Is support for gun ownership and the Second Amendment a “fetish”? Bret Stephens, a New York Times columnist, sure thinks so.
Stephens acknowledges the “feckless” gun-control laws that keep being trotted out before we even know the facts of each case. (Indeed, as with universal background checks on private gun transfers, we keep finding out that they would not have stopped any of these attacks.) So his solution is to “repeal the Second Amendment,” because gun ownership doesn’t “need a blanket Constitutional protection.”
He says he doesn’t want to ban guns, but according to the Supreme Court, the only protection that is so far given by the Second Amendment is that the government can’t completely ban all guns, or all handguns. So whatever Stephens’s intentions may be, cities such as Washington and Chicago would again try to ban guns. And California’s handgun-safety regulations, which currently allow only a dozen models to be sold, will continue on their path to banning handguns completely.
Here’s one problem with this argument: A ban on guns, even in cities like Washington and Chicago, will make things much worse. While gun bans (either a ban on all guns or on all handguns) have been imposed in many places, every time guns have been banned, murder rates have gone up.
One would think that one time, just out of simple randomness, murder rates would have gone down or at least stayed the same. Yet in every single case for which we have crime data both before and after the ban, murder rates have gone up, often by huge amounts.
Americans, including Stephens, should be familiar with the disasters that befell Washington and Chicago after their gun bans. After Washington’s ban, the city ranked No. 1 or 2 in murder rate among the 50 largest cities for half of the next 30 years, and in the top four for two-thirds of that time. Before the ban, Washington had never been near that high. Chicago’s murder rate relative to other cities also soared after its ban.
Gun-control advocates will tell you that Washington and Chicago weren’t fair tests. They will point out that criminals could still get guns in Virginia or Maryland, or in Illinois or Indiana. That is true, but while it might explain why murder rates didn’t fall as promised, it doesn’t explain why murder and violent crime rates went up. After all, criminals could get these same guns before the ban. If it was so obvious to these advocates that the Washington and Chicago experiments were going to be failures, they should have let others in on this secret.
But even island nations have fared no better. One would think that these would be the ideal experiments. After the U.K. banned handguns in January 1997, their homicide rate rose by 50 percent over the next eight years. It came back down to around its earlier levels only after a 14 percent increase in the number of police. Even more dramatic increases in homicide rates occurred in Jamaica and the Republic of Ireland after their gun bans, with sixfold or sevenfold increases.
While bans may reduce the supply of guns to criminals to some degree, they most particularly disarm law-abiding citizens, thus making it easier for criminals to commit crimes.
Many will blame drug gangs for the increased violence in all these countries, and that is certainly correct, but the point is that gun bans didn’t stop these gangs from getting guns, any more than we have succeeded in stopping them from getting drugs.
Why have murder rates so consistently gone up after bans? While the bans may reduce the supply of guns to criminals to some degree, they most particularly disarm law-abiding citizens, thus making it easier for criminals to commit crimes.
Stephens cites a 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health as evidence that states with more guns have higher homicide rates. The study he cites is filled with the kind of embarrassing errors that we keep finding in public-health research. Even basic controls that account for differences in crime rates across states are left out.
The study claims: “States with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides.” But it doesn’t actually look at “gun ownership.” The authors just assume that states with a higher percentage of suicides committed with firearms have more guns. But there are some real problems with that assumption. Whether people use firearm or other methods to commit suicides has a lot to do with factors such as gender, age, and race. For example, there has been a big increase in gun ownership among women, but there has been little increase in guns used in suicides by women.
Stephens also raises the specter of mass public shootings. But this problem is hardly unique to the U.S. Indeed, despite much stricter gun-control laws around the world, the U.S. is a relatively safe oasis in terms of such attacks compared with the European Union and the rest of the world. If gun bans work, why do we see so many machine-gun attacks in Europe? We have also not had as many bombings and vehicle attacks as the rest of the world.
Stephens’s reaction is understandable: You see something bad happening with guns and you assume the solution is to simply ban guns. Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. Banning guns will only increase deaths.