Smashing the Absurd Myth That MOAR GUNZ Make Us Safer
Gun rights advocates are jumping at recent polls showing that gun violence has decreased, and the public is unaware of this phenomenon. Rush Limbaugh argues that, “as America arms up, gun violence goes down,” parroting the infamous book by Dr. John Lott, More Guns, Less Crime. Emily Miller argues in the Washington Times that, liberals have been “muzzled” by the news. But, in fact, research shows that those who oppose gun control ask the wrong questions.
Let’s begin with the question of declining violence and the public’s unawareness of this decline (which has been chalked up to the “liberal media”). It should be chalked up to “media.” As Steven Pinker notes in The Better Angels of Our Nature violence has been declining everywhere, and yet few people are aware because, as much as a despise cliché “if it bleeds, it leads.” People drastically overrate the possibility of their children being kidnapped, for example, because of prominent media coverage. They underrate their child’s chance of drowning in a pool. Sadly, since gun violence is still sexy, it will dwarf coverage of other deaths. All violence has declined, but gun violence still amounts to a good portion of it. And being an economist, it represents a sort of violence which is easy to decrease on the margin: something we can easily reduce without significant harm to society because nothing has addressed it as of yet.
But let’s dig deeper, into the assumption of the gun rights advocates. Do more guns mean less crime? Is the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun? As Jon Stewart brilliantly points out, identifying a bad guy is nearly impossible without gun control. Furthermore, much gun violence is committed by “normal guys” in a violent passion.