for all manner of reasons, I am sure, and I am sure I don’t know how to untangle it. The eagle eyed among you will also notice that C, C- and C+ are not in grade order. I’m sure that were they in order the result would point even more clearly in favour of laws meaning nothing and saving no-one. A little factoid to call out is that D- states experienced 178 more violent crimes per 100,000 people than F graded states. If you were in an F graded state, would you really want your gun laws to score a D- instead? I mean, would you vote for it?

Instead, I look at things in a different way. If I have a right to be alive, and to be happy, then why is it right to limit my use of self-defence? I am responsible for my existence, I would not want to burden others with a duty to act as a white-knight; but if I did I would want them to be armed too so that they can do so safely. Frankly, even if my use of armed self-defence meant that there were more mishaps, then I am sure I would still possess the right to try and defend myself; if not the inclination.

And as for the 2nd amendment, I’m not sure it really does say that I get to use a gun to protect me from my Government, but just look at Syria.

Traumatised Indian females want guns

After the Delhi rape case, in which 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh Pandey was brutally and mortally wounded, females in the Indian capital are keen to own firearms. According to the Guardian:

Hundreds of women in Delhi have applied for gun licences following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman by six men in a bus in the city last month.

The news underlines the widespread sense of insecurity in the city, deep before the incident and deeper now, and the lack of faith in law enforcement agencies.

© Ivan McClellan

Thanks to the visitor who pointed out this story. He rightly said that libertarians should be shouting about this and ensuring that those opposed to the idea understand that they are effectively in favour of rape. Well said. Unfortunately the visitor used a fake email address to leave the comment, which I cannot encourage, though credit is deserved. It is perhaps a little extreme to call gun control advocates such names but they are putting the prevention of rare and emotive tragedies above the individual’s inalienable rights to life and to self-defence, and that’s the wrong judgement to make.

The Guardian, of course, places itself firmly in this “pro-rape” category stating that the “rush for firearms will cause concern”. Really? So what is the current position in India?

The Guardian reports that legal gun ownership (which is increasingly practiced in some areas) actually requires evidence of direct threat to life (a fact I double sourced) and that:

There are estimated to be 40m guns in India, the second highest number in the world after the US.

Licences are hard to obtain and most are illegal weapons, many manufactured in backstreet workshops. Official ownership levels remain low – three guns for every 100 people – but in recent years the number of women holding arms has risen. Most are wealthy and worried about theft or assault.

It is odd for the Guardian to editorialise that this is a cause of concern. They have reported in May 2012 and now again in January 2013 that Indian women want guns for self-defence and that they increasingly get them, they even posted an excellent video showing articulate middle-class Indian women with rifles, shot guns, pistols (and in one case, all three). They showed all the gun shops in the Punjab, but it is apparent that India does not have the same kind of gun problems as the US.  In fact, a little Googling reveals that although there are regular large-scale killings in India, especially in Uttar Pradesh (which, incidentally, has a reputation for corruption) but it is related to Hindu / Muslim religious tensions and has involved swords and bombs, as well as guns. That is not a comparable scenario. So why is it that the Guardian is reporting a desire for more lawful ownership of guns by women for self-defence with such studious yet concerned neutrality? Apparently it does not compute for them that this could be good news.

Privately manufactured guns

The fact that many of these Indian guns owned by the rich for self-defence, as well as the gun that killed British tourist Stephen Ashton in Thailand owned by a gang member, are being manufactured in low-key workshops is a challenge to advocates of disarmenent. In fact it is a sign that gun control will be impossible to implement in a country that respects freedom of speech and offers even a modicum of privacy. It does not take much privacy for engineering knowledge to be shared and put to work.

Think about it. The technology for manufacturing guns is centuries old and the tools available in normal hardware stores and from paces like the Axminster catalogue are increasingly sophisticated. The natural cause of economic and technical progress is that guns should be easier to manufacture at home. Gun control will not work outside of an Orwellian surveillance society with strict censorship and microphones in every room. Even if you think that gun ownership is undesirable, which I am increasing convinced is not the case, then the rational option would still be to plan for the reality of inevitable gun ownership and ensure as many as possible are in the hands of the right kinds of people.

Gun ownership and violent crime

From Cato’s David Lampo writing in May 2000:

© simonov

The 31 states that have “shall issue” laws allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons have, on average, a 24 percent lower violent crime rate, a 19 percent lower murder rate and a 39 percent lower robbery rate than states that forbid concealed weapons. In fact, the nine states with the lowest violent crime rates are all right-to-carry states. Remarkably, guns are used for self-defense more than 2 million times a year, three to five times the estimated number of violent crimes committed with guns.

Statistically, guns don’t kill people

From the Guardian, of all places, and in the context of the Aurora shooting:

The key facts are:

• The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world – an average of 88 per 100 people. That puts it first in the world for gun ownership – and even the number two country, Yemen, has significantly fewer – 54.8 per 100 people
• But the US does not have the worst firearm murder rate – that prize belongs to Honduras, El Salvador and Jamaica. In fact, the US is number 28, with a rate of 2.97 per 100,000 people

with thanks to Diego Mendes.

As the Guardian says, facts are sacred.