Weighing the Gun Control Argument

It is a bit misleading to call our current national discussion about gun control a "debate."  Simply put, politicians and the media directing the discussion aren't interested in evidence or conclusions contrary to those that they have a vested interest in disseminating.  They are interested merely in silencing any opposition, and they rely on their devoted acolytes to continue empowering them to do so.

It's about belief for these acolytes, not proof.  Because they believe in the moral imperative, whether or not facts support their beliefs is unimportant.  They just blindly accept that what they've been told is true, and they look upon those who believe otherwise as dangerous heretics.

Yet in a somewhat intellectually quixotic self-perception, these gun-control zealots declare themselves the rational thinkers on the subject and believe their conclusions infallible, despite the fact that the hypotheses to which they are so devoted are rarely measured in the crucible of evidence.

Consider the most basic of their arguments -- that access to guns needs to be restricted by the government, because access to guns is the most convincing variable that determines murder rates in our society.  Let's just briefly weigh that assertion in the balance, and see how well it holds up to scrutiny. 

In 1960, data suggests that there were roughly 77.5 million guns owned by a population of just over 179 million, meaning that there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.3 guns per 10 Americans.  In that year, the murder rate in America was roughly 5.1 per 100,000 Americans. 

Fast-forward to 2009.  According to a Congressional Research Service report by William J. Krouse, 310 million guns were owned by Americans in that year by a population estimated to be 307 million, meaning there were probably more guns in America than there were Americans.

Now pause a moment, and remember that gun-control advocates contend that there exists a positive correlation between the number of readily accessible guns and the number of murders.  If true, we might expect such a surge in gun ownership (and guns that are owned are as readily accessible as guns get) to yield a much higher murder rate.  But in fact, the murder rate was lower in 2009 than in 1960 -- at 5.0 per 100,000 Americans.   

Such inconsistency and an obviously flawed hypothesis might send a reasonable person back to the drawing board.  But gun control zealots just double down and get more specific.  Currently, the fashionable tactic is to appear a bit centrist by suggesting that it's not all guns or the Second Amendment that they oppose, but rather just those scary looking semi-automatic guns people call "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines.  No one needs that kind of gun, and no one needs to fire that many bullets, they argue.

In terms of the practical purpose of the Second Amendment -- that is, the preservation of individual liberty -- it should be obvious, as I have argued before, why such weapons and such payloads are essential, and explicit in the verbiage of the Second Amendment is unquestionable proof that the federal government has no legal right to infringe upon a law-abiding American's right to own them.  But since it is a common objection among the left that supporters of gun rights cling to their archaic Constitution (or that "little book," as Piers Morgan calls it), rather than just accepting the idea that a new assault weapons ban would curtail violence, let's examine a bit of data surrounding their claim.

That data can tell a pretty simple story to those willing to hear it.  The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, and in that year, the murder rate was 5.5 per 100,000 Americans.  In 2011, that murder rate had declined to 4.7 per 100,000 Americans, which, incidentally, is the lowest murder rate in nearly four decades.  If the laws banning "assault weapons" were so incredibly effective, why have murder rates significantly fallen since it expired?  Not only did the federal government lift laws restricting "assault weapons," but since then, many states expanded "concealed carry" rights, meaning that guns were all the more prevalent in public life during these years, with both criminals and the law-abiding being totally aware of that fact -- and the result was a lower murder rate.

This is not to say the data shows a constant trend opposite of the one that gun control advocates suggest.  Murder rates have vacillated in big swings throughout the years, sometimes rising, sometimes falling, despite the fact that gun ownership has steadily increased.  Therefore, we must accept that more guns don't always result in less murder, either, in terms of the data.  The point, however, is that the primary hypotheses that are the foundation of current gun control arguments are fatally flawed.  Neither the presence of guns (whether semi-automatic or outfitted with a large payload) nor the laws restricting them (which lawless murderers invariably ignore) are the most convincing variable that determines rates of murder in this country.    

It would certainly be valuable to have a discussion about how we can best reduce incidents of murder in America.  But it should be a discussion based upon reason, not emotional agendas to rob Americans of their fundamental liberties based upon specious and unsubstantiated arguments.  There are far more convincing variables to explain high rates of murder, whether we're talking about large quantities of unheralded murders or isolated and sensationalized killing sprees.  And regarding the latter, considering that it has recently surfaced that Adam Lanza's likely motivation for the massacre in Newtown was to surpass Oslo spree-killer Anders Breivik in notoriety, it might make sense that we examine the practical impact of the self-centered nature of our culture that values celebrity above all things.  And maybe it is a good idea to address the media's sensationalism of the actions of demented spree-killers like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Loughner, Anders Breivik, and Aurora shooter James Holmes, all of whom were granted larger-than-life notoriety by the media for their actions.

But at these suggestions, gun control advocates generally return full circle to that flawed argument with which we began -- that fewer guns and more gun control are the answer to curtail murder in America.  It's as if the above-mentioned data roundly disproving the claim never existed, and they go on arguing their hypothesis in other ways, like comparing this place that has gun control to that place that doesn't.

For example, gun-control advocates are very quick to point out that England has a lower murder rate than America and extremely restrictive gun control laws.  Notably absent from these keen observations, however, is the multitude of comparisons where the opposite is true, such as a comparison between America and, say, Russia, which has extremely strict gun control laws and few guns, but a murder rate that eclipses our own.

Of course, they generally neglect to use domestic examples, too, and with good reason -- the opposite of their contention is almost invariably true in domestic comparisons.  Urban areas, for example, typically have stricter gun control laws and lower rates of gun ownership than rural areas, yet they have much higher murder rates.  And then there is the glaring example of Obama's hometown, Chicago, which proudly touts its extremely progressive gun control laws while owning the highest murder rate in the nation.  But that doesn't stop the devout masses from cheering in passionate agreement when the president suggests, with a repetitive cadence that would make Goebbels proud, that Chicago-style gun regulation be applied federally.

The implication of such ignorance is too grave to find any humor in that sad irony. 

The hypothesis we should be discussing is that cultural factors are much more convincing variables correlating to murder rates.  Take the consideration that widespread poverty and unemployment could have potentially contributed to the spike in murder rates in the late seventies, or that the proliferation of a culture of gang violence likely contributed to the sustained high murder rates in the early nineties, or the possibility that our current culture of celebrity and sensationalized violence is perhaps now leading to isolated spree-killing endeavors, if one is to take Adam Lanza's supposed motive into consideration.

If there is to be any progress in the gun control "debate," America must forego the commonly held fallacy that gun regulations upon the law-abiding will regulate the lawless.  Until then, we may be doomed to have reasonable arguments against gun control fall on deaf ears.

William Sullivan blogs at http://politicalpalaverblog.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter.

It is a bit misleading to call our current national discussion about gun control a "debate."  Simply put, politicians and the media directing the discussion aren't interested in evidence or conclusions contrary to those that they have a vested interest in disseminating.  They are interested merely in silencing any opposition, and they rely on their devoted acolytes to continue empowering them to do so.

It's about belief for these acolytes, not proof.  Because they believe in the moral imperative, whether or not facts support their beliefs is unimportant.  They just blindly accept that what they've been told is true, and they look upon those who believe otherwise as dangerous heretics.

Yet in a somewhat intellectually quixotic self-perception, these gun-control zealots declare themselves the rational thinkers on the subject and believe their conclusions infallible, despite the fact that the hypotheses to which they are so devoted are rarely measured in the crucible of evidence.

Consider the most basic of their arguments -- that access to guns needs to be restricted by the government, because access to guns is the most convincing variable that determines murder rates in our society.  Let's just briefly weigh that assertion in the balance, and see how well it holds up to scrutiny. 

In 1960, data suggests that there were roughly 77.5 million guns owned by a population of just over 179 million, meaning that there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.3 guns per 10 Americans.  In that year, the murder rate in America was roughly 5.1 per 100,000 Americans. 

Fast-forward to 2009.  According to a Congressional Research Service report by William J. Krouse, 310 million guns were owned by Americans in that year by a population estimated to be 307 million, meaning there were probably more guns in America than there were Americans.

Now pause a moment, and remember that gun-control advocates contend that there exists a positive correlation between the number of readily accessible guns and the number of murders.  If true, we might expect such a surge in gun ownership (and guns that are owned are as readily accessible as guns get) to yield a much higher murder rate.  But in fact, the murder rate was lower in 2009 than in 1960 -- at 5.0 per 100,000 Americans.   

Such inconsistency and an obviously flawed hypothesis might send a reasonable person back to the drawing board.  But gun control zealots just double down and get more specific.  Currently, the fashionable tactic is to appear a bit centrist by suggesting that it's not all guns or the Second Amendment that they oppose, but rather just those scary looking semi-automatic guns people call "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines.  No one needs that kind of gun, and no one needs to fire that many bullets, they argue.

In terms of the practical purpose of the Second Amendment -- that is, the preservation of individual liberty -- it should be obvious, as I have argued before, why such weapons and such payloads are essential, and explicit in the verbiage of the Second Amendment is unquestionable proof that the federal government has no legal right to infringe upon a law-abiding American's right to own them.  But since it is a common objection among the left that supporters of gun rights cling to their archaic Constitution (or that "little book," as Piers Morgan calls it), rather than just accepting the idea that a new assault weapons ban would curtail violence, let's examine a bit of data surrounding their claim.

That data can tell a pretty simple story to those willing to hear it.  The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, and in that year, the murder rate was 5.5 per 100,000 Americans.  In 2011, that murder rate had declined to 4.7 per 100,000 Americans, which, incidentally, is the lowest murder rate in nearly four decades.  If the laws banning "assault weapons" were so incredibly effective, why have murder rates significantly fallen since it expired?  Not only did the federal government lift laws restricting "assault weapons," but since then, many states expanded "concealed carry" rights, meaning that guns were all the more prevalent in public life during these years, with both criminals and the law-abiding being totally aware of that fact -- and the result was a lower murder rate.

This is not to say the data shows a constant trend opposite of the one that gun control advocates suggest.  Murder rates have vacillated in big swings throughout the years, sometimes rising, sometimes falling, despite the fact that gun ownership has steadily increased.  Therefore, we must accept that more guns don't always result in less murder, either, in terms of the data.  The point, however, is that the primary hypotheses that are the foundation of current gun control arguments are fatally flawed.  Neither the presence of guns (whether semi-automatic or outfitted with a large payload) nor the laws restricting them (which lawless murderers invariably ignore) are the most convincing variable that determines rates of murder in this country.    

It would certainly be valuable to have a discussion about how we can best reduce incidents of murder in America.  But it should be a discussion based upon reason, not emotional agendas to rob Americans of their fundamental liberties based upon specious and unsubstantiated arguments.  There are far more convincing variables to explain high rates of murder, whether we're talking about large quantities of unheralded murders or isolated and sensationalized killing sprees.  And regarding the latter, considering that it has recently surfaced that Adam Lanza's likely motivation for the massacre in Newtown was to surpass Oslo spree-killer Anders Breivik in notoriety, it might make sense that we examine the practical impact of the self-centered nature of our culture that values celebrity above all things.  And maybe it is a good idea to address the media's sensationalism of the actions of demented spree-killers like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Loughner, Anders Breivik, and Aurora shooter James Holmes, all of whom were granted larger-than-life notoriety by the media for their actions.

But at these suggestions, gun control advocates generally return full circle to that flawed argument with which we began -- that fewer guns and more gun control are the answer to curtail murder in America.  It's as if the above-mentioned data roundly disproving the claim never existed, and they go on arguing their hypothesis in other ways, like comparing this place that has gun control to that place that doesn't.

For example, gun-control advocates are very quick to point out that England has a lower murder rate than America and extremely restrictive gun control laws.  Notably absent from these keen observations, however, is the multitude of comparisons where the opposite is true, such as a comparison between America and, say, Russia, which has extremely strict gun control laws and few guns, but a murder rate that eclipses our own.

Of course, they generally neglect to use domestic examples, too, and with good reason -- the opposite of their contention is almost invariably true in domestic comparisons.  Urban areas, for example, typically have stricter gun control laws and lower rates of gun ownership than rural areas, yet they have much higher murder rates.  And then there is the glaring example of Obama's hometown, Chicago, which proudly touts its extremely progressive gun control laws while owning the highest murder rate in the nation.  But that doesn't stop the devout masses from cheering in passionate agreement when the president suggests, with a repetitive cadence that would make Goebbels proud, that Chicago-style gun regulation be applied federally.

The implication of such ignorance is too grave to find any humor in that sad irony. 

The hypothesis we should be discussing is that cultural factors are much more convincing variables correlating to murder rates.  Take the consideration that widespread poverty and unemployment could have potentially contributed to the spike in murder rates in the late seventies, or that the proliferation of a culture of gang violence likely contributed to the sustained high murder rates in the early nineties, or the possibility that our current culture of celebrity and sensationalized violence is perhaps now leading to isolated spree-killing endeavors, if one is to take Adam Lanza's supposed motive into consideration.

If there is to be any progress in the gun control "debate," America must forego the commonly held fallacy that gun regulations upon the law-abiding will regulate the lawless.  Until then, we may be doomed to have reasonable arguments against gun control fall on deaf ears.

William Sullivan blogs at http://politicalpalaverblog.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter.