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American / International Comparisons
Western Europe is frequently used by anti-gun advocates as an example of a place where gun laws have kept violent crime rates low. However, this is a faulty analogy. English statistics do not include "political" murders, e.g. those by the IRA. Furthermore, American murder rates have been falling for the last several years. In order to artificially inflate these dropping numbers, anti-gun academics now include suicide in the American homicide numbers when they compare American to European rates of violent deaths -- but not European rates of suicide. Interestingly, it should be noted that violent deaths (not suicides) are now actually rising faster in Europe than in the U.S. (Kates 1994). On the whole, it appears that Americans tend to turn their violence outwards, against others, whereas Europeans turn their violence inwards, against themselves.
Playing these statistical games immediately made American death rates appear to soar above the murder only rate of other countries. And yet, when compared to the combined murder and suicide rates of other countries, America is right in the middle of the pack (see Table A). Of 18 nations for which figures were available, the U.S. ranks only 11th in intentional homicide. Its combined homicide/suicide rate is less than half of the suicide rate alone in gun-banning Hungary and less than 1/3 the suicide rate alone of gun-banning Rumania. New Zealand ranks 16th despite a rate of gun ownership that far exceeds the U.S. The lowest rate on the table is for Israel, a country that actually encourages and requires almost universal gun ownership (U.N. Demographic Yearbook for 1985 1987).
Don B. Kates, in his article "Gun Control: A Realistic Assessment," says,
...if greater American gun availability were the cause of international crime differences, the difference in crime would only be as to crimes with guns. Yet American rates for robbery, rape and other violent crimes committed without guns are enormously higher than the rates for such crimes (with and without guns, combined) which are uniformly low among Western European, British Commonwealth etc. countries regardless of whether they allow or ban gun ownership.
This shows that the procedure of gun control will not assist in reversing America's violent crime rate -- a substantive change in the culture will be required. Thus Europe is not an example of the benefits of gun control.
One should also note the effect firearm availability has in other countries. In Israel, three terrorists planned a day of repeated acts of terrorism -- spraying heavily populated areas like malls with semi-automatic fire, then fleeing before the police arrived. On their first attempt they managed to kill one innocent passerby before the crowd opened up on them. One terrorists died immediately, one died on the operating table, and one was wounded but was able to be presented to the press the next day. He rather bitterly commented that he and his partners had had no idea that Israeli civilians carried guns (Kleck 1995).
David B. Kopel notes,
In the case of Switzerland, ... [a]s soon as the government adopts a new infantry rifle, it sells the old ones to the public. As a result, a nation of only 6 million people has at least 2 million guns, including over 600,000 fully automatic assault rifles (more than in the United States) and 500,000 pistols. Even without a strict registration scheme, the Swiss homicide rate is only 15% of the American rate, and to the extent that guns are used in crime, the weapon is usually a stolen pistol or revolver. Not only rifles are sold this way; the army sells anything from machine guns and anti-tank weapons to howitzers and cannons.
In New Zealand, where the number of guns has soared since the government loosened controls on gun ownership in the 1980s (there are presently approximately 1,010,000 legal handguns in the nation), there has been a significant decrease in firearms deaths and injuries. There are fewer than 100 firearms-related robberies, homicides, and attempted homicides per year (Funk 1993). Murder rates in 'gun-controlled' areas, such as Mexico and South Africa, by way of contrast, are more than twice as high as those in the U.S. (Polsby 1994).
These facts lead to an interesting conclusion that is probably not what anti-gun advocates would like. Overwhelmingly, the comparisons with other countries must incline one to believe that gun prohibition is not a healthy or viable alternative for the United States.
"Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics"
There is a statistic frequently used by anti-gun advocates -- that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used on a family member or someone you know than on an intruder (Kellerman & Reay 1986). This claim is, to put it bluntly, a gross distortion of the truth. Unfortunately the authors of that investigation will not release all of their data for other scientists to study. What little they have revealed shows serious methodological flaws in the study. For example, 85% of the in-home homicides are suicides (see Table B). Other problems: it was a case study done on a single county, then used to extrapolate for the entire nation. It used obscure terminology -- the authors do not make clear that the term 'someone you know' also included drug dealers, gang members, or violent criminals that lived in the neighborhood, or vengeful ex-partners of abused women. Indeed, the statistics on 'criminal homicides' are not separated out to show that some of those killed 'in the home' included criminals fleeing the police, and homicides the courts ruled self-defense! The inference, of course, is that only loved ones, children, and family members are killed, violently and horribly, by gun use accidents. It is a shame such advocacy research is quoted so frequently still -- it is at best a distortion of the truth, and at worst a tissue of outright lies. Indeed, Kellerman makes no secret of his hatred of guns -- at the 1993 HELP Conference he publicly and emotionally confessed his anti-gun prejudice (Suter 1995). This is not scientific detachment. We should not look to this man for accuracy.
Let us look, instead, at some facts. From a reputable and repeatable study, Prof. Kleck writes:
The rate of accidental death per ... 100,000 gun-owning households is less than 4-6% of the corresponding rates for automobiles, and has also been sharply declining [emphasis his] for over 20 years, despite rapid increases in the size of the gun stock.
Gun accidents are apparently largely confined to an unusually reckless subset of the population, with gun accidents disproportionately occurring to people with long records of motor vehicle accidents, traffic tickets, drunk driving arrests, and arrests for violent offenses. Accidents are most common among alcoholics and people with personality traits related to recklessness, impulsiveness, impatience, and emotional immaturity (Kleck 1991).
Indeed, civilians are less at risk to shoot an innocent person than a policemen is:
Nationally good citizens use guns about 7 to 10 times as frequently as the police to repel crime and apprehend criminals -- and they do it with a better safety record than the police. About 11% of police shootings kill an innocent person -- about 2% of shootings by citizens kill an innocent person. The odds of a defensive gun user killing an innocent person are less than 1 in 26,000. Citizens intervening in crime are less likely to be wounded than police (Suter 1994).
Let us consider accidental child death, another favorite subject of anti-gun advocates. Two academic anti-gun crusaders put the accidental death toll at "almost 1,000 children" (Kates 1992) per year. An anti-gun video released to schools and hospitals has an emotional appeal to gun prohibition, spoken over a visual of an infant playing with a handgun. Don B. Kates Jr. writes of that and other similar and/or emotional claims,
...the National Safety Council figures of identifiable handgun accidental fatality average only 246 people of all ages per year. For children alone, the identifiable handgun average was: '10-15 accidental fatalities per year for children under age five; and 50-55 yearly for children under age fifteen.' ... Obviously it is a terrible tragedy when a child dies in an accident, whether with a handgun or otherwise. But that does not justify falsifying statistics in order to concoct an argument for banning handguns.
Later in that same article, Mr. Kates points out that the majority of non-suicide homicides in the home are battered women defending themselves from abusive partners. Do we really wish to classify legitimate self-defense as insupportable homicide? Do we wish to tell these women they have no right to defend themselves -- that they should simply submit to beatings, rape, and possible death at the hands of deranged men?
The (Im)Morality of Self-Defense?
Apparently the anti-gun people feel women should simply submit. This is shown by a May 1977 article on guns titled "Is the Robber My Brother," by Rev. Allen Brockway, from the magazine "Engage Social Action Forum, the magazine of the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church." He rhetorically asks if an attacked woman should simply submit. He answers in the affirmative because, although the,
...woman accosted in the park by a rapist is [not] likely to consider the violator to be a neighbor whose safety is of immediate concern ... [c]riminals are members of the larger community no less than are others. As such they are our neighbors or, as Jesus put it, our brothers...
The odds of this man ever being in such a situation are vanishingly slight. It is easy to condemn another to a horrible fate one cannot truly understand, nor ever expect to experience.
It is unfortunate that the Rev. Brockway is not unrepresentative of the anti-gun faction. It is also unfortunate that he does not seem to have read his Bible closely. In both the New and Old Testaments, there are references to the holy duty one has to defend one's life and property. For example, Mosaic law includes the following: "If a thief is found breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him" (Exodus 22:2). Obviously one's life and property is a gift from God that should not be wasted. In Luke 11:21 (King James translation) it says, "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace..." and later Jesus himself speaks to his disciples concerning self-defense, "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one," in Luke 22:36.
While it is not a Bible quote, St. Augustine (354-430) perhaps put it best when he wrote, "Though defensive violence will always be 'a sad necessity' in the eyes of men of principle, it would be still more unfortunate if wrongdoers should dominate just men."
Slander and Suspicion
A further problem is that often knowledgeable anti-gun control people are misquoted; their words are taken out of context; and/or they are viciously maligned. For example, recently Prof. Kleck sent an open (and rather amusing) letter  that shows the extent of this problem. In it, Prof. Kleck mentions his surprise at discovering the credentials of his attacker,
I was not aware that Mr. Vernick was an expert on the subject of guns and violence, or that he has any expertise for judging my research. His training as an attorney and that obtained in gaining a master's degree in public health would not ordinarily entail any professional training in survey research methodology of the sort that I used in the research Mr. Vernick criticized.
The letter goes on to deal, point by point and in a rational fashion, with the spurious accusations leveled against Kleck's research.
The definitive analysis of American gun control literature was conducted for the National Institute of Justice by the Social and Demographic Research Institute. The authors, Wright & Rossi, started out with anti-gun leanings. However, after conducting the study, they privately referred to the (up to that point overwhelmingly anti-gun) literature as "results-oriented trash." Their report describes how anti-gun advocacy literature consistently portrays gun owners:
...demented and blood-thirsty psychopaths whose concept of fun is to rain death upon innocent creatures both human and otherwise (Wright & Rossi 1981).
Articles written by anti-gun people apparently consistently show this vituperation. I offer a sample of further quotes of anti-gun emotionality:
...the need that some homeowners and shopkeepers believe they have for weapons to defend themselves [represents] the worst instincts in the human character... weapons of death... designed only for killing... There is no other reason to own a handgun (that we have envisioned, at least) than to kill someone with it... [Armed] against their own neighbors, ...gun nuts [are] anti-citizens, traitors, enemies of their own patriae... [owning guns is] simply beastly behavior... Wretchedness is a warm gun... (Wright & Rossi)
Bigotry by any other name is still bigotry. Furthermore, while gun owners are certainly not immune to name-calling themselves, I'd like to point out two things. Firstly, if one rains hate down upon a particular group, there should be no surprise at receiving hate in return. Indeed, gun owners should be commended for not resorting to exactly what they are accused of -- violence. Secondly, there exists what I consider an important difference between the hateful behavior shown by both sides:
Gun owners are not trying to force gun prohibition advocates to own guns.
introduction - page one - page two - page three - bibliography