Sunday, August 26, 2007

Less Guns, More Bias

This article is a nice study in the subconscious bias against guns that makes gun control laws possible. It concerns the recent fatal shooting of an 11-year-old boy in England that has "shocked" the country. Naturally the press can't help but mention that the reason drive-bys on 11-year-olds in Britain are "shocking" is because the country has very strict handgun control laws:


Britain outlawed the possession of handguns in 1997 in response to the massacre of 16 children, and the country has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world - 0.04 slayings per 100,000 people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey for 2004. The rate is roughly 100 times higher in the United States: 3.42 gun murders per 100,000 people.


Lines like this really make you wonder, sometimes, whether some gun control advocates actually believe that gun control will completely eliminate gun homicide. Why would anyone be "shocked" that ANY violent activity continued to occur after being outlawed? I mean, it's not as though rape is legal, and yet if I'm not mistaken it continues to occur every year, right? If someone tells me that a mugging occurred in my apartment block, I'm hardly going to be "shocked" that muggings continue to occur in the US in spite of the law. "A MUGGING???? NO. FUCKIN. WAY. DUDE. That shit's ILLEGAL!" Riiiiiggggghhhhttttt.... But that's precisely the point: if it doesn't shock anyone that other types of violent crime continue to occur after being banned, why is anyone shocked that someone got killed with a gun in Britain after the 1997 ban on guns?

I think one of the more frustrating things about the gun control debate is that what we might call the Brady camp is pretty disingenuous in their approach. Pressed on the issue, I have no doubt that they would admit that their schemes aren't ever going to eliminate gun crime completely - but they certainly don't mind people getting that impression from their campaigns. For example - take a look at this Brady Center Report on Guns-in-Schools laws. We're barely in the second paragraph when we get this bit of willful naivite:


The Brady Center's new report: No Gun Left Behind: The Gun Lobby's Campaign to Push Guns Into Colleges and Schools blows the whistle on the gun lobby's strategy [of legalizing guns on university campuses] and explains how, far from saving lives, it would dramatically increase gun violence risks to college students and trample on academic freedom. Drugs and alcohol use, plus suicide and mental health issues, all peak for people 18-24. Let's not add guns into that volatile mix.[emphasis in original]


It's as if they honestly think that allowing guns on college campuses would result in the first recorded incident ever of a gun being found in the hands of a suicidal teenager. Please! "Add guns into the mix?" Newsflash, kids: guns are already "in the mix." Legalizing guns on campus doesn't "allow them into the mix" for the first time ever. The strategy is to make sure that it's not just the crazy kids who have them. (Not to mention - how, exactly, does the existence of guns "trample on academic freedom?" They don't get around to addressing that issue until near the end of the article, and when they do, it's comedy. Scroll down and have a look.)

But here's my beef with the article on the gun slaying in the UK:


The rate is roughly 100 times higher in the United States: 3.42 gun murders per 100,000 people.


OK, granted. Gun crime is higher in the US. But surely this isn't the relevant issue. Even if gun control is actually effective at reducing gun crime (which it probably isn't - note that this BBC report on crime in the Midlands, published 7 years after the 1997 handgun ban, opens with the line "Gun crime has doubled in the Midlands in the last 7 years."), so fucking what? Reduction of one privileged category of violent crime is still a long way from eliminating violent crime - and I think most people, given an honest look at the numbers, would prefer to live in a society with a high gun crime rate (since gun crimes are rare in ANY country, including the notorious U. S. A.) if that meant they had a comparatively lower rate of more common violent crimes (like rape, stabbings, assualts, etc.). It is sheer folly to measure the success of a crimes policy ONLY on ONE category of violent crime!!! The truth is that the prevelance of guns prevents other types of crime - the kinds of crime more likely to happen to innocent bystanders, in fact. And indeed, the overall violent crime rate in the UK is MUCH higher than that in the US. You are, for example, much more likely to be assaulted, robbed, have your car stolen or your house broken into in the UK than in the US, and roughly equally likely to be raped. For my part, I'll take my chances with gun crime. The current gun homicide rate in the US is 3.5 per 100,000. That's 0.0035% of the population. You could, if you liked, shave a bit off of that and go with the UK's rate, which puts your chances of being killed by a gun at 0.00004%, if you really wanted - but you're only going from "vanishingly small" to "vanishingly small." In exchange for this, you would dramatically increase your risk of being assaulted, mugged, having your car stolen or your house broken into - things that are already significantly more likely to happen to you in the US than getting killed by a gun. If this is your idea of an intelligent tradeoff, I have some economics classes I'd like to recommend you take.

Historically speaking, the UK has always had a much lower crime rate than the US. For the first time in history, this is no longer true. Though the homicide rate in the US remains higher, and though the rape rate in both countries is roughly at par, other categories of violent crime are now more prevelant in the UK than the US. More importantly, the overall US crimerate is falling dramatically and has been since the end of the 1980s while the crime rate in the UK gets worse year-by-year. This is in spite of British guns laws.

I said "in spite of." I actually suspect it's (at least partly) "because of." And I further suspect that it's no mere coincidence that the US crime rate started to fall just as the trend of issuing concealed carry permits took off.

The bottom line is this: the shock value of guns is all the gun control lobby has going for it. Without sensational emotional appeals to people's sense of fear at seeing a gun, they've nothing to go on. For whatever reasons, the drive-by shooting of a kid in a playground makes the national news and has everyone "shocked" and "crying," whereas the gangrape of a girl in her own home during a robbery doesn't. This is extremely fortunate for the gun control lobby. It is considerably less fortunate for the rest of us, who have a more realistic sense of the word "safety" that includes freedom from all types of violent attack that could befall us, and not just the ones that make for good headlines.

I hope the people who called for gun control after the Virginia Tech shooting are paying attention to this story. The message is simple: gun control will NOT eliminate such incidents, and you are a complete blathering idiot if you expect it to. What gun control will do is give the rest of us absolutely no way to defend ourselves against such things. No thanks.

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