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By Mark Houser

The gun-control paradigm—the idea that the solution to American violence is more laws restricting guns—is unhelpful.

Gun control doesn’t work. Indeed, any statistical connection between gun policy and violence is tenuous. But even if gun control was effective, it would still be flawed.

Gun control burdens the free exercise of the constitutionally-protected Second Amendment right to bear arms, so it’s subject to compelling legal challenges and is flatly rejected by many Americans. In addition, the enforcement of stringent gun control invariably inflicts heavy burdens upon other civil liberties—especially in poorer communities and among marginalized populations. 

Gun control’s coexistence with the values of a free society is, at best, an uneasy one. But it’s even less viable in the particular context of the United States. Consider the 400 million guns already in private circulation, plus the totally irreversible and ever-increasing ease of the self-manufacturing of firearms. No matter what laws are passed, widespread distribution and access to firearms are (and will remain) immutable facts of American life—especially for people who are willing to break laws. 

In this context, it’s evident that gun control cannot solve the problem of violence in this country. The following four observations about American violence suggest some promising alternative paradigms.

If you visit the statistics page of the website for the anti-gun group Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, you’re immediately confronted with an enormous banner: “38,000 AMERICANS DIE FROM GUN VIOLENCE EVERY YEAR—AN AVERAGE OF 100 PER DAY.” However, that banner omits the fact that most of those deaths are suicides. A report in the Harvard Political Review noted that suicides accounted for nearly two-thirds of 2019’s gun deaths.

If we meet gun control groups like Giffords on their own terms and accept the inclusive statistic of “gun deaths” as our metric, it’s clear that “gun violence” ought to be addressed primarily through a mental health and suicide-prevention paradigm.

Can gun control be part of a suicide prevention strategy?

It’s hard to see how. Virtually any sort of firearm would suffice to take one’s own life, as well as other means. So, there’s no hypothetical in which popular gun control proposals like an “assault weapons ban” or magazine capacity restriction would make a difference concerning suicide.

Moreover, gun control measures such as red flag laws that seek to deprive people of their guns on an ostensible mental-health basis can actually deter struggling people from seeking the help they need. In this sense, a gun-control approach to suicide prevention is not merely useless—it’s actually counterproductive.

There is an enormous amount of literature on suicide prevention and the best ways to help people who are struggling with mental health issues. Discussions of different medications, cognitive therapies, wellness practices, and other measures are far beyond the scope of this article. But this is where our resources and efforts should be focused. 

Attempting to stop suicide by imposing gun control is like trying to stop drunk driving by banning cars: it’s a completely implausible “solution” that elides the actual problem at hand.

The boogeyman of the gun control lobby is the proverbial “mass shooter,” some deranged, antisocial individual who carries a “military-style” rifle into an ostensibly safe place, like a school or grocery store, and indiscriminately slaughters innocent people. He often has hateful or bigoted motivations for this act.

While such shootings do happen, they are incredibly rare and account for a vanishingly small proportion of the homicides that the U.S. experiences in a given year. Per 2019 FBI data, just 2.6% of homicides are carried out using a rifle. In fact, clubs and bare fists are used to kill more people annually than rifles. And of the mass shootings that we do see, many are gang-related; concerning, but not wholly aligned with the gun control narrative.

Now, consider these facts: almost two-thirds of child murder victims are killed by their own parents. Nearly half of all female murder victims are killed by their partners or ex-partners

And while it’s common knowledge that most victims of homicide are killed by someone they know, a surprisingly large proportion—perhaps as low as 1 in 8, but possibly as high as 1 in 5—are killed by an actual family member. Conservatively, a given homicide victim is about five times more likely to have been killed by a family member than killed with any sort of rifle.

The gun-control movement’s resources and efforts are overwhelmingly guided and driven by the “mass shooter” scenario, hence their fixation on policies like assault weapons bans and magazine capacity restrictions. But, even if such policies could be meaningfully enforced and implemented (they can’t), it’s hard to imagine those sorts of policies having much bearing on partner and familial violence. 

The mass shooter fixation, and the gun fixation more broadly, is utterly unable to curb violence of this kind. Instead, resources and efforts would be much better spent addressing partner and familial violence. Organizations that help women to escape dangerous relationships or address other aspects of domestic violence are poised to do much more good than organizations with broad and quixotic disarmament missions. 

The failure of the United States’ 20th century experiment with alcohol prohibition has been well-documented. But one unintended consequence of Prohibition was a dramatic increase in violence. Without access to legal means of resolving conflicts, people involved in the illicit alcohol business—for which there was a massive consumer demand—handled their disputes and protected their interests with gunfire.

While romanticized depictions of bootleggers and mobsters have made for entertaining fictional fare, the true story hardly evokes nostalgia. The nation’s homicide rate increased over 40% during Prohibition. The violence was especially pronounced in large cities, which experienced a homicide rate increase of nearly 80%. Even as more resources were directed to law enforcement, the rate of serious crimes soared and prisons overflowed. Had Prohibition been allowed to continue, the already-disastrous situation would likely have deteriorated even further.

Fortunately, Americans realized that the costs of Prohibition were too high. Repealing Prohibition was the clear solution. With the ratification of the 21st Amendment, the nation’s homicide rate dropped precipitously, falling to well below pre-Prohibition levels within just a few years.

Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of Prohibition. The War on Drugs, ostensibly fought to make our communities safer, has in fact made them more violent.

Noah Smith (who’s certainly no champion of gun rights), writing for The Atlantic, observed:

Legal bans on drug sales lead to a vacuum in legal regulation; instead of going to court, drug suppliers settle their disputes by shooting each other. Meanwhile, interdiction efforts raise the price of drugs by curbing supply, making local drug supply monopolies (i.e., gang turf) a rich prize to be fought over. And stuffing our overcrowded prisons full of harmless, hapless drug addicts forces us to give accelerated parole to hardened killers.

13 shot Chicago Shooting
(Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune via AP)

In short: it’s Prohibition all over again. But the effects of Prohibition’s modern-day incarnation are even more insidious. After waging the Drug War for decades, we must also consider its secondary and tertiary consequences. As Thomas Eckert points out, the Drug War contributes to family disintegration, poverty, and gang recruitment. 

These underlying sociological problems, not guns, are the key drivers of American violence.

Poverty and lack of opportunity are strongly associated with violence. 

That’s fairly obvious if you simply look at the geographic and demographic distributions of violence in America, which I have previously explained. Academic research on the subject has come to the same conclusion. (See here and here). Despite being gun control advocates, these researchers understand that there are underlying sociological drivers of violence that transcend “guns” and warrant our attention.

To be sure, most people will readily accept that poverty and despair are associated with violence—that’s unsurprising. However, they may see the problem of poverty as impossibly vexing and intractable. Implementing stricter gun laws might seem more feasible by comparison, even if it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Part of the appeal of gun control is the simplicity of its narrative. 

But that’s a mistake. You may refer back to this breakdown to see why the “get rid of the guns, get rid of the gun violence” narrative is simplistic, not simple.

Moreover, there’s actually a lot that we can do to reduce poverty and create greater opportunity, and many of these measures have—or could plausibly attain—broad-based, bipartisan support. There are sound steps to be taken that are both feasible and meaningful. Michael Tanner of the libertarian Cato Institute presents a compelling array of such policy reforms in his book, The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor.

But regardless of whether you favor Tanner’s approach or some other, the essential point to recognize is that violence is largely a symptom of underlying social conditions. Gun control not only fails to fix but actually aggravates those conditions. Any critic of the “War on Drugs” should be able to see how a “War on Guns” has similar effects on individuals, families, and communities.

When speaking of reducing violence by building prosperity, it’s encouraging to know that we’ve already done it, to a very large degree. That’s an inescapable conclusion of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature. Now it’s up to us to make sure that that progress continues, especially on the margins of society where it’s most needed.

Gun control can’t solve our problems. Especially with the widespread adoption of 3D printing and other means of self-manufacture, gun control will increasingly be relegated to irrelevance. Gun control policies will burden only the upstanding citizens who, in good faith, try to abide by them, and are nonetheless ensnared. If we want to get serious about addressing violence in America, there are many more promising areas to focus on.

Mark Houser is an independent researcher who writes about the right to bear arms and firearm policy. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

42 COMMENTS

  1. my mom always answers the phone “he is risen” on easter. my wife says, “good pesach.” i say, “i wish this lamb was a goat.”

    • “… i say, “i wish this lamb was a goat.”

      I damn sure don’t.

      Keep your goat.

      Me love roast mutton long time, Joe!

      (Just finished mine… *burp* 😉 )

      • Goat is wonderful, if you know how to cook it. Mutton? Not so much. I like lamb just fine, but mutton is heinous.

        Did everyone see the viral video of the Canadian priest chasing the cops out of his church?? That man is my new hero! And it restores at least a TINY bit of faith in the Canadian people.

  2. Funny how the reaction to covidpalooza has exacerbated all four. Always seem to be trying to fix problems statists create with more statists nonsense. A vicious cycle of incompetence that only a giant asteroid can end.

    • Shire-man,

      I used to think that politicians had good intentions and were simply misguided.

      Then I started to think that politicians were almost entirely self-interested and leveraged societal problems for their own financial gain.

      Now I am at the point where I believe that many/most politicians are downright evil and simply want to see society burn. The more chaos and misery, the better as far as they are concerned.

      • In the US those people are called ‘Democrats’.
        In Russia Bolsheviks.
        In China Maoists.
        In Germany Nazis.
        And the list goes on.
        The economy and society must be completely torn down so that, as 0bama recently said, The country may be “fundamentally changed’. It was only about 4 years ago he said we were weeks away from it. And then Hillary goes down in flames.

    • In case you haven’t figured it out, for the Progs, that is a feature, not a bug.

      1. Adopt a stupid, pointless, ineffective government “solution” (often, if not always, to a non-existent “problem”);

      2. The “solution” creates more problems;

      3. “We need a new government program, to address all these problems” (that only happened BECAUSE of your prior “solutions”);

      4. The government accrues even more (unconstitutional) power;

      5. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      • AH…thank you. “The ‘Do Something’ Disease”…..aka “Stampede The Flock Over the Edge”…….The Lemming Effect……Get ‘Em While They’re Hot. “Hair on fire, we’re all going to die” contingent.
        Dead bodies in a local WalMart, or grocery store aisle, or school classroom, or church pew…..the bad guy with a gun – white only please…..or the gang member with a gun…. the mentally deficient guy with a gun……or the terribly distraught family member of a shooting victim…… or a gun violence survivor……or the Feelz-Gooder Social Do-Gooder Snowflakes….. or the the “hair-on-fire, we’re-all-gonna-die” contingent……or the skin color only voter…..or the “just need common sense” purveyors…..or the “we just need to come together” simpletons…..are the politician’s easily manipulated Useful Idiot Tools to achieve his power and control agenda.

    • We could keep Gropey Joe harmlessly busy for the rest of his “term” by just putting him in the Oval Office, and telling him to go stand in the corner.

      Joe Biden was stupid 40 years ago. Now he’s senile AND stupid.

      And Kneepads Harris was so stupid and unpopular that she couldn’t place higher than third in HER OWN STATE in the primaries. We are governed, not by the “best and the brightest”, but by the worst and the stupidest.

      Rope. Tree. Politician.

      Some assembly required.

  3. “4 Reasons Why More Gun Control Laws are Doomed to Fail” First, one must define the objective in order to define “fail”. Assuming that reducing “gun violence”….death by gun……more accurately described as “Defective Citizen Violence”…..is the objective, then more gun control laws will not facilitate the solution. However, should the objective be the disarming of Little Peep citizens to protect tyrannical traitorous politicians’ asses from Patriots with AR-15s and “high capacity” magazines, then more gun control will facilitate that agenda. But, eventually post-citizen disarmament, the death toll will soar…..Little Peep citizens dying at the hands of government. History always has, always will confirm that fact.

    A politician with a law never stops a bad guy with a gun.
    He only controls the good guys which is his true agenda.
    In 1958. the late Col Jeff Cooper, handgun expert and founder of Gunsite Academy, stated, “Killing is a matter of will, not weapons.
    You cannot control the act itself
    by passing laws about the means employed.”
    The bodies in a local WalMart or grocery store or school or church……the bad guy with a gun…..or the gang member with a gun…. the mentally deficient guy with a gun……the suicide deceased…….or the terribly distraught family member of a gun shooting victim…… or a gun violence survivor……or the Feelz-Gooder Social Do-Gooder….. or the the “hair-on-fire, we’re-all-gonna-die” contingent……or the skin color voter…..are the politician’s easily manipulated Useful Idiot Tools to achieve his power and control agenda.
    The new agenda for humanity requires that no one will have the capacity to fight back. It has been said: “Our Task of creating a Socialist America can only succeed when those who would resist us have been totally disarmed.” No other explanation is possible.
    History has repeatedly demonstrated that disarming good people in the name of making bad people harmless only eventually facilitates politicians shooting their own countrymen. History…learn from it or be doomed to relive it….or die from it.
    And there, boys and girls, is the Xiden/KamelHo/Pigloosi/Slummer/Finestain Gun Violence Prevention Plan in a nut shell. It’s all about protecting Libtard/Socialist anti-America tyrannical politicians’ asses from American Patriots with AR-15s.

  4. It’s getting to the point where the government can make any illegal law they want. I had to go to town today and the number of people who will comply with whatever they’re told is absolutely terrifying. No more mask law in this state but 90% of the people you see in a grocery store are still wearing one. This isn’t the country I grew up in and those people do not think for themselves.

    • Some people decide to wear a mask without being required to. This has ZERO to do with anything in the article. Get over it.

      • It could be more relevant than you think.

        The whole COVID thing is a sobering lesson in how easily most people can be panicked into compliance with restrictions they’d never put up with if they were thinking straight. Not only that, we now have a probable majority of Americans who have gone beyond compliance to actual *reliance* on those previously unthinkable, logically dubious, and increasingly unnecessary restrictions for their own peace of mind.

        That’s the exact result the anti-gun cabal is trying to achieve — and mostly failing, because unlike pandemic viruses, there are a hundred million-plus people in the US who have a *positive* experience with guns — but we shouldn’t underestimate the ease with which people who believe themselves to be good, law-abiding citizens can convince themselves to do and believe whatever it is that all the other “good people” are doing, simply because all the good people are doing it.

      • That’s all very nice, and absent legal compulsion, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with voluntarily wearing a mask.
        The question that MUST be asked, however, is ‘Why?’
        Is there a sound, scientific foundation stablished through empirical data to confirm that wearing a ‘mask,’ a word that is about as absolutely definitive as the word ‘is’ is, is a guarantee of safety, a modicum of safety, a possible means of safety, or a useless gesture? Does this sound, scientific foundation establish that a ‘mask’ protects the wearer, those in proximity, both, or neither, and to what degree?
        Or, just possibly, is the wearing of a ‘mask’ merely a rote gesture, one based upon the tenuous foundation of fear, habit, rumor, innuendo, or threat, that serves only to make either the wearer, the viewer, or both ‘feel better’ about . . . things? Is it very much like wearing a clove or two of garlic about the neck, clasping a crucifix, or tossing spilled salt over the shoulder? Or is it like the proven scientific fact that rams’ bladders may be employed to prevent earthquake?
        Now what?

        • William Shore,

          There is SOME statistical evidence that wearing a sufficiently good mask PROPERLY reduces the chance of YOU spreading the virus to someone else. Period.

          Masks (i) have to fit properly to be effective, (ii) require some training, or at least basic understanding, to be effective, (iii) need to be CHANGED FREQUENTLY to be effective, (iv) do absolutely f*** all to prevent YOU from getting infected with a virus (an N95 mask filters out particles larger than 3 microns – MOST viruses are smaller than two. To a virus, a mask looks like a chain link fence to a housefly.).

          Masks, as available, used and worn in the U.S. by the average “mask Karen” is effective at only one thing – virtue signaling. Vaccines appear to be effective (although the lack of long-term testing makes me nervous), but should be ENTIRELY voluntary. This whole COVID “public health theater” has no purpose other than to increase the power of idiots like Cuomo, Whitmer, Newsom and Biden. I wear a mask SOLELY because I know my own temper, and on a bad day I might lose it and punch out a mask Karen. I harbor no illusions that it protects anyone from anything (except the mask Karens from broken noses).

      • A fully supported reason for wearing a mask in my part of the country right now is POLLEN! Pine tree pollen at present is suffocating. It blows over the landscape like a pale yellow cloud. And, that’s just the pines. As I type this I’m fighting my way out of a kickass case of hay fever. I used to never have this susceptibility. I’m thinking that this time of year will be mask time for me until I’m toes up.

        • North Carolina, right? It has covered everything here. I swept up to night get all the seeds up and there was a cloud of green dust coming off of the broom.

    • I’m afraid my fear of covid will have me wearing a mask and carrying a gunm for the rest of my life. I kinda get a buzz walking into a place of business wearing a mask while armed.

  5. Bottom line…Gun Control in any shape or form is the residue of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, the KKK, Nazi SS, Eugenics, concentration camps and other race based atrocities.

  6. 5. Guns are durable items that are usable for hundreds of years if reasonably maintained. Pre-Civil War guns are still functional. If production stopped and confiscation began, missing even 1% leaves millions still in circulation. This doesn’t count new guns coming from smuggling, illegal manufacturing, and theft from the remaining legal (i.e. government) sources. Criminals in countries with draconian control still have guns.
    6. Gun laws only affect the law-abiding. Waiting periods, background checks, red flag, and limiting features only affect buyers from legitimate sources. A bad guy buying a black market gun is unrecorded, unchecked, and can get a machine gun, SBR, or SBS with no wait.

  7. If you are a patriotic American, and believe in the Constitution, then there are NO legal ways to enforce gun control.

    “…shall not be infringed.”

    If you are for ANY type of gun control, then you do not believe in the Constitution, and are therefore a traitor, and you should leave this country before you become incarcerated for life.

    WHAT THE HELL IS SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND ??????

    Are liberals just simply insane idiots, only marginally capable of leading even simple daily lives? Have they been infected with some kind of brain virus that destroys all their cognitive abilities? Are they all just little children playing with mud pies all day long while real adults take care of them?

    At the rate we are going, even GOD will refuse to help us…and may actually assist in our demise.

  8. …none of which will stop our legislators from passing yet more laws that punish the lawful.

  9. GET ON ANY BAND WAGON YA WANT .
    IT’S THE CRAZY HUMAN , NOT THE GUN , AMMO , CAR , BASEBALL BAT NOR KNIFE FAULT .

  10. It doesn’t work on those who choose not to comply.

    They don’t want compromise, they want compliance. Give them neither. Make them use force.

    Communist, fascist, Marxist, socialist. It doesn’t matter. They’re all a bunch of power hungry authoritarians taking advantage of the public’s ignorance/fears of firearms and their aversion to accountability and responsibility to gain power.

  11. The premise of this column is wrong. The purpose of gun control isn’t to stop crime. The purpose of gun control is to ban and confiscate guns from law abiding gun owners. In that, they succeed. Crime control would mean keeping repeat, violent gun offenders in jail and prison….the policies of the democrat party, implemented by their judges, prosecutors and politicians keep releasing these violent gun offenders over and over again. It is these offenders who do 95% of all or our gun crime and gun murder. Gun control works….each new law ratchets down on the Right, limits more people from making the effort to own and carry guns…..

  12. “When the People Fear the Government there is Tyranny…When the Government Fears the People there is Liberty”. Thomas Jefferson
    15 days from today is the Anniversary of the beginning of the fight for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms as well as the very Freedoms and Liberties “We the People” hold sacred. How will you honor that day and the Founding Patriots who through their Courageous Sacrifice cast off the chains of Tyranny. Beginning the fight for the Freedoms, We all have today. Ask yourself… What have I done to Deserve their Sacrifice? What will I do to Honor the Cause?

  13. Excellent article.

    One other area for which gun control is a distraction is alcohol. According to the CDC, each year, the abuse and misuse of alcohol kills twice as many people as are killed with firearms.

    I wonder how many of those gun-haters would be willing to submit to a background check every time they picked up a couple of six-packs or bottles of booze!?

    Just one more data point that shows these folks don’t care one whit about saving lives, their priorities are all out of whack for that.

  14. Failure is not the point. They hate guns because the US Bolsheviks want guns to kill you. They do not want to you have the means to shoot back. They DO NOT WANT BE SHOT. They look to the likes of Joe Stalin and Mao as the blueprint of the most successful tyrants and wish to replicate their victory.

  15. Mark Houser has entirely missed the point. The point of gun control laws is not to prevent violence. It is to control the population. Gun control laws will never stop violence, and commie politicians will still consider them a success.

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