Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION
I.   VIOLENCE: THE DECISIVENESS OF
     SOCIAL FACTORS
II.  ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION
III. DO ORDINARY PEOPLE MURDER?
IV.  MORE GUNS, LESS CRIME?
V.   GEOGRAPHIC, HISTORICAL AND DEMOGRAPHIC
     PATTERNS
     A. Demographic Patterns
     B. Macro-historical Evidence: From the
        Middle Ages to the 20th Century
     C. Later and More Specific Macro-Historical
        Evidence
     D. Geographic Patterns within Nations
     E. Geographic Comparisons: European
        Gun Ownership and Murder Rates
     F. Geographic Comparisons: Gun-Ownership
        and Suicide Rates
CONCLUSION

INTRODUCTION

International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. (1) Unfortunately, such discussions are all too often been afflicted by misconceptions and factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative. It may be useful to begin with a few examples. There is a compound assertion that (a) guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why (b) the United States has by far the highest murder rate. Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, statement (b) is, in fact, false and statement (a) is substantially so.

Since at least 1965, the false assertion that the United States has the industrialized world's highest murder rate has been an artifact of politically motivated Soviet minimization designed to hide the true homicide rates. (2) Since well before that date, the Soviet Union possessed extremely stringent gun controls (3) that were effectuated by a police state apparatus providing stringent enforcement. (4) So successful was that regime that few Russian civilians now have firearms and very few murders involve them. (5) 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. (6) In the 1960s and early 1970s, the gun-less Soviet Union's murder rates paralleled or generally exceeded those of gun-ridden America. 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. Between 1998-2004 (the latest figure available for Russia), Russian murder rates were nearly four times higher than American rates. Similar murder rates also characterize the Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and various other now-independent European nations of the former U.S.S.R. (7) Thus, in the United States and the former Soviet Union transitioning into current-day Russia, "homicide results suggest that where guns are scarce other weapons are substituted in killings." (8) While American gun ownership is quite high, Table I shows many other developed nations (e.g., Norway, Finland, Germany, France, Denmark) with high rates of gun ownership. These countries, however, have murder rates as low or lower than many developed nations in which gun ownership is much rarer. For example, Luxembourg, where handguns are totally banned and ownership of any kind of gun is minimal, had a murder rate nine times higher than Germany in 2002. (9)

The same pattern appears when comparisons of violence to gun ownership are made within nations. Indeed, "data on firearms ownership by constabulary area in England," like data from the United States, show "a negative correlation," (10) that is, "where firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest." (11) Many different data sets from various kinds of sources are summarized as follows by the leading text:

   [T]here is no consistent significant positive association between
   gun ownership levels and violence rates: across (1)
   time within the United States, (2) U. …