Newtown, Connecticut, December 14th, 2012. We all know what happened that day. A severely mentally ill man walked into a school and gunned down 20 innocent children and six adults with a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle. This followed closely on the heels of the mass shooting in Aurora Colorado inside a public movie theater. It marked the 30th mass shooting since Columbine, and puts the total mass shooting count in the US somewhere over 60 in the last 30 years.
Since Newtown, public outrage about gun violence has swelled, the issue has exploded on social media, and one can’t buy a latte at the local coffee shop without being drawn into a discussion or debate on the topic. Perhaps you’ve gotten into an argument on Facebook about it, or even had fights with friends and family members, each more impassioned than the last.
One thing has become clear in the public discussion: Gun advocates seem as though they don’t really like discussing numbers, data and facts, unless those numbers, data and facts center around crime statistics unrelated to mass shootings, such as the number of knife attacks or the incidence of unspecified violent crime in a given country.
For example, gun advocate and radio talk show host Alex Jones was interviewed on Piers Morgan’s show recently and the two were supposed to have a debate on gun control. Jones was so seemingly unhinged that the segment turned into more of a rant, complete with Jones’ conspiracy theories about the Bush administration orchestrating 9/11. At one point, Jones adopted a British accent in an attempt to mock Piers Morgan, leaving one wondering about Jones’ rate of intellectual development and maturity.
He turned very lucid suddenly though, and had plenty of rational facts at his fingertips when discussing rates of crimes unrelated to mass shootings, such as the recent gang rape in India. After going on for awhile about “people burning down cities and beating old women’s brains out out every day” in Britain (none of which is true or relates to mass shootings,) he was asked how many gun murders there were in Britain last year. His immediate counter question was “how many chimpanzees can dance on the head of a pin?” and then called the statistic “a little factoid.” Morgan went on to inform him that the answer is 35 people, as opposed to over 11,000 murdered by guns in the US.
It is clear that the tactic of gun advocates is to dismiss mass gun murders as insignificant, and then attempt to shift the attention to the amount of people who are killed by other things each year. Facebook comments to this end include: “More people are killed by knives than by guns, so should we be banning knives?” “The woman in India was assaulted with an iron rod, so should iron rods be banned?” “let’s ban all things that are dangerous” and “statistically, mass shootings are not significant.”
Let’s get one thing clear with the gun advocates: Proponents of gun control don’t care about knives, guns, rocks or cleavers at this time. We’re not discussing those objects, and those objects have no bearing whatsoever on the incidence of mass shootings. Hopefully, this is not too difficult for gun advocates to understand. We are discussing mass shooting in public places, and gun
homicides, and how to prevent them. Therefore, bringing up anything other than mass shootings and gun homicides and how to prevent them is a complete waste of time and does nothing to solve the problem.
We also are not discussing the overall rate of murder in the world as it correlates to guns. We know that a Harvard University paper theorized no correlation between overall rate of murders/suicides in the world and gun ownership. We also realize that the study takes into account people murdered by other objects, suicides, accidents, gang related murders, domestic crimes, etc. and so forth. While all of those things are terrible, they are not what we are discussing right now. Again, we’re discussing mass shootings in public places and gun homicides, so bringing up those statistics is also a big waste of time. Gun advocates ought to be commended on this point though, since it is one of the few by which they attempt to inject facts into the debate by citing an actual paper written by folks from Harvard. When you read the paper though, you will see that a good analogy to it would be: “There is no proven correlation between car ownership and overall manslaughter rates, so therefore, drunk driving should be legal.”
There are many other studies that show more guns = more homicide. The World Health Organization also asserts that “evidence emerging suggests that limiting access to firearms and pesticides can prevent homicides” and recommends “limiting exposure to guns.” It further explains that “There is some evidence, for example, to suggest that jurisdictions with restrictive firearms legislation and lower firearms ownership tend to have lower levels of gun violence. Restrictive firearm licensing and purchasing policies – including bans, licensing schemes, minimum ages for buyers, background checks – have been implemented and appear to be effective in countries such as Australia, Austria, Brazil and New Zealand. Studies in Colombia and El Salvador indicate that enforced bans on carrying firearms in public may reduce homicide rates.”
The second tactic gun advocates use to muddy the discussion is just manufacturing outright fake information, such as saying “gun bans don’t work to curb mass shootings in other countries” and many other pieces of information which can easily be proven false. Even though gun advocates seem very adverse to facts in this area, we’re going to lay out some common statements perpetuated by gun advocates in the United States in the news media and social media, and the corresponding facts provided by reputable evidence. For the purposes of this article, “reputable evidence” will include: 1. actual governmental websites of the countries in question, and data from those official websites 2. published, peer-reviewed studies 3. reputable international news sources 4. expert opinion and 5. large, widely respected organizations’ findings. After each section, ask yourself which piece of information comes from a more believable source. Keep in mind, the gun advocate statements have been collected from people on social media, bloggers and in some cases, op-eds on news outlets:
American gun advocate says: Since the 1996 ban on guns in Australia, there’s been a “massive crime increase” there.
Reputable evidence suggests: In 1996 there was a horrible mass shooting in Australia. Instead of kowtowing to gun advocates, the Australian government took immediate action by tightening their gun laws. Since then, the homicide rate has gone down steadily, “the overall use of firearms has declined” and there have been no similar shootings. You can see from this chart, that “firearm use has declined by more than half since 1989-90 as a proportion of homicide methods” and this chart shows a very steady decline in overall homicides. Both charts appear on the website of the Australian Government’s Australian Institute of Criminology, whose job is to track crime statistics for Australia.
American gun advocate says: “More guns will solve the problem! Look at Isreal and Switzerland as examples! Everyone owns a gun there, and they have no problem with gun violence. Arm everyone!”
Reputable evidence suggests: According to a study by the US Library of Medicine, “Swiss and Israeli laws limit firearm ownership and require permit renewal one to four times annually. ICVS analysis finds the United States has more firearms per capita and per household than either country. Switzerland and Israel curtail off-duty soldiers' firearm access to prevent firearm deaths. Suicide among soldiers decreased by 40 per cent after the Israeli army's 2006 reforms. Compared with the United States, Switzerland and Israel have lower gun ownership and stricter gun laws, and their policies discourage personal gun ownership.” Experts who have researched this topic agree with this assessment.
American gun advocate says: Crime in Britain has increased drastically since the gun ban.
Reputable evidence suggests: Gun control works very well in Britain. Here, you can read for yourself, from the homeoffice.gov.uk website, about how “over recent years, the number of currently recorded homicides has shown a generally downward trend” and the very low number of homicides by gun (just 60 in 2010-2011) compared to the US (around 11,000-19,000 per year).
To put this in better perspective, you can view charts showing the rather drastic downward trend of all crime in Britain from 2002-2012, prepared by respected British newspaper, The Guardian.
Furthermore, mass shootings in Britain are extremely rare, with only three shootings of this type cited by the BBC in the last several decades.
American gun advocate says: “Gun laws don’t help in Canada”
Reputable evidence suggests: Canada has tighter gun restrictions than the US, and making it more difficult to obtain a gun works to control gun violence there. Statistics Canada, the official national register of Canadian statistics, shows that there were 158 homicides by shooting in 2011 as compared to the many thousands in the US each year.
American gun advocate says: “Gun bans don’t work. Just look at what happened in China. That guy killed 22 children with a knife!”
Reputable evidence suggests: Citizens in China are not allowed to own guns, and the ban works very well there. No children were killed in the knife attack referenced.
American gun advocate says: “If guns are banned, only criminals will have guns.”
Reputable evidence suggests: There is no evidence to support this theory, and there are other countries we can look to which have complete gun bans and very little problems with gun violence. Japan is just one example.
American gun advocate says:
“They want to take away our guns!”
Reputable evidence suggests: No. Most gun control advocates don’t want to come and take all of your guns. We simply want tighter laws on who can own a gun, and a ban on assault weapons that is not retroactive. We want stable, sane and rational people to be able to own guns. You’ll still be able to hunt, collect guns and sit admiring your collection. You’ll also be able to keep all of your guns! Isn’t that wonderful? So why don’t you calm down? Seriously. Calm down.
The statements flying about on social media and the Internet are based on opinion instead of facts. But, as evidenced above, there are facts we can look to, and facts matter. Before the debate here begins, I’d like to stress that I am very interested in data, graphs, charts, statistics and figures, and won’t have time to re-address points already covered in the article above unless you present some new reputable evidence, adhering to the definition guidelines above, that we can discuss.
When I was about six years old, my own mother warded off a potential intruder by showing him a gun she kept in the house for protection. Am I glad she brandished it? Yes. Do I think she has a right to own it? You bet. In researching this article, had I found a scintilla of reputable evidence that suggested more assault guns would solve the problem or that any of the gun advocate statements were true, I would have presented that evidence and called for everyone to be armed immediately. However, that is not what I found.
I call upon you to think critically here. Don’t read a random person's letter or a meme going around Facebook and take it as fact. Do your own research. Wade through government Websites, read studies. Think more deeply and in a more linear fashion, because we’ve got to stop mass shootings and we have to come together to do so.