Sam Holstein

Banning Guns In the US Won’t Fix Anything

Banning Guns In the US Won’t Fix Anything

As someone who’s interested in solid statistical research and clear critical thinking, I’ve found gun rights to be one of the most difficult political issues I’ve ever thought through. I have a hard time forming an opinion on the subject because it is viciously hard to find useful data. Everything on this subject is presented in a clearly slanted way, such that it takes a keen eye and quite a bit of research to tease the signal out of the noise.

In this article, I will outline the ways various interest groups on the left and the right mislead us into aligning with their agenda.

Examining the Effect of Firearm Availability on Homicide Rates

When arguing for more restrictive gun control policies, progressive journalists will cite the scary-sounding “The US has the highest number of gun violence incidents of any wealthy nation!” Which is true. The US gun homicide rate is 26x that of other countries.

But even so, this is a progressive mislead. Why? Because the goal isn’t to reduce gun homicides, it’s to reduce homicides. Of course banning guns reduces gun homicides! Duh. But as the right correctly points out, if less restrictive gun policies result in fewer total homicides, then less restrictive gun policies are clearly the way to go.

So the question becomes, “Do gun bans reduce homicides?”

Well, as it turns out, that’s pretty easy to answer.

“As it turns out, though, in the United States and the rest of the developed world, total murder and suicide rates, from all causes, do not increase with rates of gun ownership — or drop under tougher gun laws [sources: MoyerLiptak].”

Do Countries With Stricter Gun Laws Really Have Fewer Homicides?
How Stuff Works

So we can go ahead and throw out the notion of a federal ban on US firearms right now. Not only would it require a constitutional amendment that would never pass, but it also wouldn’t even work.

The author goes on to explain several key relationships:

  1. Gun bans don’t guarantee a safer country, as the Soviet Union had a hilariously high homicide rate despite a complete ban.
  2. Gun proliferation doesn’t lead to crime, as “Norway, Finland, Germany, France, and Denmark, all countries with heavy gun ownership, have a history of low murder rates.”
  3. It is in the US specifically that gun availability is correlated with the homicide rate. In the US, on a state-by-state basis, tightening firearm restrictions is correlated with a drop in homicides.

A 2019 study led by Boston University researchers found that states that went beyond the federal standards and imposed universal background checks had a nearly 15 percent lower rate of homicides than states that allowed loopholes for private gun sales. Additionally, tightening restrictions to ban gun purchases by people convicted of misdemeanors involving violence — as opposed to more serious felonies that would cause a rejection by the federal standard — had an even bigger 18 percent drop in the homicide rate. The researchers, however, cautioned that additional studies would be required to determine if the declines were caused by the stricter laws [source: BU].

Forgive me for not having the research on hand, but I know from previous research on another matter that laws preventing men who have domestic protection orders against them from obtaining firearms drastically reduce the number of women who are victims of homicide from intimate partners. So blocking the firearms purchase of anyone convicted of domestic violence (through such background checks) is another obvious way to drop our homicide rate.

There are probably many more policy-specific interventions that have been specifically shown to reduce the homicide rate. It will take scientifically-minded, non-ideologically-driven people to ferret these out and identify these relationships. For now, it’s good enough for me to know that a total ban is a silly idea and that we need to examine gun ownership on a policy-by-policy basis.

Examining Suicides by Firearms

People don’t really give this one a lot of attention, but half of all gun deaths in the US are suicides by firearm. This is especially pertinent for me and all those diagnosed with personality disorders, as the rate of death by suicide for people with personality disorders is close to 10%.

The availability of firearms is strongly linked to suicide risk. Non-firearm suicide rates are about the same in every state, but in states where there are more firearms, there are more firearm suicides, period. Some people have suggested a third causality factor, but the evidence isn’t strong for these hypotheses.

Doesn’t get much clearer than that, folks.

What can we do about this?

The solution seems obvious — ban anyone with a history of suicidal ideation from gun ownership — but that quickly becomes thorny.

History is also rife with examples of registries of mentally ill people that became a problem, such as that time German enthusiast Adolf Hitler had a bunch rounded up. Any policy that begins with “Reporting every mentally ill person” tends to end with “Oppressing or killing every mentally ill person.”

Nevertheless, this is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed. 70% of people who attempt suicide never make another attempt, implying they are ultimately glad they didn’t succeed, making it even more of a tragedy that suicide attempts by firearm are so effective. (Only 5% of first attempters ever go on to die by suicide).

If someone in your household struggles with any kind of mental illness, you shouldn’t have guns in your home. If you absolutely must, they should stay locked up at all times with the precision of a bank vault. Your loved ones’ lives hang in the balance.

Examining Accidental Firearm Deaths

In 2020, only 1.1% of all US deaths by firearm were accidental. The idea that your gun-loving husband might kill you or a friend or himself on accident, or that your children will get into the guns, is a shocking and alarming mental picture, but statistically speaking, it’s unlikely. (As long as you keep them in a safe, that is).

What’s more, these probably can’t be eliminated. No matter how good a policy is, it can’t be perfect.

And the comparatively low rate of accidental firearms deaths does not mean we should restrict firearm ownership.

I understand the fear of accidental firearm violence. One of my great-uncles died in a firearm accident before I was born, and it bred a fear of firearms in my entire family. But that emotional association doesn’t actually make it likely.