Written by John Shellenberger
In the wake of a mass shooting, opinions and statistics about gun rights and gun control are bountiful. Thanks to the internet, statistics, whether they are valid or not, are simply a short click away. What is harder to find are the legitimate, unbiased facts surrounding firearm use.
While Republicans and Democrats agree that reducing crime rates is an important cause, neither party fully comprehends what causes crime in the first place—in truth, no one does. However, there are multiple factors that correlate with crime rates, and there is evidence proving that the measures introduced by both parties are, for the most part, ineffective.
In broad terms, we have a culture problem and a general idea what it is caused by, though we know very little for sure. If we are honest with ourselves and others, then we are forced to admit that solving the problem of violent crime is nearly impossible, especially when we don’t fully comprehend what causes it.
What Causes Crime?
And I do use the word “cause” loosely. Based on studies done by Bruce Weinberg, an associate professor of economics at Ohio State University, Eric Gould of Hebrew University, and David Mustard of the University of Georgia, low wages and unemployment make less-educated men more likely to turn to crime. According to their study, federal statistics show the inflation-adjusted wages for men without a college education dropped 20%. Despite declines after 1993, the property and violent crime rates, once adjusted for changes in the countries demographics, increased 21 % and 35% respectively during that period.
The strongest link was found between falling wages and property crimes such as burglary, shoplifting, motor vehicle theft, etc. Weinberg says the link here seems intuitive, those who have very little and no jobs have a higher incentive to steal and commit crimes when they have less to lose.
Specific violent crimes; however, in this case, rape and murder, were not crimes that seemed to have been affected by economic conditions, which can be explained by the fact that monetary gain wasn’t a motive. On the other hand, there was some correlation between falling wages and violent crimes such as assault or robbery. Weinberg elaborated on these relationships, stating, “The fact that murder and rape didn’t have much of a connection with wages and unemployment provides good evidence that many criminals are motivated by poor economic conditions to turn to crime.”
Based on their study, one can conclude that generalized crime is affected by factors like poverty and falling wages. Violent crimes, like murders committed with firearms, is inexplicable—a shortcoming of human society, or built-in flaws in the human condition. In short, violence simply happens. Regardless of what precautions are taken, or what systems are implicated, to think there are ways to prevent violent crime is to only fool oneself.
Violent Crimes and Gun Control
Saying that something is inevitable doesn’t mean we have to stop trying to minimize the effects, nor should we. Tons of existing organizations are searching for and applying new strategies in efforts to reduce violent gun crime; however, we cannot find the appropriate solutions when the problem is so unclear and undefined.
Firearm deaths, for example, are a hot stat for gun control advocates to throw around. Gun control advocates paint signs and shout out the number of Americans killed by firearms, though in truth, a large majority of firearm deaths are suicide related, not crime related. Therefore, it is not logical to look at the number of firearm deaths. What is logical to analyze are homicide rates. I say homicide rates and not firearm homicide rates because specifying which weapon was used only convolutes the data since lower numbers of murders with firearms in one state could have a direct effect on how many murders were committed in the same state with other weapons. In addition, I believe most would agree the goal is reducing violent crime, not just violent crime committed with the use of firearms.
It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that firearms are the leading cause of death in homicide victims. They are tools and even when used maliciously they are efficient. Gun control proponents use this to make the argument that reducing the number of guns would also reduce the amount of violent crime. Pro gun-rights groups counter this argument by saying more people with guns deters criminals from committing crimes because it forces the potential criminals to think twice about their next actions.
The reality though is that neither party is fully correct. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, both gun control advocacy groups, published a scorecard in 2013 in which each state received a letter grade for its gun laws, with states with stronger gun laws receiving higher grades.
Interestingly, eight of the ten states with the highest homicide rate and eight of the ten states with the lowest homicide rate all received “D” or “F” grades from the Brady Campaign’s analysis.
Also noteworthy is the fact that four of the ten states with the strictest gun control laws, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, and California, are in the top half of highest homicide rates overall, with New Jersey, the fifth, coming in at number 26.
The reason why the other five strictest gun law states aren’t in the upper half of homicide rates is not because their gun control policy is working though. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that says it does not.
When the United Kingdom enacted its handgun ban in 1996, crime rates rose. In the six years before the ban was enacted, the homicide rate wavered between 10.9 and 13 homicides per million people. Following the ban, the homicide rate spiked until it reached an all-time high of 18 per million in 2003. After flooding the streets with 20,000 more policemen the following year, the homicide rate gradually dropped to 11 per million by 2010, rendering the handgun ban experiment a huge failure.
When Australia enacted its gun ban in 1996, it did not reduce murders. In fact, shortly after the ban, there was a spike in homicides; however, the homicide rate has basically run flat since.
In addition, nations with fewer guns do not have fewer homicides. In fact, there seems to be no relation between the number of average firearms (per 100 people) and homicide by firearm rate (per 100 people.)
When it comes to preventing gun violence, both groups are stuck in a stalemate of inadequacy, but there is one side of the gun control issue that has seen success—the amount of crimes stopped by the use of private firearms.
Dr. Gary Kleck, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and his colleague, Dr. Marc Gertz conducted an extensive and methodological study in which they discovered that, on average, Americans use their privately-owned firearms to defend themselves as often as 2.5 million times per year. Though gun control groups furiously try to refute this study, even the Clinton Justice Department (through the National Institute of Justice) found that there as many as 1.5 million defensive firearm users each year. This means millions of people, had they not have had access to private firearms, could have been assaulted, battered, or much, much worse.
When discussing the Constitution, people tend to focus on specific amendments and little details. What should never be overlooked is the greatest, most valuable right there is—the right to life. When criminals break into private homes, and the owner’s life is endangered, or the family, or the children, how would making it harder for them to properly prepare themselves and defend themselves help? What good is saving a much smaller amount of lives if millions more are put into jeopardy?
There, of course, will be those who say that the police should we called, and the family should simply wait for their arrival; however, since the average police response rate is 10 minutes, a citizen’s safety is in their own hands for far too long. Depriving a citizen of the tools necessary to defend oneself is not only illogical, it is downright morally wrong. Take firearms away from citizens and you are condemning innocent people to tragedies and further pain.
The Bottom Line
Violence is, unfortunately, inevitable. It’s a tough pill to swallow, one that many of us would prefer not to, but the sooner we accept the truth, the sooner we can decide how to answer the question of what to do with that information.
The answer is simple, we continue living our ordinary lives. We do not over-compensate with programs and laws ultimately leading to zero change, and we do not restrict the rights and freedoms of any of our citizens. We continue with our lives, knowing, as we always have, that evil is out there.
What it comes down to is why should the government infringe on the rights of one out of every three Americans (the amount that owns a gun according to NBC) when the programs being put in place are futile and only put innocent people in further harm’s way? Why disarm those who wish to bear arms when the ultimate goal of unyielding peace is unachievable? Everyone agrees that violence, mass shootings, murders, and crime should not ever occur, but creating another problem that does not solve the original one is ludicrous.
If carrying a concealed handgun makes you feel safe, do it. If it makes you uncomfortable, then don’t. What we cannot do is fight against each other and hate each other and cause more violence because of misplaced outrage. Everyone is trying to stop violence, but there is no right way to do it. At the end of the day, everyone makes their own decisions, lives their own lives, and we play the hand that we are dealt. Let’s not take other players cards away simply because we don’t like our own.