Friday, 18 January 2013

An interesting look at gun control

Sixteen years ago, gun control was a hot topic in Australia as a result of the Port Arthur Massacre, whereby Martin Bryant killed thirty-five people and wounded a further twenty-three with a semiautomatic weapon. This led to a controversial tightening of gun control laws which I lukewarmly supported at first but toward which I have since become on the whole less receptive.

The common view is that strict gun control laws are the cause of low murder rates in Eurasia and Canada compared to the United States. This is a view not held by either of the two groups I have been attracted to over the past fifteen years: the radical socialists like Socialist alternative and the Democratic Socialist Party on the one hand; and the Politically Incorrect Guide-type conservatives on the other. Both these groups argue crime to be caused by other social or cultural factors that are not influenced by access to guns, and argue that guns can be useful as a source of self-defence (“armed populace” in two very different ways).

Now, as a reply to Barack Obama’s ongoing attempt to make United States gun laws more similar to those in other so-called “developed” nations, Ross Douthat has made a fascinating argument: that gun control laws do not reduce the rate of murder but do reduce the rate of suicides. At first sight, this is counterintuitive given the high rate of suicides in many European countries compared to that in the United States. However, Douthat shows that in those states where the “Brady Act” was passed, suicide rates fell much more dramatically than murder rates, and Robert Verbruggen shows that the US and Australia experienced similar declines in murder rates even though Australia put in place bans on automatic rifles and extreme restrictions on semiautomatics.

Douthat and Verbruggen emphasise that if guns are banned, there will be an inevitable shift towards non-gun based crime by habitual criminals who lack the self-control to avoid gun use, and that physically weak victims may not have access to guns for defence. Voluntary gun buybacks - suggested as a means of encouraging people to not use guns - are very wasteful financially and will collect few or no weapons from actual criminals because those who use guns will naturally refuse to hand guns in!

Still, other means of dealing with the murder rate in the United States must be taken seriously. An increasingly present-oriented culture that believes people are entitled to everything others create, as Hans Hoppe has said, is certain to be prone to crime and violence regardless of whether guns are available. This is a particularly testing issue for high-tax states like where the mass murder occurred - Connecticut. Moreover, as shown by the riots in Europe over the past couple of years, even a society where guns are much more rigidly regulated can still turn violent.

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