26 June 2017
Guns: The Problem, or the Solution?
Guns kill people. That statement is an irrefutable fact. Every year, hundreds of people in the United States, and thousands of individuals across the globe are killed or injured by firearms. The reasons for these deaths often vary, but outside of actual pitched armed conflict or war, the bulk of gun deaths are initiated by criminal elements. “Bad guys with guns” populate the vast majority of gun death statistics within the United States each year, and I agree with nearly everyone that these deaths are absolutely preventable. Where I break step with most, however, is method of that prevention. While the gun causes death and destruction, in the world we live in, where guns will never go away, and where criminals will always attempt to subject unwilling victims to major physical and psychological trauma for their own personal gain, the answer to combatting gun violence is in fact more guns, and through the use of respected international and domestic statistics, we can clearly prove this.
More guns, you say? How does that make any sense? To the normal person, applying more guns to a situation where guns seem to be the problem would appear to be absolute madness. The trick is to not think of the actual object, (in this case the gun itself), but rather the vehicle upon which that object is inserted into the situation. In short, criminals with guns are bad, but good people with guns is good, therefore introducing more of the latter leads to drastic reductions of the former. First, we can view the American perspective on this theory. In 2013, over 21 million “NICS checks” were performed for new firearms purchases. NICS stands for National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and a “NICS check” is performed every time someone purchases a gun from a store through legal means. This number beat the previous years sales by over 1.5 million. Furthermore, a single NICS check can be used for multiple gun purchases, and in many states, including Kentucky, gun purchasers who already hold a concealed carry permit are exempted from performing these checks, so it’s safe to assume that close to 30 million new guns were introduced into the U.S. in that year, a record high, which has been repeatedly broken every year after that. Using the standard media narrative that “more guns equal more crime”, we would assume that pushing 30 million new guns into the system would correspond with a massive increase in gun related crime, but in fact this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations released their Semiannual Crime Statistics for 2014, (immediately following the massive glut of gun purchases), and in this release, we see that “All offenses in the violent crime category . . . showed decreases . . . The number of murders declined 6 percent, the number of rapes . . . declined 10.1 percent, aggravated assaults decreased 1.6 percent, and robbery offenses decreased 10.3 percent” (FBI). The release continues to declare that not only did overall numbers of violent crimes decrease, but they decreased in a geographically proportional manner, “Violent crime declined in each of the nation’s four regions. The largest decrease, 7.6 percent was noted in the Midwest, followed by 6.6 percent in the Northeast, 3 percent in the South, and 2.7 percent in the West.”, (FBI). As scientists often repeat, “correlation doesn’t equal causation”, but for the person who believes less guns equals less crime, these numbers just don’t add up.
While the numbers in the United States seem to paint a clear picture supporting my supposition, we can also look abroad and see similar trends. The European continent is often touted by anti-gun politicians and media outlets as a shining example of gun bans “working”, which when viewed statistically, couldn’t be any further from the truth. My initial point of contention with comparing two developed nation states is fairly pedantic, but relevant nonetheless. The entire argument, in my opinion, is based on a flawed premise, which is the idea that both populations are identical in any way. While the citizens of the United States are ultimately human just like the people of Europe, and we all commonly live in developed, “global north” nations with relative government and economic stability, that’s where almost all common traits end. Comparing the two places on a common issue is made impossible by the wildly varying populations and general views on individual rights and privileges. While Europe consists of largely hegemonic racial groups, who come from a shared societal background of monarchs, tyrants and peasant classes, the United States continues to be a massive melting pot of cultures. Not only are we largely culturally diverse, but our very history is forged in recent revolution against the very monarchial systems that subjugated Europeans for years, and thus our views on individual rights couldn’t be any more different.
Casting aside that tangential tirade, we can look to Harvard University itself, often seen as a bastion of scholarly tradition and independent studies, to shed some light on the numbers that globally refute the “less guns less crime” theory. As an experiment in extremes, we will look at the former Soviet Union to show us an excellent example of this refutation, as they underwent a massive effort to remove guns from the hands of the normal citizenry, “So successful was that regime that few Russian civilians now have firearms and very few murders involve them. Yet, manifest success in keeping its people disarmed did not prevent the Soviet Union from having far and away the highest murder rate in the developed world. . . While American rates stabilized and then steeply declined, however, Russian murder increased so drastically that by the early 1990s the Russian rate was three times higher than that of the United States.” (Kates/Mauser 651). It’s an interesting view into what actually happens when all guns are removed from the hands of law abiding citizens. Criminals will still commit crimes, as laws that effect guns simply provide more laws for the criminal to ignore completely or break. Criminals are typically labeled as such because of their disdain of written laws, and thus by creating more laws to attempt to limit their capabilities, all you really do is create an environment where only the criminal has the gun, and normal citizens are left completely defenseless, and at their will.
The study doesn’t stop at Soviet Russia, however. In addition to displaying numbers from the entirety of the European continent which all demonstrate the same information, (more guns equal less crime), it also magnifies specific incidents within the United Kingdom, in comparison to the United States. “’data on firearms ownership by constabulary area in England,’ like data from the United States, show ‘a negative correlation,’ that is, ‘where firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest.’” (Kates/Mauser 653). Again, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but these numbers begin to make you wonder, maybe the common narrative is wrong. Just maybe, the armed, law abiding citizen acts as a deterrent to armed criminality, and once you remove their ability to defend themselves, they become much more likely to become victims.
Breaking step from simple facts, we can even look towards emotion to demonstrate the worth of a legally armed and responsible citizenry in the face of violent tragedy. Following a recent school shooting in Oregon, most citizens polled by The New York Times said that the event had opened their eyes to their inherent lack of preparation when faced with an armed and determined attacker, an attacker who, ignoring all written laws, armed himself regardless and slaughtered innocent people to further his own ideology. As one citizen said, “’It’s opened my eyes,’ said Mr. Vicari, 19. ‘I want to have a gun in the house to protect myself, to protect the people I’m with. I’m sure I’ll have a normal life and never have to go through anything like this, but I want to be sure.’” (Healy/Turkewitz). Often, it takes a terrible event to make people realize how precarious our safe society really is. While it’s not advisable to live your whole life in fear, it seems silly to simply walk through life hoping for the best case situation. It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragic event to make one realize the importance of preparedness, but had someone been armed with both the knowledge and ability to act, and the equipment to do so, those 9 deaths at a community college in Oregon could have possibly been averted.
A clear example of anti-gun laws endorsing violent crime comes from Suzanna Hupp, who survived a mass shooting event in a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, and witnessed the death of her parents by the shooter. Hupp was a concealed carry permit holder, and often carried her handgun in her purse, but due to Texas laws which, at the time, didn’t allow concealed carry, she had begun to leave her gun in her car out of fear of breaking the law. On a fateful day in 1991, while eating with her parents at Luby’s, an armed man drove his vehicle into the building and began firing into the patrons, killing twenty three people, including Hupp’s parents. She says, “My purse was on the floor next to me. I actually reached for it. I used to carry that gun in my purse, but I’d taken it out about three months earlier, leaving it in my car, because I was concerned about losing my license to practice as a chiropractor. I was afraid that if I got caught, I’d go to jail. So my gun was a hundred yards away, completely useless.” (Hupp 252). Had the law been different, and had Hupp been able to carry her gun with her on that day, she could have potentially stopped the shooter from killing those 23 people. She could have potentially saved the lives of her parents, who she watched die in front of her. The shooter ultimately pulled the trigger, but laws preventing the carry of concealed guns is what allowed that man to cause such massive destruction. Most people will never be affected by violent crime, and for that we are all surely thankful, but by allowing people to be prepared in case that event ever does occur, we do society a massive favor, by keeping the criminals in fear as opposed to the other way around. Don’t help them out by making their victims even easier targets. More guns equal less crime, and it’s proven every single day.
Healy, Jack. Turkewitz, Julie. “Common Response After Killings in Oregon: ‘I Want to Have a
Gun’” The New York Times, 7 October 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/us/
Oregon-roseburg-shooting-umpqua-community-college.html?_r=2. Accessed 25 June
Hupp, Suzanna. “My Gun Was 100 Yards Away, Completely Useless.” America Now, 12th ed,
Edited by Robert Atwan, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017, 251-254.
Kates, Don B.. Mauser, Gary. “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review
of International and Some Domestic Evidence” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy,
Volume 30, 2007, http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_Kates
Mauseronline.pdf. Accessed 25 June 2017.
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations. FBI Releases Preliminary Semiannual Crime Statistics for
2014, 26 January 2015, https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-releases-
Preliminary-semiannual-crime-statistics-for-2014. Accessed 25 June 2017.