Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Obligatory Post on Gun Control

Why did it take me so long to write this post?  A number of reasons, really.  Most importantly, I don't think that politicizing people's deaths is particularly ethical, so I certainly wasn't going to post this until I thought I'd given it a fair amount of time.  Indeed, I wasn't going to write this post at all, originally, but a nagging voice in my head keeps telling me to.

Okay, so what is the argument in favour of gun control?  For the four of you that haven't heard it, it briefly states that if we ban (or tightly regulate) gun sales to civilians, then shootings such as the recent ones are less likely to happen, since there would be no civilian-owned guns to use.

My first problem with this argument is that I don't particularly fancy giving the same government responsible for the NDAA or the Patriot Act, as well as its militaristic behavior,  the power to regulate weapons.  I think they've proven well enough that they shouldn't be trusted in that regard.

The thing to remember here is that even if we completely got rid of civilian gun sales, the government would still have complete access to them.  As my friend Tim Cannon put it, while giving guns to a bunch of monkeys is dangerous, giving guns to only a few monkeys is even worse.

My second problem actually has to do with the gun culture, the existence of which liberals are quite right in pointing out.  Our gun culture in the United States is very much a problem, and it's very much a factor in causing these shootings.  It's precisely because of this gun culture, however, that gun control isn't going to do jack shit in this country.  A country with a strong gun culture will experience mass shootings whether guns are regulated or not.  The problem isn't the guns, it's the culture.

Finally, and most importantly, I can't find a shred of evidence backing up the claim that gun control laws would reduce the number of deaths by firearms.  Sure, people point to specific countries like the United States or Japan, but that's not evidence.  I recently came across a table, compiled by The Guardian, of the rates of gun ownership and firearm-related deaths in different countries.  Below is the result of plotting this information.  The first table is the percentage of deaths caused by firearms vs. percentage of gun owners, and the second is the number of deaths caused by firearms vs. percentage of gun owners.


Now, note that there is clearly no correlation in either case.  Indeed, what struck me is that the first graph appears to be completely random in terms of the rate of gun use in murders.  But what seems particularly fascinating to me is the near-bell curve in the second graph, with the most homicides occurring in countries with an intermediate number of guns.  My (probably really shitty) attempt at an explanation is as follows:  in countries with few guns, there are few gun-caused homicides because there are so few guns in the first place.  In countries with many guns, there are few of them because of the deterrence factor involved in having so many people with guns.  Only in countries with an intermediate number of guns is neither factor strong enough to stop these shootings.

Now, I imagine that this data will be criticized as not necessarily coming from the best sources, and I'm somewhat inclined to accept this criticism.  You can see the sources for each individual country in the table, but if you have a better table from a better source, link me to it and I'll plot that data as well.

Of course, even if there had been a correlation, it wouldn't demonstrate causation.  For example, the lack of gun control in the United States is probably in no small part due to the gun culture.  Since a gun culture will have more homicides, it's possible that gun control and number of shootings are related not by mutual causation, but rather by a common hidden variable, namely the gun culture.


EDIT:  God damn it, those pictures turned out shitty.  Will try to fix them later.