In my discussions with pro-gun advocates from the conservative right, I have repeatedly come across similar arguments supported by misrepresentations of fact. Although I addressed some of these in my last article on guns, I will readdress and enumerate those assertions, one-by-one, with supporting facts that should be considered.
"More guns equal less crime!"
John Lott Jr. wrote a controversial book titled More Guns, Less Crime that has been debunked by peer review. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center discovered a positive correlation between gun ownership and violence. Since the 1970's crime has been declining with gun ownership in the United States. However, recently gun ownership has been increasing and not surprisingly, violent crime.
The south is the most violent region in the country, and has the highest prevalence of gun carrying. The Johns Hopkins Center For Gun Policy and Research found that expanding conceal carry laws increases aggravated assaults. European countries have strikingly more stringent gun restrictions and less gun violence. Comparatively, 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years have occurred in the US. "The UK has the highest violent crime rate in the world!"
Based on statistics, the UK's violent crime rate is the highest in Europe and is higher than that of the US. However, gun violence in the UK is substantially lower than in the US. There are several potential reasons for the high violent crime including the rise and fall of lead-based paint and leaded petrol. Researchers have linked lead to violent behavior. Another factor could be the UK's judicial system. Many repeat offenders serve shorter prison terms and find themselves back on the streets. There is no evidence however, to suggest that the high violent crime rate in the UK is due to the lack of guns.
"Australia's gun control caused its murder rate to increase!"
"But Chicago is more violent than Houston!"
In the US gun laws are not uniform between or even within states. Chicago has tight gun laws, but the rest of Illinois does not and neither does Indiana. It was found that many of Chicago's guns come from surrounding areas in the state or Indiana. Firearms travel from areas with loose gun laws to those with tight laws. Weak national regulations undermine attempts at gun control everywhere. The number of illegal firearms in circulation is a testament to the inadequacy of national gun laws. Most gun violence occurs with such weapons. There are also other factors that determine gun violence, but the guns themselves cannot be excused.
"But I need my gun for defense! Gun restrictions hurt law abiding citizens!"
John Lott Jr. and professor Gary Kleck, a criminologist, argue that guns are frequently used for self defense. These claims have also been debunked by peer review. A study by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig titled "Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms," found that Kleck's defensive gun use numbers are "far too high" to the point of suggesting bias, as are numbers by similar studies. The National Institute of Justice found that there is even an overestimation in Cook and Ludwig's study. Another study by the Berkley Media Studies Group found similar discrepancies with Kleck's and Lott's defensive gun use claims. According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center a gun in the home is more likely to be used to commit suicide or to threaten or kill an intimate than used to deter an attacker. The Stanford Law Review found More Guns, Less Crime to be lacking in statistical support. Lott has also come under scrutiny for ethics violations regarding his research. There has been doubt cast on whether or not Lott actually conducted his study at all. "But I need a gun because the government might become tyrannical!"
The idea of government corruption is nothing new. The Founders understood that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. They designed the system with checks and balances in order to combat this problem. Constant competition within the bureaucracy and between the three branches would assure no one person or group became too powerful. A testament to the success of this system is the fact that we have seen people like Tom DeLay, Scooter Libby, and Jack Abramoff come and go, and the machinery has kept turning.
There are 456 reported federal agencies in our government. Within each of these there are bureaucracies. What most people do not realize is that the size of government is actually a check on its power rather than a sign of it. It is true that as government grows, so too does the number of regulations, but the more people means more competition, and competition means security.
Still, safeguards against tyranny are not only systemic. America's political culture is one with a deep-rooted, 200 year tradition of democracy. The American people are extremely wary of government infringing on individual liberty which can be traced back to our revolutionary experience. There is no way in our system for one person or party to consolidate power.
This paranoia has increased greatly among right wing groups since the election of President Obama even though he is by no means the first president to support gun control measures. He is different from previous president's in one very superficial way. Given the history of the America's right, promotion for political purposes of fears that Obama is going to take away the guns and become a tyrant is reminiscent of the Southern Strategy.
"But Hitler and Stalin took away the guns and look what happened!" This argument is historically inaccurate. University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt explained in his 2004 paper, Weimar Germany had tougher gun laws than Nazi Germany. Hitler expanded private gun ownership. It is true that Gypsies and Jews were not permitted to own guns, but there is no basis for the belief that these two groups would have stopped the Holocaust had they been armed. If anything, it would have "hastened their demise" according to Robert Spitzer, Chair of SUNY-Cortland's political science department. Hitler was extremely popular among the German people and throughout the world. To suggest that the only thing keeping Hitler in power was control of guns exonerates the many who supported him. The same is true of the Bolsheviks in Soviet Russia: the idea that an armed populace would have stopped Stalin is a fantasy. Like Hitler, Stalin was extremely popular.
"But cars kill more people than guns!"
Yes, but automobiles have a purpose other than killing people. Moreover, we regulate cars, we require seat belts, restrict speed, and require a license and insurance in order to drive. Police nationwide are cracking down on drunk driving with checkpoints. These actions have cut down on fatalities. Before you get a license you have to demonstrate ability to drive.
"But legal gun owners don't commit crimes!"
We covered the fact that the likelihood of homicide increases with a gun in the home. It is true however that the majority of gun crime occurs with illegal guns, but that number, as established, speaks loudly to our weak national gun laws due to interstate gun trafficking. Guns become illegal when they are bought in an area with lax laws and sold in an area with tight laws on the black market. Even then, as the number of legal guns increases, so too does the likelihood of a gun falling into the wrong hands, as shown by the Sandy Hook shooting.
According to the Cook and Ludwig survey, male gun owners in 1994 were two and a half times as likely to be arrested than non gun owners for non-traffic offenses. A Mother Jones report found that the majority of the guns used in mass shootings have been legally purchased. "Criminals will not submit to background checks!"
As established, defensive gun use is extremely rare. People disobey speed limits all the time, but does that really mean we shouldn't have them? Do speed limits do no good?
"But the '94 Assault Weapons Ban did not work!"
Aside from assault weapons, large capacity magazines were also outlawed by the ban. While the former only account for a fraction of gun crime, the latter are much more common in murders and mass shootings according to the only formal assessment of the ban. A Mother Jones report revealed that mass shootings have been on the rise, particularly since 2007. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University found that high capacity magazines allow for higher casualties.
It is worth considering that three of the recent mass shootings have involved an AR-15 which was illegal under the ban. "But the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!"
This argument is based more on fantasy than practicality. Columbine High School had an armed guard during the shooting in 1999 and Virginia Tech had its own campus police force, and in neither case did these good guys stop the shooter(s). During the mass shooting in Tucson, AZ, an armed man nearly shot the unarmed individual who disarmed Jared Loughner when he was reloading. Now let's apply the good guy argument to Aurora. Shouting "fire" in a crowded theater is the classic example of endangering others, one can only imagine the catastrophe that would have occurred at the Aurora theater had more people had guns.
"But gun laws in general do not work!"
Aside from the information given above, there is something else to consider before making this claim: Automatic weapons. Automatic weapons are used infrequently in crimes and are well regulated. "But assault weapons aren't frequently used in crimes!"
It is true that most gun violence occurs with handguns, but attacks with assault style weapons have been found to have 54 percent more deaths. "But violent video games are just as responsible for gun murders!"
Video game consumption is higher in other countries. The US is an outlier due to its high levels of gun violence.
"But the Second Amendment is absolute!"
The Supreme Court has ruled that this is false. Even Justice Antonin Scalia has acknowledged that the Second Amendment has limitations. Every other right Americans have has limitations. These include both speech and privacy. While people were busy defending their guns, the government has slowly been encroaching on the Bill of Rights with laws like the PATRIOT Act. "But the NRA represents freedom!"
The biggest problem with today's discussion about gun control is that ideology clouds the facts. People seek confirmation bias on the internet as opposed to forming their opinions based on real information. The NRA spends large amounts of money to skew the debate. But why is the NRA so set on opposing all gun legislation? Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that most gun owners, even those who are members of the NRA, favor tighter gun laws. In the past it has supported gun control measures. Today, the NRA represents gun manufacturers on its board of directors' Nominating Committee. "But...you're wrong. This is a mental health problem, and nothing is going to change!"
Don't shoot the messenger. Guns give people a sense of power and in the wrong hands that is a deadly combination. There is no question that poverty, a poor mental health system, drugs, and gang activity play roles in this issue; the problem of gun control is multifaceted. But, part of the solution must be tighter enforcement and tighter regulation.
The tide is turning in spite of the NRA's efforts. Popular support for gun control will eventually win out. Two-thirds of Americans favor tighter gun laws. If Congress does not act, there is reason to believe that there will be political ramifications. Every day people are killed by guns, legal and illegal.