As the United States grapples with guns in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, too often we only ask, “do guns promote gun violence?” The answer to that is an obvious “Yes”. It’s been trotted out time and again. But that question is not the whole story.
What we need to do is ask the broader question: “How do guns affect violent crime overall?” As a society, we should be worried about all types of crime—burglaries, rape, assaults that leave people broken and bleeding on their way to the hospital. While every homicide is a tragedy that robs us of someone we can never replace, we cannot focus exclusively on gun deaths and ignore other violent crimes. They, too, have terrible costs.
That is why most defenders of gun rights—though by no means all—are so ardent about the right to bear arms. Because the truth is that guns actually discourage violent crime.
Let’s compare the violent crime rates of two countries we hear a lot about in the news: the United States and England. Both have a similar culture and both probably have similar people; but while the United States owns 50% of the world’s guns, the United Kingdom banned almost all handguns in 1997.
So what do the data say?
According to a comprehensive Civitas report, England is far more violent than the United States. Granted, they have a lower homicide rate: they kill 1.1 people per 100,000, we kill 5.0. Most of the new stories you hear—Piers Morgan, the Washington Post—point this out. What they fail to also show is that in 2006 (the year of the Civitas report), England had almost three hundred more burglaries than the US per 100,000 people. On violent assault—the kind involving serious bodily harm—the record was even worse. The United States had 262 per 100,000 people. England had 730.
Look at the assault data again. 730 violent assaults per 100,000 people means that, with England’s population of 53 million, they had around 386,900 violent assaults in 2006. An England-sized patch of the US only had 138,860. England had 250 thousand more violent assaults than a similar-sized patch of the US.
I’ve frequently heard that the US tops the charts in gun homicides; for instance, the Brady Center points out that the US had over 12,000 gun homicides in 2006. No-one denies that that’s a tragedy, and England should be commended for having gun homicides below 100. But bear in mind that England also had hundreds of thousands more violent assaults. Hundreds of thousands more stabbings, more hospitalizations, more people beaten within inches of their life. Do guns really make the United States less safe?
Granted, there are differences between the two countries. England has a higher population density than the US, and density is linked to crime. That’s one reason you see more crimes in cities than in rural towns. But urban density can’t be the only factor, because Los Angeles has a much higher population density than England but barely over half the violent assaults. You see the same story in Chicago: even America’s densest, most violent cities have less violent crime than gun-free England.
There’s another difference that matters: how tough the justice system is. The United States has tougher punishments for criminals than does England, and that means you can’t chalk the difference up only to differences in gun laws. The United States’ tough stance on crime plays a role in explaining why England is so much more violent than the United States. But in England, criminals don’t have to fear their victims will pull a gun and turn the tables. Robbers don’t have to fear the house they’re breaking into could be guarded by an assault rifle. Might that also play a role?
Even looking at England before and after the gun ban—which lets us ignore the differences between England and the US—doesn’t help England’s case. The ban on handguns was passed in 1997. In the next four years, violent crime more than doubled.
My point here is not to take a stand on Obama’s recent gun-control executive orders, or Senator Feinstein’s assault weapons bill. My point is broader. Across towns and across states, legislators and interest groups are proposing all sorts of gun restrictions. They’re bolstered by the conviction that more guns mean more gun deaths. But these people, while undeniably well-intentioned, only see half the picture. More guns also mean less violent crime, fewer assaults and fewer burglaries. Let us not start down the path that England has, lest we too become the victims of higher crime.
If I’m walking home and someone tries to assault me, I want a gun. Even if I never use it, simply brandishing your weapon can stop an attacker in his tracks. In England, law-abiding citizens don’t have that right. And, unfortunately, you can see the results.
If you would like to get involved with protecting our right to defend ourselves, these are the best groups to contact. Like many interest groups, their rhetoric can be extreme; but they are extremely effective at getting things done:
http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/ for state-based opposition to new federal gun laws.
http://www.gunrightsacrossamerica.com/, which has individual state chapters like this one for South Carolina and this one for Colorado.
http://www.nationalgunrights.org/ for gun rights at the federal level. Colorado Gun Owners And if you still believe more gun control is the best option, I’d recommend the Brady Center. Just don’t tell them I sent you…