Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. With guns.

Let’s just start with two charts (the best OECD data I could find is from 2000, but I’m sure there’s been little change in the relative rankings.  Some more recent, though less graphically friendly date here).

The US is an absolutely huge outlier here–but you knew this.  But did you know this?

Our violent crime rate is pretty ordinary.  We’re not particularly violent in America.  Just particularly deadly when we are.  Please keep pretending that has nothing to do with our gun laws and our gun culture.  Again, I would never be so naive as to suggest we could completely eliminate events like what just happened, but damn we sure as hell can make them less likely.  Yes, similar horrible things have happened in many a country with strict gun control laws but with markedly less regularity.

When you can easily legally purchase assault rifles, huge ammunition clips, body armor, etc., you’re asking for trouble.  As a matter of simple economics, if assault rifles were illegal sure James Holmes could still have found a way to buy one, but it would have been way more expensive on an illegal black market– probably a tough sell on his graduate student stipend.  Again, simple economics, the more legal guns there are around the cheaper it will be to obtain illegal guns.  Of course a determined psychopath is going to get weapons anyway, but he would surely get a lot less for his money and perhaps enter a situation with a much less deadly arsenal.

Why in the world do we allow all this stuff.  People like me are not saying we have to ban all handguns, personal defense, etc., but nobody (short of police and military, of course) needs something with more than 6 shots.  There’s plenty of middle ground while still respecting the 2nd amendment.  Eliot Spitzer:

And I am tired of hearing that the Second Amendment as a bar to useful measures—it isn’t. There is no constitutional right to buy submachine guns or silencers or uniquely hazardous bullets without background checks—or at all.

So let’s act, not just wring our hands. It is time to ban all military-style semi-automatic assault weapons, ban assault clips holding more than 10 rounds, and require that new guns have micro-stamping technology so bullets left at crime scenes can be traced. These are simple, moderate steps.

This tragedy is not shocking—it is a reminder. A stark reminder of our inability to do what so many other nations have done: Put in place meaningful gun control.

Also, good commentary from EJ Dionne:

Nobody who points to the inadequacy of our flood-control policies or mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers is accused of “exploiting” the victims of a deluge. Nobody who criticizes a botched response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a natural disaster is accused of “exploiting” the victims of a hurricane or a tornado. Nobody who lays part of the blame for an accident on insufficient regulation of, say, the airlines or coal mining is accused of “exploiting” the accident’s victims.

No, it’s only where a gun massacre is concerned that an absolute and total gag rule is imposed on any thinking beyond the immediate circumstances of the catastrophe. God forbid that we question even a single tenet of the theology of firearms….

There are many reasons for this politics of timidity, not the least being a United States Senate that vastly overrepresents rural voters relative to suburban and urban voters. (The electoral college overrepresents rural voters, too.) Add to this a Republican Party that will bow low before any anti-government argument that comes along, and a Democratic Party petrified of losing more rural support — and without any confidence that advocates of tougher gun laws will cast ballots on the basis of this issue.

So let’s ask ourselves: Aren’t we all in danger of being complicit in throwing up our hands and allowing the gun lobby to write our gun laws? Awful things happen, we mourn them and then we shrug. And that’s why they keep happening.

Seriously, if there are some policies out there that we could enact that might lead to even one less (though surely it would be more) family undergoing what those families in Colorado are facing while at the same time not actually harming the right of law-abiding citizens to own reasonable guns, shouldn’t we take that step?  If not, I’d say there’s blood on our hands as a society.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

13 Responses to Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. With guns.

  1. mike from Canada says:

    In case I didn’t make it clear in my comment on your previous gun post, I support reasonable gun control. Personally, I think Canada has gone too far on the control, the US has almost no reasonable or effective control.

    Many of the Canadian laws are simply ludicrous and contradictory. You may not, at any time conceal your firearm while transporting. You may not leave your firearm in view, thus making it a target for theft while transporting. (in different sections) They might have cleaned that up. In Canada you may not use your gun for defense for any reason. Some juries have nullified these arrests in some cases.

    Canada’s firearms regulations were a result of a mass shooting at a university when some misogynist creep killed a bunch of female engineer students. They have not stopped these attacks, although they have never been as frequent as in the US. Not even close.

    “require that new guns have micro-stamping technology”

    As I said before, this technology is only going to catch the stupid because it is so very easily thwarted with cheap very simple easy to access tools. Or a diamond sharpening stone. I have three, they cost me $12 for the set.

    “…easily legally purchase assault rifles…”

    An assault rifle is really just a semi automatic hunting rifle with a short stock and shorter barrel. Most semi auto hunting rifles could be cut down easily for a spree shooting. The big difference is the size of the clip. Your average hunting rifle comes with a five round clip. The movie theater lunatic had a drum clip according to the news, which can carry at least 50 rounds. The Beta C-Mag for the AR-15 assault rifle is a 100-round capacity. This is insane to have this legally available. We’ve just seen the result of such. Thank goodness he didn’t use explosive rounds.

    Canada has laws which limit the size of clips to generally 5 round for rifles, 10 rounds for pistols. Drum magazines are NOT easy to make. They require molds and very expensive equipment. Large capacity magazines are easier to make but hard hard to make well. Without the easy supply from the US they wouldn’t exist in Canada except those stolen from military and police supplies.

    Clips are easy to change but more then one lunatic has been brought down during clip changes, tackled by heroic people trying to save theirs and other lives.

    One of the points I was trying to make was many of our laws are bypassed because of the cheap and easy access to weapons and accessories in the USA. I’m pretty sure Mexico authorities have the same view there.

    Canada never has had the number of guns that exist in the USA, but at one time, when I was young to my thirties, they existed in far greater numbers then they do today. A lot of people had guns passed down by relatives sitting around in closets and drawers. But at that time the number of gun deaths was only a little higher then today. As I said, the source and shooters have changed, from your average Joe to the hard core criminal element. Spree shootings still happen, but they tend to be gang related, criminal enterprise related with stolen and mostly smuggled weapons.

    But this doesn’t appear to be the case for the USA. Spree shootings by your “average Joe” seem to have increased. Solving the problem by putting a gun on every person to me seems absolutely ludicrous. The only more ludicrous thing I can think of is a dark theater full of people with concealed guns attempting to shoot a man with almost full body armour. I guess, according to one commenters logic, everyone should have concealed Eagle fifty calibers with armor piercing bullets, body armour and night vision goggles. Just in case.

    We demand more from people who want to drive vehicles, such as tests and sometimes driving courses and yet tens of thousands are killed every year because people can’t drive without driving into oncoming traffic, putting on makeup while driving, eating, drinking and smoking and talking on a cell phone, all at the same time while driving. In other words, a large number of people are irresponsible while driving their vehicles and incapable of acting responsibly with their cars.

    These same people should have concealed handguns, or any guns?

    The problem in the US seems to be one of attitude, an attitude that is leaking into Canada, unfortunately. The one is more important then the many. I think Kirk or Spock said that in a really bad movie. The attitude that “I” is more important then anyone and everyone else, even if I have to cheat, steal or kill. Let the sick people die. No one else matters except for “ME”. Capitalism taken to the extreme. A society of violence. There is a price for everything, including the right to buy a drum magazine that can shoot a hundred people.

    The price for that is quite high.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Good points! Except of course, that the Spock quote was from an excellent Star Trek movie– Wrath of Khan.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Oh and for the record, I go through the comments in way such that I didn’t notice your whole conversation on the matter till I posted it. But I do want to reiterate that Wrath of Khan regardless of absolute standards, seems to be generally considered the best Star Trek movie.

  2. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    I think Spock said “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. Am I right? Someone out there knows more Star Trek than I do.

    • mike from Canada says:

      I found it at wikiquote. I didn’t even know such a thing exists.

      Star Trek III: The Search for Spock:
      Kirk: “Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.”

      I paraphrased. And it was a really bad movie.

      • Mike in Chapel Hill says:

        Interesting. I was thinking of a quote from the original series. I suppose it is possible we are both correct.

    • mike from Canada says:


      Yes, we are both correct. Spock said your quote, and I believe you are correct it was in the original series, but I was thinking of the other later quote.

      I wonder if I should be sad or concerned that I know this stuff. I can’ recall a thing from the economic books I read…

  3. mike from Canada says:

    How to buy a handgun in Canada:

    Basic steps to getting a handgun:

    Be at least 18 years old.

    Pass both the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course.

    Apply for a Possession and Acquisition License, which includes a valid reason for wanting a handgun. The two main reasons are being a member of a target shoot club or for collection purposes. (Under rare circumstances occupational need, such as by a trapper in the north, is valid) Home protection is not a reason to purchase a gun in Canada.

    If the reason is for target shooting you must get signed approval from the shooting range and pass a range test.

    A criminal, mental health and background check is conducted which includes forms signed by spouse or significant other attesting to your character. If you beat your wife, threaten her or abuse her she can deny you the opportunity to buy a gun.

    If approved, the licence is $80 and valid for five years.

    Pass a screening by the provincial chief firearms officer, which includes whether there are any public safety concerns with the applicant getting the handgun.

    To actually buy, trade or receive a gift of a handgun requires a final approval by the Chief Firearms Officer, who may require proof the gun is being acquired for an approved purpose.

    Submit for an Authorization to Transport, which allows the person to take the handgun from the place of purchase to his/her residence.

    If you own firearms in Canada the police can enter your house to inspect your firearms without a warrant at any time. The police can seize your firearms at any time for almost any reason, for a short time. They can get an order to rescind your license to possess a firearm if you commit various offenses without being convicted of a crime.

    • Steve Greene says:

      That all sounds pretty good to me (though I think I would allow for home protection) except for that last paragraph, which just seems nuts.

      • mike from Canada says:

        I concur and it is one of my biggest gripes against the regulations. Owning a firearm puts you on a list of “special” people who have one of their basic rights taken away.

        There are some who dispute the right of the police to take search or without just cause, but I don’t know if its made its way to supreme court. The RCMP may not actually have the right to seize or inspect without notice, but they have a tendency to do what they want as long as public opinion is on their side. (“Listen, we’ve had a complaint. Either you let us take your firearms, or you get arrested. Take your pick.”) If they rescind your permit to own , they don’t take your firearms but you can no longer legally own them so you have to surrender them or transfer them to someone else. So its the same thing.

        We in Canada are not guaranteed a jury trial. Only for crimes above a certain level, so if you accost a person with a firearm protecting your house, you will probably lose your case, your firearms, a whole lot of money for lawyers and fines and probably do jail time. Firearms laws have harsh penalties. If you actually shoot a home invader you will get a jury trial and you are much more likely to get the jury to find you not guilty assuming you acted in a rational manner and you are lucky.

        The conservative government has said they will change the law to better protect people who are defending their life, family and property, but so far I don’t think it’s happened.

        I should point out, this is all how I understood it when the laws were first introduced into law. They might have changed since then.

        I decided I didn’t want my firearms enough to be on a list, or even challenge the tests and pay the various registration fees. I haven’t really kept up with the firearm laws since.

        And yes, I enjoyed Wrath of Khan. But ST III just makes me shudder to remember…

  4. All of this hand wringing over handguns and assualt rifles is just feel good legislation, Most homicidal shootings are at close range. The most effective weapon is a 12 gauge pump shotgun that holds three rounds and is very fast to reload. If it is filled with double ought buckshot it is VERY LETHAL or if filled with rifled slugs a bulletproof vest won’t stop it and will almost assuredly will be fatal even if hit in the arm because a rifled slug will likely rip off the arm causing you to bleed out in areterial bleeding which takes a lousy 3 minutes to bleed to death. Very RARELY are assualt rifles used in homicides. You can kill the engine block of a car with a 12 gauge rifled slug. I once sighted my shotgun in with a target on an abandoned log cabin. The rifled slug passed all the way through a 14 inch diameter log and blew a hole out the back and buried itself in the next wall. It is a HUGE BULLET

  5. cajungaijin says:

    Where is Mexico on your charts?
    They have the strictest gun laws in the Hemisphere and yet they have thousands dying by guns everyday.

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