Why Gun Control Doesn’t Work

Gun control, not surprisingly, is a very contentious issue among the readers of both this blog and the other blog I write for, Rationally Speaking.  There were two interesting comments on my “The Gun as the Scapegoat” post (thanks for the thought provoking comments Bob and Alexander!).  Anyway, I want to address a couple of the points they brought up.

First off, the phrase “gun control” is nebulous, so I should have been more clear.  In this post I’ll make it crystal clear as to what I meant to take issue with in that last post, i.e., the claim that revoking the right to own a gun (of any type) is a solution to this cultural problem we Americans have been dealing with.

Here’s something that I think most of us will agree on: a psychopath with a gun can cause more damage than a psychopath with a knife.  However, a psychopath with bleach has the potential to create more damage than a psychopath with guns.  Right now bleach is legal, but I’m sure a psychopath could find a way to poison and kill a large number of people with it at a school cafeteria or something.  Should we take preventive measures and ban bleach too?  Like guns, I don’t regularly use bleach so I would only be opposed to banning it for reasons of principle.

What many people seem to forget is that simply making something illegal doesn’t necessarily mean it will remove it from society.  Drugs are the perfect example.  What reason do we have to believe that guns will be any different?  For what it’s worth, I have yet to hear a good answer to this question.

One of my main points is that imposing gun restrictions will only fatten the tails.  In other words, when you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns and they will be able to cause more harm with those guns.  Think about it this way: one psychopath on a train can cause much more harm when he is the only one with a gun than can one psychopath on a train in which everyone has a gun.

Economic logic tells us that increasing the cost of committing a crime will decrease the amount of crime we see.  That sounds simple enough, right?  Therefore when a criminal’s potential victims are armed the cost of committing a crime increases greatly (criminals, like the rest of us, don’t want to get shot).  However, many people aren’t persuaded by this logic (sadly) and claim that there is no evidence that guns actually reduce crime.  They are, however, mistaken.  The book More Guns, Less Crime is loaded with evidence showing that more guns actually cause less crime (by no means do I agree with everything in the book though.)

One of my main concerns with *all* of the empirical work on guns and gun control is this: Is it really possible to scientifically know if gun control laws (or the number of concealed weapon permits issued) reduce crime?  One can cherry pick the data to get whatever result they want (as people from both sides have done).  One problem for the anti-gun folks, though, is that it’s very difficult to capture every instance in which a gun prevented a crime — how do you measure such a thing?  When talking about guns and gun control, I think economic logic is more important than are dubious (at best) statistical analyses.  In other words, much of the evidence supporting the claim that more guns cause less crime is opaque to those doing the analysis.

There is also the issue of the relatively low amount of accidental deaths that occur from guns compared to bathtubs, etc that I brought up in my last post.  Many pro-gun control advocates claim this is an irrelevant point, which it is, unless of course the person is also making the claim that it’s a reason to ban guns (I’m amazed at how often I see this mistake).  If an individual takes the position that we should make illegal anything that accidentally kills people, as many pro-gun control advocates seem to be tacitly suggesting, then I’m going to suggest that they need to take that position to its logical conclusion (i.e, ban bathtubs too).  Here’s my take: something shouldn’t be banned simply because some small percentage of people accidentally die from it — there are costs and benefits to everything.

In the end, I think it’s important to remember that laws don’t stop evil people from doing evil things.  The only answer to this cultural problem I can come up with has a Nietzschean ring to it, i.e., we need to remove the evil people, or at least limit their ability to cause harm.  Hayek was right — top-down solutions, like gun control, don’t work.  Given the fundamental essence of human nature, I can’t help but believe that the best of all possible solutions to this problem will not also be a practical one.  Please correct me if you think I’m wrong.

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6 Comments on “Why Gun Control Doesn’t Work”

  1. JosephManuel says:

    Gun control or not, issue is am I willing to be killed rather than kill. We still believe in might,muscle, size, aggression, assertiveness since it has always worked in the past, the typical male macho response. Unfortunately women too have come to take the same position. Should we get stuck with history? Are you ready to surrender your gun to some charity which woks to promote non-violence? 

  2. Kirill Reztsov says:

    So why do many Western countries e.g. Australia, UK have strict gun controls and lower crime than the US?

    • There goes the cherry-picking of statistics referred to in the article. Kirill, the answer to your question is simple. They do not have lower crime rates than the U.S.

      If you compare them in ratio, their violent crime rates are far higher, though the gun crime rate is lower. In fact, when compared by rational percentage, the deaths due to violent crime resulting from knives and stabbings in those countries are comparable to our rates of death via automobile, and automobiles kill far more people in America than guns do.

      This is why the author pointed out that statistics can be skewed and are therefore unreliable for a logical point, and he is correct. If you meant to accost me with a bat, and you noticed that I was carrying a knife, would you think twice?

  3. jbr says:

    The analogy with bathtubs is not a good one. Death by bathtubs are mainly due to accidents and mistakes made by the person who suffers the accident. There is no danger to someone else. If you are afraid of bathtubs, you are free to not install them at your home. I am not at risk of bathtub accidents because my neighbor has a bathtub and is mentally unstable. I am actually surprised that a smart person like you would make this analogy between bathtubs and guns or mcdonalds and guns. Again, going to mcdonalds is my choice and it doesn’t hurt me if someone else decides to go there.

    The problems with guns in society is how do I protect myself or my kid from mentally ill people with easy access to guns? I’m not for banning guns, but a strict licensing mechanism like in Australia will help make sure, or at least reduce the ease with which mentally unstable people can get guns. Australia has a record of reduced mass killings since the 90s when they made licensing strict. Adam Lanza would have been easily identified as someone who should not be near a gun.

    The analogy with bleach is more appropriate and is similar to the argument about lead paint in toys of asbestos in housing material. The answer is ‘regulation’ in each of those cases, as it is for guns.

  4. Ian Pollock says:

    Interesting. However, a lot of the calls for regulation I have seen have more to do with banning/severely regulating *semi-automatic* weapons than guns tout court. That seems pretty reasonable to me, for roughly the same reason that there are bans on rocket launchers.

    It seems like your post is only addressing *banning guns.* Granted, some liberals want that. But what about the myriad other policy proposals, such as waiting periods, background checks, better gun education, bans on only certain *types* of guns, etc.? Where do you come down on those?

    • Greg Linster says:

      You are correct, this post was addressed at those who wish to “ban guns” entirely.

      I think we generally agree here, Ian. I too wish it were more difficult for psychopaths to get guns and I believe we can make that happen without necessarily banning guns entirely. Naturally, this means that it will be more difficult for law abiding citizens to get guns too (I’m ok with that as a natural byproduct).

      Finally, I don’t think people should be allowed to own rocket launchers. However, I’m not sure I have a well informed opinion on where to draw the line exactly, but I do think your concern about where we draw the line is an important one.


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