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14 Arguments for Gun Control

Dr. Thomas Swan studied cognition and culture at Queen's University Belfast. He enjoys exploring the interplay between politics and culture.

Why Argue for Gun Control?

The issue of gun control concerns whether firearms should be banned or significantly restricted from public use. It is a divisive idea that is particularly contentious in the United States where the Constitution grants the use of all forms of weaponry. As a result, firearms are present in about 40% of American households.

One argument for gun control suggests a potential link between gun ownership and the murder rate (murders per 100,000 people) which, in the U.S. is about three times higher than all other industrialized nations. Furthermore, while other countries see firearms used in about 15% of murders, victims in the U.S. are shot in 68% of cases.

Recent UNODC international statistics for murder and firearm homicide rates for a wide selection of industrialized nations.

Recent UNODC international statistics for murder and firearm homicide rates for a wide selection of industrialized nations.

These statistics suggest legal firearms could be a factor in the high U.S. murder rate. Conversely, they could indicate that Americans are just a very murderous people. Very few people would agree with the second possibility.

Arguments For and Against Gun Control

This article will investigate the arguments for gun control by setting up a mock debate between pro-gun (bold text) and anti-gun supporters. International murder rates and crime rates will be used to extract the key points in this ongoing debate.

"Lots of countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Iraq and South Africa have higher murder rates than the U.S."

To compare the U.S. with second and third world countries that contain powerful drugs cartels, mafias, or militias; that experience racially or religiously aggravated civil or external wars; or that are stricken with poverty, famine, or epidemics, is to make the anti-gun supporter's point for him/her. America is a first world, industrialized country with none of the above problems. The only legitimate comparison is with countries that fit the same category.

"Crime is higher in Europe than in America."

Some European countries (UK, Finland) have higher crime rates than the U.S., but others (Germany, France) do not. With roughly the same crime rate, it is surprising that America has three times more murders. What is it that turns crimes into murders? Could it be that if guns are readily available to thieves, drug addicts, jealous lovers, etc., this will turn many crimes (ones that would be non-lethal if firearms were not involved) into murders?

"Switzerland has lots of guns but they don’t have many murders."

Switzerland has very low levels of crime as they are an extremely rich, developed nation with low levels of poverty. With a low crime rate, it not possible for their murder rate to be high. However, if the previous rebuttal is correct, we would expect more of their crimes to escalate to murders. Indeed, like America, we find that a large percentage of the crimes in Switzerland are murders.

The positive correlation between crimes that are murders, and gun ownership. Crime and Murder rates from the UNODC (see earlier citation). Gun ownership statistics from:

The positive correlation between crimes that are murders, and gun ownership. Crime and Murder rates from the UNODC (see earlier citation). Gun ownership statistics from:

This internationally consistent correlation between the percentage of crimes that are murders and levels of gun ownership is a key finding of the present work. There will be other factors that could improve the correlation, such as population density, climate, poverty, police effectiveness, and the harshness of criminal justice, but even without these factors, the correlation is clear.

"States enforcing gun control in the U.S.A have higher murder rates than states that allow people to freely own firearms."

This is one of many deceptive arguments against gun control. No reference is made to the murder rate prior to the introduction of firearm control laws. A high murder rate is probably why the laws were passed in the first place. It is irrelevant if the rate remains high when compared with a stretch of desert in Nevada; it is the change from previous levels that is important.

"Gun control has not significantly reduced the murder rate in states that use it."

This is debatable. However, state borders are not enforced by authorities and do not have detection equipment to prevent the trafficking of illegal weaponry. The only firearm control that is in any way effective comes with the deterrent presented by national borders.

"The murder rate in the U.K. increased despite gun control laws."

Gun control was enforced in the U.K. in 1997 and there was a highly publicized increase in the U.K. murder rate during 2003. However, pro-gun advocates fail to mention the 215 murders that were added to the results in that year upon discovery of serial killer Harold Shipman’s crimes. This accounts for all of the difference from the previous year. More recent statistics show the UK murder rate to be falling.

The UK murder rate before and after firearm control.

The UK murder rate before and after firearm control.

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"Guns are needed for self-defense."

Compared with other developed nations you are three times more likely to be murdered in the U.S.A. and 27 times more likely to be shot to death. Clearly people are finding it difficult to defend themselves against guns.

Either armed civilians are not a sufficient deterrent for criminals, or the positive aspects of being able to better defend yourself are outweighed by the increased risks of living in a gun-saturated society. Indeed, criminals will arm themselves to succeed against an armed populace, cancelling out defensive benefits. This arms race may actually reduce your defensive capacity; after all, how do you defend yourself with a gun pointed at you? This isn't the Wild West so you probably can't pull your own gun without being shot.

Furthermore, countries saturated with guns will experience the theft of legally bought guns, or the illegal sale of guns that were bought legally (straw purchases). In 1994 a U.S. National Institute of Justice document stated “About 211,000 handguns and 382,000 long guns were stolen in non-commercial thefts.” Nevertheless, criminals were once regular citizens and could have bought a gun legally without any problem.

"When guns are not available, knives, bombs or home-made guns are used instead."

A person intent on murder will use whatever means available. However, one should expect the murder success rate and the number of attempted murders to decrease when such an efficient weapon is not available. Victims will be able to defend themselves better against a knife and may be able to run to safety. An attacker armed with a knife will need to get close and personal, requiring greater physical force, risk of injury, and tolerance for contact with blood. Without a gun, the attacker may not risk the attack, or the victim may avoid being murdered. Bombs and home-made guns are difficult for most people to construct and are rarely chosen as weapons.

"Minorities are the reason why America has a high murder rate."

African-Americans are often the perpetrators in murders. However, compared with the white population, a much larger percentage of blacks live in poverty. Either we believe that blacks have a biological susceptibility for committing murder, or we accept that if whites were the poorer race, they would be more murderous. Since there is no evidence that blacks are inherently murderous, we can conclude that ethnic diversity is not the reason for America's high murder rate. Similarly, the rate cannot be blamed on poverty levels, which are not higher than other industrialized nations.

Poverty levels for industrialized nations.

Poverty levels for industrialized nations.

"A ban would not take guns out of criminal hands."

Most criminals would hold onto their weapons if a ban was imposed, but it is possible that firearms will disappear from society over time. A gun control law would mean the mere sight of a firearm would be enough for an arrest. Guns would be claimed by the police, turned in by the public, lost, or could fall into disrepair. The numbers would dwindle, but it could take a number of years. The UK murder rate didn't fall significantly for about a decade.

"Guns are a deterrent against break-ins."

Unless you have a sign outside your door saying “gun owner,” then criminals will be undeterred. Additionally, they may be encouraged to steal your firearms to sell on the black market.

"Criminals will still find guns even if they are banned, just look at drugs."

Even in gun controlled countries, there are still shootings. The point is the number of firearm homicides is drastically reduced. This occurs because the acquisition of guns through legal channels (e.g. theft) is cut-short, reducing the supply. The only option is to import, which is riskier and more expensive. The increased price prevents thugs and petty drug-users from being able to easily afford guns, leading to less shootings.

"It is my right to own a gun."

Rights are only rights when the populace agrees they are needed. If a "right" overrides the democratic choice of the people, it is more a tool of oppression than a guarantor of freedom. Any decision on gun control should have the blessing of the majority.

"Guns don’t kill people, people kill people."

People kill people, but people with guns find it much easier.

How to Answer a Pro-Gun Argument

There are numerous arguments for gun control, but the key finding of this article is that for a number of industrialized nations, high numbers of civilian-owned firearms cause more crimes to escalate into murders. There is an internationally reliable correlation between the percentage of crimes that are murders, and levels of gun ownership.

Arguments for gun control do not need to be emotionally appealing; they are borne out in the proper use of international murder rates and crime statistics. The ways in which the pro-gun lobby misuse statistics and manipulate their audience with fallacious arguments against gun control suggests they are desperately seeking evidence to support an indefensible position. Given the findings of this article, it is likely that gun-control could work for many nations, including the United States of America.

What do you think?

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 Thomas Swan

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