Yesterday, I spotted a story about 36 people wiped out in a Barundi bar by gunmen. I found the story in my local newspaper after the want ads, tucked comfortably into the very back pages of the paper. [Click here for telegraph.co.uk‘s account] The rigid news story mantra—“if it bleeds it leads”—does not apply when it comes to small African countries, even though there has been a lot of bleeding in Burundi. We’re talking (or not) about 250,000 dead peoples’ worth of bleeding in this small execution zone. Of course, “civil unrest” in Burundi has been a brutal fact of life since 1993 . . .

That’s when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the Hutu president, the first democratically elected leader in the country’s history. It was a rough way to register voter discontent and it set off an ethnic free-fire zone.

I know enough about the region to know that ethnic rivalries between the Hutus and Tutsis erupted into ethnic cleansing during the conflict. I also know that the issue will continue to be settled in blood- to the point where the slaughter of 36 people in a bar hardly makes a ripple over here in the media.

People get used to certain rigid patterns: there will always be bloodshed and upheaval in several African countries. It’s just not news for North America. For me, the story raised wider questions about an accepted shibboleth: an armed society is a polite society.

In the story, Burundi was described as “awash with weapons,” although the article also described the attack as “rare” (after 250k people have been slaughtered?). Were the victims of this particular atrocity unarmed lambs for the slaughter or were they armed and caught completely off-guard by the attackers?

More generally, do more guns always mean less crime? I don’t think so. I believe the easy availability of guns increases violence in so-called Third World nations, and maybe other places too. You?

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28 Responses to Question of the Day: More Guns, Less Crime?

  1. If they didn’t have guns, they’d just use machetes. Like they did in Rwanda in 1994. Less guns in Burundi would just mean more unarmed targets.

  2. From past reports from that area,the “rare” thing about that massacre is that guns were used.The weapon of choice always seemed to be a machete. The “third world” areas always seem to find a way to kill each other.

  3. The amount of guns relative to the population isn’t important. History has shown when large numbers of people are disarmed, and this fact is well known, bad things start to happen. There isn’t a prescribed level of ownership rates, just the notion that anyone could have the means to defend themselves acts as a check on bad people.

    The country in question has deep problems that go beyond the issue of gun ownership. If firearms were removed one day they would use sticks and stones to effect, although it would be a longer battle.

  4. “if it bleeds it leads”—does not apply when it comes to small African countries

    If I remember my Intro to Mass Comm class correctly, the criteria for a big story goes something like,

    Recency: Is it the latest stuff?
    Impact: How many people are affected?
    Location: Does it affect the audience, or is it further away?

    The further away from a story we are, the less impact it has in our lives. I didn’t get much Arizona legislative news when I lived in Canada, and keeping up with the Flames and the Stamps can be a pain here in the U.S. It takes a big, unique story to make the front pages if it happens halfway around the world.

  5. Sort of reminds me of this xkcd comic from a while back.

    http://xkcd.com/925/

    It’s dangerous to draw conclusions on just a few pieces of data.

    Me, I feel that in a generally law abiding country (like the US), more guns doesn’t equal more crime, but I am not convinced it equals less crime. But, I feel very strongly in the right of law abiding citizens to possess the necessary means to defend themselves from the lawless. It might not PREVENT the lawless from committing a crime, but it may at least help you get out alive.

  6. It all depends on the state society. Much of the African continent exists in the state of nature where life is solitary, poor, brutish, nasty and short. In this environment lot’s of people get killed for no apparent reason. That is one the reasons for life being short.

    In a place where civil society exists fewer brutal things happen when the responsibility to protect is shared between the authorities and citizens. When authorities have a monopoly on the use of force criminal elements exploit this to intimidate and exploit their neighbors. That is why the District of Columbia where the responbility to protect is a government monopoly has a much higher rate of crime then Northern Virginia where this responsibility is shared.

    • I was going to say something along those lines. Well put.

      For Africa, you should note the tribal nature of society as well though. The lack of governments and codified legal systems for as long as we have had them in the West has kept parts of Africa from getting past tribal violence. Other parts of Africa(Mediterranean coast and far south and eastern parts of the continent) have grown accustomed to legal systems which punish violence like this, so their rates of tribal violence are much lower than other parts of the continent.

  7. Based on the FBI’s 2010 crime statistics, here are some violent crime rates, per 100,000 citizens:

    Washington, D.C.: 1241
    Boston, MA: 903.5
    New York, NY: 581.6
    Los Angeles, CA: 559.2
    Virginia Beach, VA: 188.1
    Plano, TX: 180.8
    Scottsdale, AZ: 153.1

    Obviously, we can not prove that a causal relationship exists between more guns and less crime. However, these numbers clearly suggest that less guns does not cause less crime.

  8. You’ve brought up an interesting question. In third world countries, I don’t know though. In some cases, if both sides were equally armed they might fight back and forth blooding each other until they learned or grew exhausted not achieving a final triumph for either. In other cases, it might be a fight to the death. In America, while “tribal” loyalties do exist to various degrees in different forms, most Americans (I think) would not join in some mindless genocide fight against people from other groups under some cult-like “tribal” leader as they do in some third world countries. (sarcasm on) However, some Americans will blindly obey their president to slaughter foreign people in the name of Democracy. (sarcasm off)

    It is possible that more guns in third world countries may incite even more localized killings yet perhaps in some cases they also prevent an even great mass slaughter ie genocides that would occur. The JPFO.org has available a DVD called “Innocents Betrayed” that covers how gun registration and then confiscation occurred prior to every major genocide of the 20th Century. It begins with the massacre of the Armenians, covers the Rape of Beijing by the Japanese, Holocaust, Pol Pot’s massacres, Rwanda slaughter, and more. The book version is called Death by Gun Control.
    http://shop.jpfo.org/cart.php?m=product_detail&p=8

  9. I don’t believe that “More Guns=Less Crime”, but I also don’t believe the other side of the coin that says “More Guns=More Crime”. I think that there are far more important variables (such as socio-economic factors) to consider. Concentrating on fixing them would do far more good in the long run.

  10. It’s not necessarily the total number of guns, but in factional areas like this it’s a matter of how well the guns are distributed. If all sides have roughly equal access to guns, there’s going to be less of a chance of one side attacking the other.

  11. You have managed to get every significant fact wrong. Congratulations on living up to the standards of Robert Farago and the Brady Bunch.

    The President was assassinated by two surface to air missiles that shot down his aircraft. It’s unclear who did it, but it wasn’t a regular army unit and it certainly wasn’t a Tutsi army unit. The US State department pins it on “rogue Hutu elements of the military—possibly the elite presidential guard—were responsible for shooting down the plane.” That is generally shared by the rest of the USG, though various other groups might have possibly done it. None of these include the people that you flatly state did it.

    The mass murder was committed primarily with machetes, because guns were very rare. As with most 3rd world governments, the only people who had guns were the agents of the goverment.

  12. Guns are tools that empower man. The influence of guns on crime levels will depend on who holds the guns. It’s why American regulation fails, affecting the law abiding in a moral society with the rule of law, and the presence of guns has far more uncertain in impact in sub-Saharan war-torn lands.

  13. So if Tutus, Hutsu, or smurfs attack my neighborhood with machetes I can be reasonable assured that they won’t be packing AKs? Maybe SAM shoulder fired rockets?

  14. I am tempted to say it doesn’t matter what happened there. I don’t mean that it’s okay to murder people as long as they’re not American – it’s just that I think the gun control argument is often based on the criteria of the grabbers.

    It ultimately doesn’t matter what the FBI’s crime stats are. I don’t care if crime goes up or down – I believe that self-defense is a basic human right. The only tool I know that will level the playing field between an arthritic octogenarian and a 19 year old punk who likes to rob and assault people is a firearm.

    If we let the grabbers set the criteria then when crime goes up in the US or anywhere and guns are related then they get a point against this basic human right.

  15. Less ethnic hatred = less crime. The rest of the world wouldn’t know a Hutu from a Hulu or a Tutsi from a Tootsie, but in Burunda being part of one tribe is a reason for the other tribe to shoot the sh!t out of them. That’s seriously f^cked up.

  16. The violence is a remnant of the colonial period and after when countries were made out of former colonies. They forced together tribes and tribal groups that had warred with each other since they started using stone weapons. Because of the ancient feuds and those involved being forced together it will continue.

    As for the guns vs crime. Self defense is a natural right and you should be able to carry/own what you want. I carry a pistol because it is easier to carry than my tomahawk and scalping knife.

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