The recent Navy Yard shooting has prompted entirely predictable calls for even more draconian gun regulation, with the bulk of both politicians and private citizens calling for a ban (I use that term loosely to encompass the wide range of restrictions being called for) of AR15 semi-automatic rifles.
I was a little perplexed as to why the focus seemed to be so strongly on AR15s, when the shooter at the Navy Yard used a shotgun, but the fact is that the initial outcry was raised against America’s most popular rifle by both news agencies and politicians. (CNN distinguished itself by reporting the news both more correctly and less correctly in a single sentence by claiming the shooter used an AR15 shotgun; there is no such animal.)
The Navy Yard shooting has even prompted a call from an English newspaper (The Observer) for international intervention into America’s “gun problem,” citing international law and equating America’s “gun problem” to a “civil war.” Leaving aside the fact that tens of thousands of private gun-owning American citizens voluntarily sent tens of thousands of their privately owned firearms to England during World War Two so that that unarmed populace might defend itself in the event of German invasion; and leaving aside the fact that if it hadn’t been for American military intervention in World War Two, the journalist in question would be writing his column in German; and leaving aside the fact that Great Britain’s Parliament recently voted against joining America in intervention against a Syrian dictator who has violated international law by using chemical weapons of mass destruction on his own people; leaving all of that aside, I was perplexed by the shrill focus on a firearm that wasn’t used, and in the course of doing some research, I came up with some interesting figures from the most unbiased and objective source I could think of, the FBI.
According to the FBI 2011 crime statistics:
—Homicide rates have gone down, for all categories of weapons, including firearms, over the last five years for which records are available, with the sole exception of explosives, where the rate increased. (In fact, all violent crime—murder, rape, assault, robbery—rates in the US have declined steadily since 1993.) There was a very slight (1.3%) rise in the total number of homicides in 2012, but it is too early yet to know if that indicates a trend or is simply an anomaly.
—In all states over the last five years, for all categories of weapons, handguns predominate in all homicides, being used far more often than rifles of any kind. Rifles account for roughly 3% of all homicides committed by firearms nationwide. The sole exception in the last year was Connecticut, that state’s records being skewed by the tragedy at Newtown.
—The number of felons killed during the commission of a felony by a private citizen with a firearm over the same five year period increased by about 8%. Handguns accounted for most uses, but the number of justifiable homicides by a private citizen with a rifle also increased, by approximately 6%.
So if the number of private citizens defending themselves with firearms is rising as the number of homicides committed with firearms is declining, why is anyone calling for more laws to take firearms out of the hands of law-abiding private citizens? And if the percentage of rifles used by private citizens for self-defense is roughly double the percentage of rifles used in homicides, why is there a problem with AR15s, that being one of the most widely owned rifles in America?
Finally, referring to all firearms of every stripe, if firearm ownership had any correlation to homicide, logic would dictate that places (be it nations, states, counties, or cities) with higher rates of firearms ownership would have higher per capita rates of homicide. Since the opposite is true, it is hard to make a case that disarming law-abiding citizens results in a safer, gentler society. America has, by an incredible margin, the world’s highest per capita rate of gun ownership, but her per capita rate of homicide by any and all means isn’t even close to that of Mexico, where private gun ownership isn’t possible, and Mexico makes South Africa and most of the rest of Africa, as well as Brazil and almost every other South or Latin American country, look safe and gentle. In fact, if you look at all types of violent crime generally (murder, assault, rape, robbery) Great Britain makes America’s most dangerous cities look safer than Disneyland, Great Britain having a higher violent crime rate than any other nation in the European Union or even South Africa.
But their journalists should lecture us?
And now Barack Obama has called for more gun-control measures.
“As long as there as those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on guns, then we’ve got to work as hard as we can for the sake of our children… to do more work to make it harder… The fact that we do not have a firm enough background-check system is something that makes us more vulnerable to these kinds of mass shootings…”
Other than the drug cartels, who have little voice so far in American politics (I hope), I know of no individual or group or organization that wants to make it easier for dangerous people to get their hands on guns. But leaving that aside, when it comes to calling for firm background-checks, Mr. Obama is on shaky ground. The Federal government’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) proudly boasts that it has made over one hundred million checks in the last decade, resulting in over seven hundred thousand denials. That’s admirable, certainly something to boast about. Unfortunately, it qualifies as selective boasting. According to that rabidly pro-gun conservative newspaper, The Washington Post, their own fact-checker found that in 2010, out of seventy-three thousand total denials, forty-eight thousand were felons or fugitives who were prevented from purchasing a firearm. That’s good. (The difference between the two numbers represents mistakes of one kind or another: misidentification, similarity of names, numbers transposed, various other clerical errors.) What is not good, or even comprehensible, is that of the forty-eight thousand felons and fugitives who committed perjury and violated federal law by attempting to purchase a firearm, only forty-four (44) people were prosecuted. Forty-four prosecutions out of forty-eight thousand felony violations. That’s 0.06%, down from a whopping high of 0.20% back in 2005. Uh, excuse me, but if you’re not going to bother enforcing the laws you make, why make them?
You will forgive me if I am as unimpressed by Mr. Obama’s call for expanded background checks as I am by the lectures of English journalists.