Welcome to the Wingnut Parallel Universe Part 2B: Gun Control & Crime
Earlier we touched on the wingnut belief that guns in the hands of civilians is an effective way to fight tyranny. We shot that one down, pun intended. But how about the claim that more guns leads to less crime as one author famously insists? Couldn’t civilians at least use their guns to effectively stop mass shootings? Aren’t we still at least safer from common criminals if we arm ourselves to the teeth? Well we’ll get to that right now.
Here’s a recent news report on a violent shootout in Sweden,
In response to this shocking story, “911Infidel” over at the far right website “The Right Scoop,” posted this commentary,
This is a perfect example of why even in a country like Sweden, restrictive gun laws do not stop criminals from possessing illegal weapons or using them to commit a crime.
He than goes on to say,
Taking away our Second Amendment rights is not the answer to controlling gun crimes, not when 99.99 % of all gun owners are law-abiding citizens. The only reason to take away our ability to defend ourselves is to allow a tyrannical government to take over. And that is precisely what the left wants.
Well I showed this to my friend, Emil Karlsson awhile back, and as it turns out, ironically the one incident “911Infidel” sites as an argument for the country’s gun laws not working, the robbers were actually armed with fake guns.
As pointed out by his source for that tidbit, Eric Tagesson, at the Swedish news site Aftonbladet,
On films that witnesses filmed one can see how the policemen firing a large number of shots against robbers car, a gray Audi. One of the robbers, 26-year-old, hit in the head and fall to the ground. While escaping his associates.
In the vicinity of the crime scene dumped the Audin and extorted another car.
Deputy chief prosecutor at the National Unit for Police blotters, Kay Engfeldt, has launched a preliminary investigation against the police on the occasion of the death shot. After the 26-year-old died classified the case as manslaughter.
According to Aftonbladet’s policeman who shot identified.
It has previously emerged that the arms 26-year-old was shot when he was not a real weapon, but a so-called replica.
You read that correctly. The gun was a prop. The only people who fired off any guns in that incident were the police who believed that the robbers were actually carrying real guns.* ( Scroll down for an update, on this incident ) If anything this is actually a huge argument for gun control because if this incident happened in America where we have easy access to guns, the robbers would have probably ended up using real ones. “911Infidel” basically concluded that gun control doesn’t work and we can’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals, based on a single incident, where if they had done a bit more research, they would have found out that the criminals didn’t use real guns. The weapons were non functioning replicas. Sure the criminals could have used them to knock you over the head and maybe kill you that way, but they couldn’t have used them to shoot you. Plus if “911Infidel” really believes that the left wants to take away guns so the government can impose its will on us, like other pro gun fanatics, they really haven’t thought things through. I already pointed out how hopeless it would be for civilians, to take on a professional military even if they were armed to the teeth. If their plan to keep America free from the “tyranny of the left” involves untrained civilians using their guns to fight the government, it wouldn’t work. If the rebels were fighting a genuine tyranny, the resistance would be crushed as soon as the government sent in the military, and that’s even if they weren’t arrested or killed by law enforcement first.
In addition, crime in general, but especially violent crime, is significantly lower in Sweden than the United states. However, even the mainstream media does sometimes make it sound like things are much worse over there than they actually are. As Emil Karlsson has pointed out, most of the reported gun crimes in Sweden, are not really gun crimes at all.
International news media seems to think that the Swedish city of Malmö is being overrun by gun violence. In reality, the definition of a shooting differs between Malmö and the other two main cities. In Malmö, it does not have to be an actual gun that was fired and there is no requirement for forensic or eyewitness testimony. The geographical areas also differ, with Malmö only covering the main city and the urban area Arlöv. Once researchers looked through the data and counted the number of actual shootings, the figures dropped by 60-75%. The Malmö police does offer some justifications of their classification scheme, but in the end, organizations that gather statistics have an intellectual responsibility to ensure that their data are not easily abuse by being clear with definitions and what can and cannot be inferred from their data.
A recent analysis by Swedish Council for Crime Prevention was covered in the newspaper Sydsvenskan. The sad reality is that fear propaganda gets front page news, whereas a careful statistical analysis gets only a small notice in most papers.
Sweden does appear to have much lower gun crime than the US, however, in fairness there maybe multiple reasons behind this, besides it just being more difficult to obtain guns over there. That said, it is hard for me to imagine how that couldn’t be a significant factor.
Not too long ago there was an epidemic of gun crime in Australia. Than it stopped and there has yet to be another mass shooting over there in almost twenty years. How did that happen? Did every person in Australia arm themselves with the latest in high tech weapons? Did the government lift all restrictions on gun ownership, like so many radicals wish we would do in America? No, they did quite the opposite. As stated by Austin Ramzy, Michelle Innis and Patrick Boehler at the New York Times,
The oft-cited statistic in Australia is a simple one: There have been no mass killings — defined by experts there as a gunman killing five or more people besides himself — since the nation significantly tightened its gun control laws almost 20 years ago.
Mass shootings in Australia were rare anyway. But after a gunman massacred 35 people in the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur in 1996, a public outcry spurred a national consensus to severely restrict firearms. The tightened laws, which were standardized across Australia, are more stringent than those of any state in the United States, including California.
Pushed through by John Howard, the conservative prime minister at the time, the National Firearms Agreement prohibited automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles and pump shotguns in all but unusual cases. It tightened licensing rules, established a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases, created a national gun registry and instituted a temporary buyback program that removed more than 20 percent of firearms from public circulation.
Several of the measures, including waiting periods and background checks, have been adopted piecemeal by different states in America. But the United States has never tried a national gun buyback program; in Australia, that required raising taxes. And the United States has never been able to do what Mr. Howard did: forge a broad agreement on a sweeping set of gun control measures that applies to the entire nation.
Of course nothing is going to be perfect.
A test of those laws came in December 2014, when a gunman who had expressed sympathy for Islamic extremism took hostages in a cafe in Sydney. The assailant, Man Haron Monis, brandished a sawed-off pump action shotgun that he had obtained illegally.
An inquest said the gun may have been in circulation before pump action shotguns were essentially banned in 1996 and was never confiscated in the buyback. According to the inquest, his shells were 15 to 20 years old.
During the 17-hour siege of the cafe, Mr. Monis fired several times, once into a wall, before killing the cafe manager. At that point, the police stormed in, killing the gunman and another hostage in the crossfire.
People who oppose gun control might choose to point out that Mr. Monis seems to have obtained his firearm illegally regardless of the law. There is no dispute that there will be outliers. This doesn’t change the fact that there is dramatically less gun violence in Australia than the United States, following the passage of their law.
American gun fanatics are already siting the murder of British MP Jo Cox as proof that gun control doesn’t work, ignoring the fact that the UK also has a much lower incidence of gun violence over all.
Hurr-hurr-hurr, that gun control doesn’t work AT ALL!
As of June 16, 2016, the Gun Violence Archive lists 6,108 gun-related deaths in the Land of the Second Amendment in 2016. In the UK, in 2011, there were a total of 146 deaths resulting from firearms. Then again, one person was shot and killed today, so GUN CONTROL NEVER WORKS.
In spite of the recent murder of Cox, there’s no real compelling reason to think that the UK has a much higher violent crime rate than the US as some people have claimed. Regardless of the crime rate anywhere, crimes committed without guns are preferable to crimes committed with guns.
Another country, Japan, has almost no incidence of gun crime whatsoever, thanks to its strict gun control measures that make it almost impossible for anyone outside of the police or the military to obtain firearms. Max Fisher, writing for The Atlantic points out,
Of the world’s 23 “rich” countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22. With almost one privately owned firearm per person, America’s ownership rate is the highest in the world; tribal-conflict-torn Yemen is ranked second, with a rate about half of America’s.
But what about the country at the other end of the spectrum? What is the role of guns in Japan, the developed world’s least firearm-filled nation and perhaps its strictest controller? In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.
Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country’s infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.
Even Countries like Switzerland or Israel that some gun control opponents love to site as examples, upon closer examination don’t really support their case. Switzerland does not, contrary to what some believe require every single one of its citizens to own guns, and there’s plenty of gun control over there. Katie Sanders at Pundit Fact notes,
A 2012 Time story about Switzerland’s gun culture notes how citizens hold their right to own guns as a patriotic duty, and Swiss children often join sharpshooting groups to hone their skills.
But, again, Switzerland does not require “citizens to own guns.”
The government issues a gun to men for their mandatory military service, but the gun is taken home under “carefully controlled conditions without ammunition,” said Mikton, the WHO officer who is also Swiss.
“As soon as they have finished their military service — typically around 30 years of age — they have to return the gun,” he said.
Swiss gun laws are more strict than the post implies, though less tough than some other European Union countries. Swiss law requires mandatory background checks on civilian handgun purchases and licenses for the concealed carry of weapons, and it bans automatic weapons.
In addition, contrary to what the people in charge of the NRA might say, Israel has very strict gun control. The head honcho of the organization, Wayne LaPierre expects us to believe that Israeli kids are safer because practically everyone there is armed and people have easy access to guns. However, the exact opposite is the case. Max Fisher at the Washington post states,
LaPierre echoes a number of commentators who oppose gun restrictions and cite Israel as an ideal example. The argument goes like this: Israel has lots of guns and lower rates of gun violence, so clearly the problem with America is not our guns but something else.
The only problem is that Israel actually has quite strong gun restrictions and very low gun ownership rates, some of the lowest in the developed world. This confusion has gotten so bad that even Israeli government officials are now chiming in to knock back the claims, though the NRA is seen as a close ally of the U.S. Republican party, which positions itself as strongly backing Israel.
LaPierre appeared to take his Israel-model advocacy a step too far when he declared on Meet the Press this weekend, “Israel had a whole lot of school shootings, until they did one thing. They said we’re going to stop it and they put armed security in every school and they have not had a problem since then.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry told the New York Daily News that this was simply wrong. “We didn’t have a series of school shootings, and they had nothing to do with the issue at hand in the United States. We had to deal with terrorism,” he said. “What removed the danger was not the armed guards but an overall anti-terror policy and anti-terror operations which brought street terrorism down to nearly zero over a number of years.” The spokesperson added, “It would be better not to drag Israel into what is an internal American discussion.”
Israeli guns laws, it turns out, are much stricter than America’s gun laws. This may help explain why Israeli gun ownership is just one thirteenth of what it is in the U.S. To bring that number into focus, it would likely be even lower if not for mandatory military service, which means Israelis are more likely to be familiar with guns. Israel’s unique security challenges and its periodic bouts with terrorism would also seem to bolster an NRA-style case for allowing more privately owned guns so that more citizens can defend themselves. And yet, there are far fewer guns in private citizens’ hands, and far less gun crime.
Regardless of how one feels about it, the United States has a gun violence epidemic that no other country has, and the reason is easy access to guns. According to Patricia Pearson at Alternet,
Canada’s largest gun massacre took place in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down. It was directed at female engineering students in Montreal, slaying 14. The date, December 6, has become a national day of mourning and activism for violence against women. In other words, mass shootings in your neighbor to the north are sufficiently rare that we all still focus on that particular event 27 years ago, in an annual memorial event. (The Montreal Massacre also led to an overhaul of gun laws.)
What, then, has enabled so many mentally unstable Americans to inflict so much carnage that America can sometimes feel as chaotic and unsafe as the marketplaces of Baghdad? If florid gun availability isn’t your go-to answer, consider the answer a different way. There is a subfield within criminological theory called “environmental criminology.” The ideas kicked around in this field are that people don’t commit crimes due to intrinsic factors like poverty or instability unless they are swimming in an environment of criminal possibility. Readily available, high-velocity weapons, for instance, would be a feature of that environment.
One of the frames for this discussion in criminology is “routine activities theory,” first proposed by Marcus Felson and Lawrence Cohen. According to this theory, a woman is more likely, for example, to be sexually assaulted in an urban area near a transit route than in an empty farmhouse far from help, because the farmhouse is simply not on her attacker’s routine pathway.
The criminologist Kim Rossmo of Texas State University in Austin has developed an investigative approach he calls geographic profiling, in which you can map the routine activities of unidentified violent offenders and determine where to look for them based on where they committed their crime. Why? Because the perpetrator will have traversed his daily life routes multiple times, like an animal circling its territory, before summoning the nerve to attack. Multiple times he will travel past the same bus stop where he began taking note of a potential victim, while on the way home from his job.
In light of these ideas, one might imagine what fermentation takes place in an unstable mind passing several times a month past a gun display. Guns like the AR-15 are, or have been until recently, on sale at Walmart, Target, Costco, and every other shop you’d routinely pass by as an American living in a state like Florida. What if, over time, an inchoate idea becomes fixed, or a plan becomes psychologically plausible because the opportunity repeatedly presents itself?
It’s like a nightmare funhouse version of the children’s story, The Little Engine That Could. The notion that those guns are easily available to you, and can be used to commit mass murder, is then, arguably, reinforced each time a mass murder makes headlines.
So there you have it folks, the evidence suggests that more guns does not lead to less crime, in fact the evidence suggests the exact opposite and has for a long period of time. It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by gun rights advocates either. Groups like the NRA have arguably gone out of their way to cover up research that reveals unpleasant facts about civilian gun ownership. Michael Hiltzik At the Los Angeles Times reported,
Infuriated by CDC-funded research suggesting that having firearms in the home sharply increased the risks of homicide, the NRA goaded Congress in 1996 into stripping the injury center’s funding for gun violence research – $2.6 million. Congress then passed a measure drafted by then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ga.) forbidding the CDC to spend funds “to advocate or promote gun control.” (The NRA initially hoped to eradicate the injury center entirely.)
The Dickey Amendment didn’t technically ban any federally funded gun violence research. The real blow was delivered by a succession of pusillanimous CDC directors, who decided that the safest course bureaucratically was simply to zero out the whole field.
Remarkably, that approach has continued to the present day: After the Newtown massacre of schoolchildren in 2012, President Obama issued an executive order instructing the CDC to “conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it.” But the agency has refused unless it receives a specific appropriation to cover the research. Congress played its obligatory role in acting as the NRA’s cat’s-paw by repeatedly rejecting bills to provide $10 million for the work.
“Removing the money from the budget and enacting the Dickey Amendment were the first and second shots across the bow by the NRA,” Rosenberg said. “The third shot is the idea that if you do this research, you’ll be hassled” by the NRA. “The result is that the CDC basically does nothing in gun violence research. If research on cancer were stopped for a single day, there would be a huge protest. But this research has been stopped for 20 years.”
The consequence is that we’re flying blind on gun violence. Rosenberg and other experts list four topics on which research is crucial. First is the scale of the problem — how many people are shot, is the number rising or falling, who gets shot, under what circumstances, and with what weapons? Second, what are the causes? “What leads people to shoot other people or kill themselves?” Rosenberg asked. (Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, he said.)
Third is learning what works to prevent gun violence, and fourth is figuring out how to translate these findings into policy. Legislators across the country have enacted laws allowing open-carry of firearms on the street or in public places, or authorizing teachers to carry arms in the classroom or on campus, “with no idea whether that would result in more people being killed or more lives being saved,” Rosenberg said.
More likely than not, it would lead to more innocent people being killed, not being saved. The truth is, “good guys” with guns are not the answer and Joshua Holland at The Nation does a great job of explaining why that is,
Dr. Pete Blair, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University and director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center (ALERRT), has studied mass shooting incidents and trains law enforcement personnel to respond to active-shooter situations. The cops who go through his course conduct live-fire exercises using real firearms which are re-chambered to fire “soap rounds” that leave only welts when they hit.
Blair’s trainees run through a number of real-world scenarios—“force on force training” that’s designed to “inoculate” officers against the problems people naturally encounter in high-stress situations. That stress response, says Blair, includes “tunnel vision, audio exclusion and time dilation,” and one would expect people who weren’t trained in these situations to “freeze up or not know what to do, and to have difficulty performing actions correctly.”
Later, Holland also notes that,
Blair co-authored a study for the FBI that looked at 185 mass shooting events over a 13-year period. It found that while around one-in-five were stopped by civilians before police arrived, in only one case was it done by a typical “good guy with a gun” (professionals—an off-duty cop and an armed security guard—used their guns to stop two others). In most cases Blair and his colleague studied, civilians ended a rampage by tackling the assailant.
None of this has prevented the gun manufacturers’ lobby from insisting that more guns make a society safer. And many Americans have come to believe it. According to the Pew Research Center, the share of gun owners who cite “protection” as “the main reason they own a gun” almost doubled between 1999 and 2013, from 26 percent to 48 percent.
But a large body of empirical evidence finds the opposite to be true. Last year, epidemiologists at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted an extensive analysis of data from 16 previous peer-reviewed studies, and found that having access to a firearm makes a person almost twice as likely to become the victim of a homicide and three times more likely to commit suicide. Previous research has shown that countries with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun deaths and states with more guns have higher homicide rates. (The gun lobby’s side of the scholarly debate rests largely on the discredited and allegedly fraudulent work of economist John Lott.)
Guns do not make America safer. Easy access to guns doesn’t make people safer from tyranny as I noted in the earlier segment, and in general it doesn’t make people safer from criminals who would murder them. The fact of the matter is, America would be safer with more gun control, not less, even if gun advocates don’t like to hear it. The truth is the truth. The facts are the facts.
*Update 6/29/16 at 6:30am
Unfortunately it turns out I made a mistake. I should have done some more research. Emil Karlsson sent me a message via twitter. It turns out the robbers in that incident in Sweden with the replicas did fire at least one shot according to the police. However it turns out that they still most likely didn’t have any real AK47 and most likely it was a hand gun. A couple weeks after the robbery, Olof Svensson at Aftonbladet reported,
“The robbers have fired at least one shot”
According to data Aftonbladet found 18 shell casings at the scene. Other information claimed that the robbers did not use real guns without copies.
Patrick Ungsäker, police chief at Södertälje police, confirmed that at least one weapon, an AK47: A 26-year-old man held in his hand, was a lifelike replica.
- There is a copy of a real weapon, he said.
According to new data other hand, had the robbers not only copies, but also real weapons.
At least one of the shots must have come from the robbers.
- Most likely the suspected robbers fired at least one shot, says intelligence chief Anders Göranzon to Länstidningen Sodertalje.
The indication that the robbers shot is that police found shell casings inside the store, according to a source familiar with the investigation of Aftonbladet.
Also the police officer who shot the robber was not prosecuted, since the authorities concluded that no crime had been committed.