Saturday, 10 March 2012

Bang bang you're dead

I find gun control a very difficult subject.  On the one hand, I don't like the idea of the populace being armed.  I shot competitively as a teenager, and developed a healthy respect for firearms that I suspect is not shared by most of the people who would buy a gun if they were free to do so.  On the other hand, passing ever-sterner laws against gun ownership has not removed guns from this country, it has just concentrated them in the hands of the criminal classes.

There is, of course, the safety argument.  However, Tim Harford's book (which is very good, you should read it) reports the analysis which shows swimming pools are far more dangerous than guns.  I don't hear any calls to ban swimming pools.

The argument I find hardest to rebut, though, is the one which basically points out that the Police, if they turn up, tend to turn up after the crime has been committed.  The gun in your pocket or your handbag tends to be on hand immediately.  This argument, in other words:

There are more like this here; hat tip to Tom Paine


  1. " I shot competitively as a teenager, and developed a healthy respect for firearms that I suspect is not shared by most of the people who would buy a gun if they were free to do so. "

    We will NEVER see free ownership of guns in this country. Because the last four/five generations have been systematically dumbed-down to the point a great deal of them couldn't be trusted with sharp scissors, never mind anything else.

  2. It certainly seems to be a very emotive issue in this country.

    Many people I have talked to appear believe that guns have an almost magical power, that meerly possessing one confers the power over life or death. In a limited way that's true, but only in the same way as posession of a kitchen knife, a hammer or a brick does.

    Few people in the UK have seen a real gun close up and even fewer have handled one so the reality that they are just lumps of metal doesn't occur to them. Even further from their minds is the realisation that whilst firing them might be easy enough, accuratly hitting a target is a completely different thing. It's difficult and takes discipline and pratice -it's not like Dirty Harry.

    I think the odd beliefs about guns have deeper roots though. I think its just a very visible part of our general muddle about risk, threat and danger. We live in a country and at a time where life is very safe indeed, it has probably never been safer, and yet people still feel fearful and insecure. This says a lot about our emotional state and very little about objective reality.(Clearly the government like and encourage this as it makes us weaker and more needy of their 'services').

  3. I'm afraid the gun statistics are conclusive. The higher the level of firearm ownership, the higher the murder and suicide rate.

    We looked at it last august, if you want some data.

  4. Julia - yes, that's probably true, but the answer is to give out scissors until people learn to cope with them, not withhold scissors "in their best interests".

    Anon - it's the age-old problem of rare but catastrophic events, we always give them more attention than their frequency merits due to the downside risk that is involved. To an extent, the relative safety of our society encourages this, as we are programmed to fear large downside risks, so the stability of our society magnifies the risk that disorder presents.

    It's a fair point though, I've managed so far without a gun and can only point to one or two instances where it might have made me feel more secure. Even then, I can only surmise, and I'm aware that in this analysis I'm ignoring the possibility that wider gun ownership for others might have made me feel less secure on a number of occasions.

    Bill - Hmmm, good post. 15 times higher, yes that is dramatic. Is it cause or effect, though? In other words, do the deaths result from the availability of guns or does the desire for guns result from the dangerous nature of the society? Impossible to tell, but there is an obvious conclusion.

    Also telling is your point regarding circularity - that an individual householder needs a gun because so many others already have one. To an extent, that is another side of the argument that criminals have relatively easy access to one, therefore householders should likewise. But there is an angle in which those who don't want one will feel under pressure, which I don't like.

    I'm very firmly of the view that no guns anywhere is the ideal, but impossible. I'm just not sure that guns for criminals only is the next best.

  5. Concerning Bill Quango's point, he is very selective in his statistics.

    For Switzerland, there were in 2006 (from Wikipedia), 34 killings or attempted killings with guns (0.45 per 100,000 population: this I believe is purposeful successes and attempts, and excludes accidents). This is in a country with 420,000 military rifles stored in private homes, plus over 320,000 other military guns retired from service, plus hundreds of thousands of other privately held guns; the total is around one gun held at home for every 3 to 6 people living in the country.

    Personally, I think the USA and Switzerland represent extremes, but clearly there is a lot more to gun deaths than the number of guns per person or per household.

    Best regards

    1. Not selective. Just using the data. - Gun owning countries show great variations. Its population numbers vs guns that seems to be the correlation. _ high gun ownership in Switzerland and Finland and Israel don't necessarily result in USA crazy death numbers. But England alone has a higher population than those countries combined.

      In the World's top 25 countries for Rate of Gun Homicide per 100,000 People - USA is 20th. South Africa is light years ahead.

  6. Late to this discussion.

    Many of the deaths from gunshots in the US (yes, yes) are a result of domestic violence. In the UK our partner-beaters use their fists or a frying pan.

    Another chunk of gun deaths in the US are police officers being shot with their own weapons.

    We live in an extremely safe society as Anon above says. We also have quite a stable constitution which means we probably don't need huge stores of domestic armaments envisaged by the American Founding Fathers to protect us from oppression.

    I don't see the "personal liberty/personal responsibility" argument against gun control being good enough to risk upsetting our quite civilised society.

    I think it's generally better that hardly anyone has a gun, even if that means that the only people with guns are hardened criminals.

  7. We are told that we can now defend ourselves in our own home.
    This may be OK for a fit 20-30 year old, but how is a pensioner to cope? Whilst I'd like to own a hand gun, and would be very happy to go on training courses to ensure that I could use it safely and hit my target, I'd be quite happy if I could legally be allowed to have a can of pepper spray or perhaps a taser. It's no use being told that you can defend yourself if you aren't allowed the means of doing so.