This graphic (with figures for the U.S.) makes two important points. Firstly, that those who use accidental deaths as an argument for the banning of guns, in order to be consistent, must also advocate banning cars, standing upright, entering bodies of water and using anything that is potentially poisonous. If they don’t, then this reveals that their argument for banning guns is not based on the prevention of accidental deaths but merely the arbitrary preference of not wanting people to own a certain object.
Secondly, it reminds us that the problem of accidental gun-related deaths should be kept in perspective and prioritized appropriately.
However, most people support the prevention of gun ownership because they believe higher levels of gun ownership lead to increased violent crime and crime related deaths. But, curiously, the best evidence we have (from the U.S.) doesn’t support this theory. It suggests that we have cause and effect the wrong way around and that higher crime levels is at least as likely to lead to increased gun ownership as vice versa. Meaning increased gun ownership is likely what we get when individuals respond to what they perceive to be an increasingly dangerous environment. For a much more detailed discussion of the best studies and research on gun ownership and gun control in the U.S. please read my previous post on the subject.
It’s here that we arrive at perhaps the two most important facts about gun ownership in America, which represent the two strongest arguments against gun control as an effective means to making people safer from crime. Firstly, that for every instance where a gun is used to commit a crime there is three or four instances of guns being ‘used’ (meaning wielded but not often fired) by people in defence of themselves or someone else when under attack by an aggressor. Secondly, evidence strongly suggests that guns are a highly effective burglary deterrent.
So, even though the number of deaths by handguns in the UK might be down to double figures, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the net effect to society is positive. This is because we don’t know how many people who are killed, raped or robbed each year might not have been had they been free to (and chosen to exercise that freedom to) own a gun as a tool of self-protection – and then protect themselves or their property with it. Given what we know about the way guns are most often used in American society and how effective they are as a means of self-defence, we must face up to the likelihood that gun control laws here are leading to more murders, rapes and burglaries than would otherwise occur if the law didn’t prohibit people from defending themselves or their property with a gun; and is therefore having a negative net effect on society. In short, the cost is likely to be outweighing the benefit. After all, prevention and deterrent, especially in the case of assault and rape, is highly preferable to retrospective punishment and restitution.
Prevention is the best cure for crime. But gun control prevents an effective cure. Not only that, prohibition of gun ownership has had a role in the worst atrocities of the 20th century. Legally disarmed populaces (as a result of gun controls) were a significant factor in the enabling of (and perhaps extent of) the human atrocities of communism and nazism. The people allowed themselves to be rendered defenceless (by the governments they democratically elected) in the belief that this would make them safer, and then could do practically nothing when the very worst individuals came into power. We too have allowed ourselves to be legally disarmed, which is dangerous, because we cannot know who will come to power in the future. The recent rise of nationalism and the far-right across Europe makes that ever-present uncertainty even more pertinent.
As Mark Twain once observed, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
The other thing about gun control – and this is the foundation for the ethical argument against it – is that the only possible way to enact it is to use guns (i.e. the threat of lawful punishment) to prevent everyone, except those who represent the state, from owning one. This is a contradiction: guns = bad and guns = good. But contradictions can’t exist, and so any end aimed at through a course of action which is premised on a contradiction cannot be realised. In short, gun control (the denial of property rights) cannot be a valid ethical principle because it cannot be applied universally. Philosopher Ayn Rand expressed this point particularly well when she wrote: “…there can be no such thing, in law or in morality, as actions forbidden to an individual, but permitted to a mob.”
Author Henry Hazlitt once asked: “what can it profit a man to be able think, if he does not dare to? One must have the courage to go where the mind leads, no matter how startling the conclusion.”
Gun control is essentially the result of an abandonment of reason. We need to return to reason and to be courageous enough to follow our minds.