The aftermath of the Las Vegas strip massacre threw up a lot of arguments on Twitter, most of which were ill-informed and destructive to informed debate. I say destructive, because they often represented a simplistic reading of cherry-picked data that was used to prop up a policy position or a knee-jerk response that was unsupported by evidence. Nevertheless their apparent simplicity meant that these responses spread like wildfire on Twitter. So given that the time between mass shootings appears to be declining, I decided I didn’t want to rehash the same arguments again and again. So I hope you won’t mind if I tweet some shortcuts on Twitter.
- “But what you propose <insert suggestion here> wouldn’t affect <insert response here>”
We don’t have a single firearm problem – we have multiple gun problems, and so from a situational crime prevention perspective we will require multiple solutions that are tailored to each problem. There is no single silver bullet that will resolve the challenges we face.
- “But <insert city or state> has the strictest gun laws and the worst homicide problem!”
Compared to countries with low homicide rates (see Western Europe) nowhere in the U.S. has strict gun laws. If you can take a day trip outside your city or across state boundaries to buy guns, we don’t have strict gun laws. By strict I mean where handguns are effectively banned or restrictive enough that they put reasonable administrative hurdles between an individual and immediate gun ownership (such as Denmark).
- “But banning handguns won’t prevent <recent incident> because he/they used rifles”
Good point; however, firearm reform is about reducing the overall community harm of firearm injuries and death across the country. No one measure is likely sufficient to significantly increase public safety. Handguns are responsible for the majority of homicides in the U.S. See #1.
- “But banning rifles won’t prevent most crime because you just said most homicides are with handguns”
Good point; however, firearm reform is about reducing the overall community harm of firearm injuries and death across the country. No one measure is likely sufficient to significantly increase public safety. Rifles are capable of significant harm and popular in mass shootings that cause significant harm and fear of crime. See #1.
- “Look at this chart I copied from the Internet. It shows Australia’s gun crime was already decreasing before their gun ban, so it had no effect”
That’s true, though one scientific study (a 3 on this scale) shows that after the ban, the decrease in murders and suicides became even more pronounced. In fairness, I note that these results have been critiqued elsewhere. Any benefits may be at best marginal, but the situation in Australia was different than the US to begin with in terms of gun safety legislation. And mass shootings became a thing of the past. Furthermore, while we don’t have a counterfactual because it was a national ban, things could definitely have become worse.
- “Restricting access to <weapon of choice> wouldn’t significantly reduce overall shootings because it is so narrowly restrictive. It wouldn’t have any effect”
There likely isn’t a silver bullet to our gun crime epidemic (see #1); however small piecemeal restrictions can have modest effects collectively, and sometimes significant effects for sub-populations. For example, even with porous state borders, reducing the rate at which domestic abusers kill their intimate partners is vitally important to that community of crime victims.
- “This is all a distraction. Why aren’t we talking about black-on-black crime!”
People in minority communities talk about crime all the time, and there are some highly promising strategies to help address urban crime. If they were funded. Also, white people kill white people at a higher frequency.
- “My local sheriff is pro-gun and he’s a law enforcement expert”
Yes he or she is an expert, but they are an expert in “law enforcement”, not “crime prevention policy”. I’ve previously noted that the International Association of Chiefs of Police neglect crime prevention and reduction training, preferring to offer operational and tactical training courses. Furthermore, your sheriff may be unaware that police officers are murdered more often in U.S. states with higher rates of gun ownership. And don’t forget that your local sheriff has to get elected, so likely articulates political views that are acceptable to his/her community rather than evidence-based.
- “Taking away guns won’t prevent suicides. People will just find another way”
The research evidence does not support this. When we reduce the easy opportunity to do something, that activity usually declines. Suicidal bridge jumpers prevented by a barrier in Toronto did not all find a nearby bridge. And when the carbon monoxide content of British gas was reduced and that form of suicide was removed, overall suicide declined. It’s not always a perfect reduction. When Australia experienced a heroin drought, poly-drug use did increase, but the period was overall marked by a reduction in opioid overdoses and Hep-C notifications. And no long-term change in crime associated with the heroin shortage.
- “Cars kill people but we aren’t talking about banning those”
1) Cars have a purpose other than killing. 2) We have made significant changes to cars over the years to make them much safer than they were before. 3) And they are much harder to steal now too. 4) We license cars and drivers. Is that so bad? 5) When people screw up with a car, we take their license away. 6) Thanks for the softball, that was an easy one.
- “Taking away guns won’t work. People will find other ways of killing people”
If you believe this, you can’t count. Stephen Paddock killed over 50 people from a hotel room hundreds of yards from his targets on the Las Vegas strip. He was alone. But in the UK three determined Islamic terrorists couldn’t get access to guns. Even though they outnumbered Paddock, they were far less effective, killing eight in the June 2017 London Bridge attack. The larger picture is that decades of environmental criminology research has demonstrated time and time again, that if you remove the easy opportunities to do something, you can reduce the instances of it. (also see #9).