Rather than debating gun control, we should be debating ways to diminish violent crime.

Glock 23

Words matter, President Obama once said.  He’s right.  How we choose words gives a very good insight into our feelings upon the subject under discussion.

In the current debate regarding the Second Amendment, conservatives have made the mistake of ceding oratorical control to the Left.  How?  By accepting the phrase “gun control” as the operative phrase to describe the debate.

Calling the debate “gun control” presupposes that there will be control — i.e., that government control over guns is the end, rather than the means.  The only question remaining in such a debate is how much control the government will ultimately exert over citizens’ guns.

Most people, though, if they thought about it, would say that what they’re really aiming for is “violence minimization.”  If one properly identifies minimizing violence as the goal, the debate changes dramatically.  It forces those participating in the debate to ask, not “how many guns can we take away or how many magazines can we limit?” but, instead, “what approach results in the fewest number of gun deaths or overall violence?”.

When it comes to overall violence, data from the world over easily answers that question.  Those Countries that have extremely strict gun bans also have extremely high violence rates — and those rates have often climbed in direct proportion to the increased gun bans.  England’s experience is the most stunning example.  From the time it imposed limitations on guns so stringent that almost all law-abiding citizens are now disarmed, England has seen its violent crime rate soar, to the point where the number of violent crimes per capita is the highest in the First World:

In the U.K., gun ownership is virtually banned. Even the police force in the U.K. is, for the most part, unarmed. Raw figures show that the UK has a lower homicide rate than the U.S., 1.2 per 100,000 of population in the U.K. versus 4.8 in the U.S. But when it comes to violent crime overall, the UK is a much greater hotbed than the U.S., with 2,034 violent criminal incidents in the U.K. per 100,000 of population versus 486 in the U.S.

Incidentally, when it comes to discussing murders in the United States versus those in England, don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in the fact that England has a lower homicide rate than we do.  It has always had a lower murder rate than America, which is not a surprise given that, until recently, it was a small, homogeneous nation, as compared to the brawling, sprawling frontier that is America.  In addition, it’s a sad fact — one that few have the courage to address — that America’s high gun crime numbers are rooted almost entirely in America’s black community.  If one subtracts that subset of America from the equation, our gun homicide rates are comparable to other majority Caucasian nations.  Comparing American and British murder rates is to compare apples to oranges.

However, comparing British to British murder rates over the period of the gun ban is edifying, since those rates have increased consistently for the first thirteen years after the 1996 gun ban.  They have tapered off again in the last three years, which suggests that the decrease in homicides is unrelated to the 1996 gun ban and may, instead, have more to do with the recession’s effects on England.

England’s violent crime statistics, while shocking, are not unique.  Putting aside anarchic areas (in the Middle East and Africa, for example), there’s a consistent correlation between government interference in private gun ownership and higher violence rates.  Take Australia, for example, a country that the New York Times touts as the example the U.S. should follow when it comes to government gun bans:

The homicide rate in Australia, low in 1996 at 1.9, increased in the three years after their gun ban before dropping to 1.3 in 2007. Regardless, overall, violent crime in Australia has exploded since gun control was imposed, with the sum of violent crime, including sexual assaults, robberies and assaults, increasing about 20% in just 12 years.


Russia and Mexico, two countries that have stringent laws controlling citizen access to guns, are two other countries frequently cited by Second Amendment supporters as proof that government restrictions on guns don’t work.

We really needn’t look so far afield, though, to determine whether people are safest when the government takes guns or when it allows law abiding citizens to hang onto their guns (including guns with high capacity magazines).  Reason.com has assembled a boatload of data showing that in America, as private gun ownership soared over the past 20 years, public violence — including violence in schools — decreased:

1. Violent crime – including violent crime using guns – has dropped massively over the past 20 years.

The violent crime rate - which includes murder, rape, and beatings – is half of what it was in the early 1990s. And the violent crime rate involving the use of weapons has also declined at a similar pace.

2. Mass shootings have not increased in recent years.

Despite terrifying events like Sandy Hook or last summer’s theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, mass shootings are not becoming more frequent. “There is no pattern, there is no increase,” says criminologist James Allen Fox of Northeastern University, who studies the issue. Other data shows that mass killings peaked in 1929.

[snip]

5. “Assault Weapons Bans” Are Generally Ineffective.

While many people are calling for reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons – an arbitrary category of guns that has no clear definition – research shows it would have no effect on crime and violence. “Should it be renewed,” concludes a definitive study, “the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.”

Correlation is not causation, of course, but it’s very hard to avoid looking at the above data (fewer guns and more crime versus more guns and less crime) without coming to the conclusion that, in a nominally Judeo-Christian society with a rule of law, guns add to, rather than subtract from, public safety.

So we’re back at the beginning.  Do we want to debate gun control, which is the current nomenclature of choice,  or do we want to debate lessening violence overall?  The former discussion presupposes government restrictions on gun ownership, with the only question being how much restriction the government can and should impose.  The latter discussion, however, forces people to confront the fact that the best way to lessen violence would be to arm more law-abiding citizens, rather than to leave guns as the exclusive preserve of the criminal and the insane.

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