According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12,744 people died in 2009 due to alcohol-impaired driving crashes. By simply making alcohol illegal or putting into effect stricter laws, we could have prevented these horrible deaths. We need to demand that our lawmakers change the current policies. Alcohol needs to be banned or at least made to be very difficult to obtain! It aids in killing 10,228 people per year. Why is such a horrible substance so widely available? Why is it that all a person needs to buy whiskey or vodka is an ID? We need to stop selling alcohol. If we don’t, your children could be the next victims of an alcohol-impaired driving crash and die.
This is an argument I have been seeing everywhere lately, albeit replacing the words “alcohol” with “firearms”. Even disregarding the appeal to emotion rhetoric many proponents of stricter gun control have used, which itself is dangerous, one cannot however, disregard the lack of evidence they present.
(A side note: According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 9,146 people died in 2009 from firearm-related homicides. If anything, more laws should also be devoted to alcohol-control and alcohol treatment. But no opinion columns presently are devoted to curbing alcohol use and drunk driving related fatalities and no one on Facebook is writing statuses rallying for alcohol control. I wonder why that is?)
The first argument many proponents of stricter gun control present is that countries with stricter gun control also have less homicides. I would agree that for most countries, especially the ones they use as examples (Japan, Canada, the U.K.), this is the case. However, in countries with strict gun control, like Mexico, where guns owned by citizens are only allowed in the homes and only those authorized by law (e.g. police) can carry guns in public or outside the home, there were 11,309 firearm-related homicides in 2010. However, the population of Mexico is only one-third that of the United States. Yet, they have more firearm-related homicides not only in proportion but also in sheer number. But their gun control laws are also stricter. Interesting.
Although not logical, the assumed premise therefore, is that countries with less strict gun control must be rampant with gun crime. However, Switzerland disproves this claim. According to data published by Aaron Karp (2007), civilians in Switzerland own 3,400,000 guns. The population of Switzerland is only 7,907,000. Proportionally, 43 percent of the population owns a gun. On the other hand, only 29 percept of the population owns a gun in Canada. Yet, only 40 people in Switzerland died from firearm-related homicides in 2010 according to a 2011 Swiss police crime report. In Canada, 173 people died from firearm-related homicides. Proportionally there isn’t a difference, and yet, Canada has much stricter gun control laws and a smaller percentage of the population owns guns.
Many proponents of stricter gun control also use Australia as an example. However, Australia’s history with guns is extremely complicated and cannot be reduced down to stricter gun laws reduced firearm-related deaths. After all, data published by Emily Ogilvie (2000), showed that knives are used three times more likely than guns. Research by Jenny Mouzos in 2003 also shows that 80 percent of confiscated handguns in were never legally purchased or registered in Australia. Stricter gun control in Australia did not also prevent school shootings as demonstrated by the Monash University shooting in 2002, which took place in Melbourne, Australia.
Was stricter gun control what reduced firearm-related deaths in Australia? It is possible but it is also correlational evidence. No evidence has conclusively proved that the strict gun control laws in Australia are the only reason there is a large reduction in firearm-related homicides. To make the argument that Australia’s strict gun control laws demonstrate that if the United States did the same, firearm-related deaths would decrease here is unfounded. After all, Australia is very different from the United States. Geographically, Australia is quite different from the United States. Also, the ethnic make-up of Australia is quite different than that of the Unites States. Furthermore, Australians have a higher life expectancy – by 3.53 more years. Though that itself demonstrates nothing per se, except maybe that they have a higher standard of living, it again lends to the notion that Australia is quite different from the United States.
Will making stricter gun laws in the United States reduce gun crime, specifically firearm-related suicides? It may but no one can and should definitely say it will, though many do. Has evidence proved it will reduce gun crimes? No.
The question, I believe people are asking is not whether or not stricter gun laws in the United States will reduce gun crimes and firearm-related homicides. Firearm-related homicides have occurred in the United States for a very long time. In addition, gang violence constitutes a portion of firearm-related homicides and the number of gang members has increased since 2003 and remained steady, though on a slow decrease. Loud voices, newspaper op-eds and Facebook status have not flooded the airways until quite recently about gun control however. Therefore, I think the question many people are asking is whether or not stricter gun laws will decrease mass shootings, specifically mass public shootings of civilians, especially since firearm-related homicides have remained steady in the United States and have actually decreased since 2005 by 1,012 people over five years.
I believe the overwhelming reason many people are currently asking for and demanding stricter gun laws is because of the rise in mass shootings. I don’t disagree something must be done about this. I do believe mass shootings are a problem that needs to be addressed. However, I do also believe mass shootings, just like other felonious and heinous crimes are symptoms of an ever-large and all-encompassing disease that stricter gun laws cannot cure. They will only serve as a Band-Aid. Stricter gun laws are an easy way out. They don’t require critical thinking but rather serve as a pseudo-logical approach to the problem. We see the correlation between gun control in other countries, albeit we pick and choose only countries that support our beliefs, and think that stricter gun control proves a reduction in gun crime and firearm-related homicide. We forget the old science adage, that “correlation does not prove causation”. We also forget how different these countries that we’re comparing ourselves to, are, from us. We forget that socially, countries like Canada and Australia have better health care coverage, that their crimes overall are lower, not just gun crime. A better question to ask, if we want to reduce firearm-related homicides and gun crime is not “How can we reduced guns and firearm-related homicides?” but rather, “How can we reduce crimes in general?”
Lastly, we need to look at how our society reacts to mass shootings. We immediately yell at lawmakers for succumbing to the lobbying powers of gun groups like the NRA. We get angry at guns, the individuals who used them to kill innocents and lawmakers who support gun advocacy groups. However, we forget that lobbying has been occurring for a while, and not just with gun advocacy groups. Why aren’t we reexamining why we allow special interest groups to lobby to government officials, who should be objective, in the first place? Why don’t we look at the bureaucracy of health care and especially of mental health care, and the percentage of those who need it but actually receive it?
Why don’t we also study carefully the pattern of mass shootings? Paul Mullen, a forensic psychiatrist, says that mass murders in English speaking countries often occur close to one another in time and are often attributed to copycat behavior. The copycat behavior arises due to media sensationalism according to D.P. Phillips, Robert Cialdini, and C. Cramer. Perhaps, if the media changes stops portraying mass murders as infamous celebrities and instead focus on the victims, there may be less people inclined to copy and commit mass murder.
Many solutions are available to us and yet, hardly anyone addresses them. Most people jump on the bandwagon called “Stricter Gun Control”. Most articles I have read are dead set on limiting guns and see that as the only way to reduce mass shootings. However, the evidence they use is correlational and circumstantial at best and doesn’t “fix” the problem. It applies a Band-Aid and doesn’t adequately address social problems. Many are angry and emotional and those emotions can cloud their judgment and inhibit thoughtful and critical thinking. Also, a lot has to do with immediate recourse and in a few weeks and months, less and less people will write about stricter gun control and focus on whatever issue is most pressing, though pressing in the sense that it is getting the most coverage and not in how many deaths it causes.
My little introduction scenario also points to the ludicrous nature of banning or severely limiting alcohol. After all, alcohol has always been part of our culture and the eighteenth amendment to ban alcohol severely failed. We do not limit alcohol consumption because of a minority that abuses it. Just the same, gun ownership is an American right and should not be limited because of the minority of individuals who abuse it.
Rather, what should be done is examining why mass shootings are happening more often in America. Why don’t other countries have as many mass shootings as we do? How are they different? Why do these other countries also have fewer crimes in general? What are they doing besides limiting gun control? Why are firearm-related deaths so low in Switzerland? How are they different? Is the social situation different? Is there less inequality between individuals? Is mental illness better treated?
We can always ban something to decrease related crimes. Ban alcohol to reduce drunk driving. Ban knives to decrease robberies. Ban gum to make our streets cleaner. Ban guns to decrease gun crimes. But does banning work? Does banning things work or do people just find ways of circumventing the bans? Why instead of banning, don’t we educate people on what drunk driving can do? Why don’t we promote more egalitarian measures so people don’t need to rob in the first place? Why don’t we teach children and adults to value public property so they don’t spit their gum on the sidewalk? We can ban guns, but why don’t we teach people about the sanctity of human life, give people more resources for mental health care, and treat one another better? We want less gun crimes like Australia, Canada and Switzerland, so why don’t we adopt the other healthy habits they have? After all, there’s a reason why Canadians are stereotyped as being friendly and polite.
Cialdini, Robert 2001. Influence: Science and Practice 4th Ed. Allyn and Bacon, pp. 121–130.
Cramer, C 1993. Ethical problems of mass murder coverage in the mass media. Journal of Mass Media Ethics 9.
Karp, Aaron.2007.‘Completing the Count: Civilian firearms.’ Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City.Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,27 August.
Mullen, Paul quoted in Hannon K 1997, “Copycats to Blame for Massacres Says Expert”, Courier Mail, 4/3/1997
National Gang Center. National Youth Gang Survey Analysis.
Phillips, D. P. 1980. Airplane accidents, murder, and the mass media: Towards a theory of imitation and suggestion. Social Forces, 58, 1001–1024.
Switzerland.2011.‘Violent Infractions: Elucidations and Evolution of Infractions (Infractions de violence: Elucidations et Evolution des Infractions).’ Police Statistics on Crime Annual Report 2010 (Statistique Policière de la Criminalité Rapport Annuel 2010).Neuchâtel:Office Fédéral de la Statistique / Département Fédéral de l’Intérieur,1 January.
UNODC.2011.‘Homicide in 207 Countries – United States.’ Global Study on Homicide 2011: Trends, Context, Data.Vienna:United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,6 October.
UNODC.2011.‘Homicide in 207 Countries – Canada.’ Global Study on Homicide 2011: Trends, Context, Data.Vienna:United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,6 October.
UNODC.2011.‘Homicide in 207 Countries – Mexico.’ Global Study on Homicide 2011: Trends, Context, Data.Vienna:United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,6 October.