Did you know that the largest loss of life in a mass killing at a school happened in 1927? It wasn’t a gun, but a bomb that a disgruntled school board member used to kill himself and 37 other people.
The terrible shootings in Newtown CT, have set off the inevitable calls to “do something” about guns. Control them more. Keep them out of the hands of crazy people (though we’re more reluctant than ever to label someone crazy, and act on it by institutionalizing them). Ban “assault” weapons – whatever that means – can’t almost any weapon be used in an assault? We actually have plenty of laws to “control” firearms, some that are in contradiction to our Constitutional rights. Courts have been addressing those problems, but some still exist.
It seems that the number of victims has been increasing in mass shootings. This may be true, but overall the amount of gun violence in the U.S. has been dropping – dramatically. Nick Gillespie of Reason has a piece yesterday about awful reactions to the Newtown shooting, and the trend in gun violence in the U.S.
Despite a number of high-profile gun-violence cases – including this year’s mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater and 2011’s shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords – the past 20 years has seen a sharp and continuing decrease in violent crime.
In 1992, for instance, the violent crime rate per 100,000 residents was 758. In 2012, it was 386. Between 2000 and 2009 (the latest year for which I could easily find data) use of firearms in violent crime had decreased from a rate of 2.4 per 1,000 to 1.4 per 1,000.
So gun violence overall is down significantly from where it was about 20 or more. At the same time, comfort with guns, which are present in about 45 percent of households, has been increasing. Gallup reports that in January of this year, only 25 percent of Americans wanted to see gun laws be made more strict. Two-thirds either wanted laws to stay the same or be less strict, while 8 percent had no opinion. It’s likely that those percentages will shift somewhat over the coming weeks or even months, but the long-term trend lines – that include the years of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other gun-related massacres – will make it difficult for gun control proponents to gain large majorities.
Beyond all questions of politics is a more basic question of efficacy. What exactly might be done to prevent mass shootings, especially at locations such as schools? In the wake of the Giffords shooting by Jared Lee Loughner, there were many calls for institutionalizing more people who seemed mentally unhinged and potentially violent. The same thing is happening now, for obvious reasons (by various accounts, none of which has been fully substantiated yet, presumed gunman Adam Lanza was unhinged). As Reason’s Jacob Sullum wrote regarding Loughner, even the most vociferous propopents of locking up potential killers grant that maybe 10 percent of schizophrenics become violent. Academic studies of presumptive detention of the mentally ill suggest that mental health professionals do about as well, and sometimes worse, than regular people in figuring out who exactly is going to go postal. Such results should temper any and all calls to start rounding up more people in the name of protecting innocents.
The general decline in gun-related violence and the inability even of mental health professionals to identify future mass killers should be the essential starting points of any serious policy discussion generated by the absolutely horrific slaughter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We should also add a third starting point: Few good policies come from rapid responses to deeply felt injuries. Many of the same people who are now calling for immediate action with regard to gun control recognize that The Patriot Act, rushed through Congress in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was a terrible piece of legislation that ultimately did nothing to protect Americans even as it vastly expanded the state’s ability to surveil law-abiding citizens. There’s no reason to think that federal, state, or local gun control laws promulgated now would result in anything different. (Reason.com)
Shootings like the one in Newtown are terrible tragedies. But a terrible tragedy should not be the basis for trampling on the liberties of law-abiding citizens. In almost all of the recent shooting tragedies, two things have been common:
- The shooter was mentally disturbed in some significant way that was recognized by others, but was not institutionalized.
- The place where it happened was a “gun-free zone”, meaning every law-abiding citizen was restricted from carrying a concealed weapon for defense. The shooters, however, did not (and will not) observe the restriction.
A quote from Robert A. Heinlein that I’ve seen numerous times over the years seems applicable: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life .”
As additional evidence that gun controls don’t deter criminals, I point you to this excellent piece by Doug Ross