April 27, 2002
Guns : Gun Control :: Flying : Driving?

This item in the Volokhs' blog yesterday reminded me of something I've been mulling over for a year or two, but kept forgetting to write down. It would take a serious statistical study to back up (not prove) my hypothesis, but it seems worth putting on record even without numbers. I haven't seen it elsewhere, though I haven't managed to get hold of More Guns, Less Crime, which would be one obvious place to look.

Here are three well-known facts that are worth trying to fit together:

1. Crime rates have dropped in American states that passed concealed-carry or shall-issue laws.

2. Countries that have attempted complete gun control (the U.K. and Australia) have had huge increases in their gun-crime rates, increases that show no sign of stopping.

(Questions for statisticians: Has anyone calculated the trends? Are the increases accelerating or leveling off? Have enough years even passed to calculate that? If present trends in all three countries continue, when will the U.K. and Australian murder rates pass the U.S. rate?)

3. At the same time, schoolhouse massacres and other mass murders are generally considered more common in the U.S. Other countries may be catching up, and Germany seems to have set a record for a schoolhouse massacre just the other day, but this may well be true.

This paragraph added half an hour after first posting: The last point is controversial and likely untrue. Instapundit links to an article by John Lott and William Landes which argues that concealed-carry laws are the only factor that can be shown to reduce multiple-victim public shootings. They know far more about the subject than I do. Still, for those who are unconvinced, and think that America's lack of gun control encourages massacres, my argument may be useful.

What I offer is not so much a hypothesis as a possible analogy.

(I love analogies. Monday's blogger : journalist :: slut : whore analogy never really took off -- too tasteless? --, but Tuesday's set of animal analogies has been more successful: see the update for a couple of links, one of which was even Instapundited.)

To come at last to my point:

Is the difference between controlled and uncontrolled guns like the difference between driving and flying? It is notorious that driving is far more dangerous than flying, but flying seems more dangerous because plane crashes, though rare, typically kill dozens or hundreds of people at once, while car crashes kill tens of thousands per year in the U.S. alone, but only one or two or five or six at a time.

Similarly, it seems to me pretty well established now that countries with strict gun control will, all other things being equal, lose more lives to gun crime, but mostly only one or two at a time, so that they may seem safer, even if they are not. At the same time, countries with widespread legal gun ownership, such as the U.S., Switzerland, and Israel, will see fewer citizens murdered overall, but it may well be that more of them will be in large-scale massacres, so that these countries will continue to seem more dangerous, while actually being safer.

(Please note my proviso about 'other things being equal'. I am well aware that the murder rate in the U.S. is still higher than in the U.K.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at April 27, 2002 09:05 PM