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The Price of Gun Control



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A lot of articles have been written in the aftermath of the tragic shooting last week, and a recurring theme is the call for action to prevent another such shooting. Prevention is important, as long as it means putting in place policies that will actually result in less gun violence like this case.

For that reason I wished everyone could read this piece by Dan Baum over at Harper’s about the price of gun control (thanks to Modeled Behavior for the pointer). Baum starts by noting that the response to these horrible events is very different depending on where they happen. If it’s in the U.S., people are fast to blame the lack of gun control. But if it happens in a country that has banned guns for years, there is little to no mention of how gun bans don’t prevent such catastrophes:

Among the many ways America differs from other countries when it comes to guns is that when a mass shooting happens in the United States, it’s a gun story. How an obviously sick man could buy a gun; how terrible it is that guns are abundant; how we must ban particular types of guns that are especially dangerous. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence responded to the news with a gun-control petition. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times has weighed in with an online column saying that “Politicians are far too cowardly to address gun violence . . . which keeps us from taking practical measures to avoid senseless shootings.”

Compare that to the coverage and conversation after Anders Behring Breivik murdered sixty-nine people on the island of Utøya in Norway, a year ago next Sunday. Nobody focused on the gun. I had a hard time learning from the news reports what type of gun he used. Nobody asked, “How did he get a gun?” That seemed strange, because it’s much harder to get a gun in Europe than it is here. But everybody, even the American media, seemed to understand that the heart of the Utøya massacre story was a tragically deranged man, not the rifle he fired. Instead of wringing their hands over the gun Breivik used, Norwegians saw the tragedy as the opening to a conversation about the rise of right-wing extremism in their country.

Then he notes that gun violence has receded in the U.S. at a time where gun laws were being relaxed.

Rosenthal is wrong, by the way, that politicians haven’t addressed gun violence. They have done so brilliantly, in a million different ways, which helps explain why the rate of violent crime is about half what it was twenty years ago. They simply haven’t used gun control to do it. Gun laws are far looser than they were twenty years ago, even while crime is plunging—a galling juxtaposition for those who place their faith in tougher gun laws. The drop in violence is one of our few unalloyed public-policy success stories, though perhaps not for those who bemoan an “epidemic of gun violence” that doesn’t exist anymore in order to make a political point.

It’s true that America’s rate of violent crime remains higher than that in most European countries. But to focus on guns is to dodge a painful truth. America is more violent than other countries because Americans are more violent than other people. Our abundant guns surely make assaults more deadly. But by obsessing over inanimate pieces of metal, we avoid looking at what brings us more often than others to commit violent acts.

And then there is this:

In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control—no friend of the gun lobby—evaluated fifty-one studies on everything from the effectiveness of gun bans to laws requiring gun locks, and found no discernible effect on public safety by any of the measures we commonly think of as “gun control.” Two years later, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine did a similar survey and came to much the same conclusion.

The piece is good throughout.

Tyler Cowen also pointed to this piece from the Denver Post showing that the demand for guns in “Colorado jumped more than 41 percent after Friday morning’s shooting at an Aurora movie theater, and firearms instructors say they’re also seeing increased interest in the training required for a concealed-carry permit.”

Also worth reading is Chicago law professor Richard Epstein on gun control.



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