Actually, Guns Do Kill People

The staggering toll of young lives taken by a gunman at the Utoya youth camp reminds us all, once again, that guns are the enablers of mass killers.
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All Americans join the world community in mourning the horrific loss of life from the Norway terrorist attacks. We can only imagine the void left in the lives of the victims' families. The staggering toll of young lives taken by a gunman at the Utoya youth camp reminds us all, once again, that guns are the enablers of mass killers.

For those who are quick to argue that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," it is instructive that the Norway killer took many more lives with his guns than with his explosives. Violent individuals intent on inflicting multiple fatalities don't choose knives or baseball bats. With few exceptions, they choose guns.

There are some in the American "gun rights" community who will no doubt use this shooting to assert that Norway's strong gun laws don't work, or to support the National Rifle Association's campaign to make it easier for Americans to carry loaded guns on the streets, and into restaurants, coffee houses, bars, college campuses and other public places. Does this mass shooting in Norway suggest that Western Europe's restrictive gun regulations are futile, while America's practically non-existent gun regulations make us safer?

Such a conclusion approaches absurdity, when we consider some well-established facts. Press reports indicate that as many as 70 young lives may have been taken in the Norwegian youth camp massacre. Whereas that number of shooting deaths in a day is treated as a historic event in Norway, it is less than the death toll from guns every day in America -- which is now in excess of 80. Whereas a mass shooting in Norway is an extraordinary tragedy, described by that nation's prime minister as a "national disaster," it is a regular occurrence in America. Within 48 hours of the Norway shooting, there were at least four mass shootings in our country: six dead at a skating rink in Texas, nine wounded during a fight between teenagers at a birthday party in Central Florida, a 15-year-old killed and eight wounded at an outdoor party near Stockton, California, and seven wounded in a casino shooting near Seattle.

As awful as the Norwegian youth camp shooting was, the average resident of that nation would have difficulty imagining life in a society with gun violence even close to what we experience in America. In 2005, for example, there were 12,352 gun homicides in the U.S. In that same year, Norway had five. The homicide rate in the U.S. is over eight times what it is in Norway because the U.S. rate of homicides with guns is 38 times higher than Norway's.

Norway has a restrictive gun licensing system, with a requirement that a prospective gun owner provide a written statement justifying why he or she wants one and stiff restrictions on how guns are stored. The fact that one gunman, driven by violent fanaticism, was able to get a gun to commit mass murder no more justifies weakening Norway's gun laws than it justifies weakening its law against murder itself. No law is a guarantee against the evil it was passed to prevent. We can say with certainty that Norway, with its strong gun laws, is a far safer place than the U.S., with its weak gun laws and its permissiveness toward carrying guns in public.

It is reasonably certain that the Norway youth camp shootings will lead to determined efforts to further strengthen that nation's gun laws. In contrast, America has suffered through Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Tucson and too many other similar events with little action taken to prevent more tragedies of this kind.

The youth camp shooting is neither a reason to condemn Norway's gun laws, nor to praise our own. Instead, it confirms, once more, that the well-known bumper sticker could not be more wrong. Actually, guns do kill people.

For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009). Visit the Brady Campaign on Facebook.

This blog is also posted on the Brady site.

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