The View From 1776

The Dismaying Futility of Gun Control Regulation

Laws respecting criminal behavior historically have aimed to establish some basic rules of conduct.  To preserve social order, breaking those laws required that the guilty party pay the appropriate penalty, both to society and to the victim.  Except to the extent that fear of execution or imprisonment may have deterred would-be killers, criminal behavior laws were not expected to identify and restrain potential perpetrators. 

Some who now demand more stringent gun control laws are expecting that tightening such laws by requiring psychological profiling will lead to identifying and restraining potential mass murderers.  Making it nigh impossible to purchase a semi-automatic gun is expected to do the rest of the job.

Paradoxically, many who demand the Congress “do something” have for decades urged elimination of the death penalty.  Among other reasons, they say that laws providing the death penalty are not deterrents to murder and that too often innocent people are executed.

Read Theodore Dalrymple’s observations regarding Newtown’s Unanswerable Questions.
It is not likely that psychiatrists could have prevented the massacre.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/22 at 09:56 PM
  1. The argument that "it is hopeless to prevent these mass murders, so we should not even try," is belied by the available evidence. This country is awash in guns and has a correspondingly extraordinarily high rate of death by guns -- compared to other countries.

    The annual gun-related death toll in this country is north of 30,000. Can you guess how many deaths were caused by guns in Japan last year? Eleven. Gun ownership is strictly controlled in Japan. In 2006, Japan, a country of 130 million people, had two (2) gun deaths.

    You can argue that coincidence is not causality, but it is very hard to argue that the easy availability of guns is not related to the massive death toll.

    Is it politically impossible to reduce the easy availability of guns to all comers? We will find out in the coming months.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  11:58 PM
  2. Let's come back to the point of my post: there is no way easily and effectively to deal with the problem.

    As an exercise, try drafting a law and related regulations that would have prevented all shootings such as the one in Newtown. The idea is easy, but the specifics are not.

    If you want to eliminate all private ownership of guns, then you had best get at the lengthy and difficult task of amending the Bill of Rights. On second thought, Obama may be able to appoint an activist Supreme Court Justice who will agree with the Yale Law School position that shifting public opinion alone amounts to amending the Constitution.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  12:46 AM
  3. J. Jay,

    Once again, you have substituted your own interpretation of what others have said for what was actually said or what conservatives generally say. Thomas did not say it is hopeless to try, he said there is no solution that is both easy and effective or that is 100% effective; which seems to be the point of the liberal insistence of more gun control laws piled on top of existing gun control laws. Even in countries with 100% bans on gun ownership, there are about the same number of murders each year.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  07:31 AM
  4. Bob,

    It seems to me that "There is no solution..." is pretty close to "It is hopeless to try..." And as I pointed out, Japan had two gun deaths in 2006, which is a far cry from our 30,000 gun deaths. They may be doing something better than we are at avoiding this slaughter.


    I agree that dealing with the gun problem will be extremely difficult. But that is no reason to accept the status quo.

    I think both Bob and Thomas would agree that if we can, in fact, reduce the chances of the repeated mass murder of children, we should try to do it, even if it is not "easy."
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  11:29 PM
  5. J. Jay,

    You are still putting words in Thomas’s mouth he never uttered. He never said there is ‘no solution’; he said there are “no easy solutions”. Nor did I. The only one here suggesting futility and surrender is you. If anyone is emoting ‘no solution’ (or just one solution to the unreasoning exclusion of all else), it is liberal-socialists incapable of envisioning any solution distinguishable from surrender (i.e., ‘let’s all disarm, and then pray the bad-guys do too’).

    You know perfectly well that Japan is an outlier, and is not therefore demonstrative of any observed trend. Nor is it portable to other societies without causing disruptions of a type few Americans would stomach. Japan had extremely low homicide rates long before it outlawed guns (even back when it was slaughtering others to the tune of 6-million before and during WWII, see ). Liberal wonks tried to quantify what things Japan does differently back in the 1980s and 1990s, and began implementing those ideas (including gun-control) here, but it had little effect. Wonks are still at a loss as to why, but I think they are simply ignoring Japan deals with its criminals more harshly and effectively than we do here, and that much of that is hidden. Therefore, we must look deeper for alternative explanations to Japan’s unusually low murder-rate. One source I checked thinks it has to do with Japan’s anti-multiculturalist immigration policy which has kept its population almost 100% pure Japanese, but I suspect the real reason is more cultural than immigration (other than immigration dilutes a host culture and its policies). Japan’s extreme crowding (emphasizes civility and anger-management over freedom of action) is also a likely factor.

    I am not sure where you read eleven gun related deaths for Japan last year (or 2, you changed claims from 11 to 2 mid-paragraph), but I suspect either number is unverifiable. Though undated a Bloomberg report ( ) suggests officially reported numbers are too low. Various sources acknowledge Japan’s success in controlling crime has come at a high cost in civil liberties (see link below). Japan did report eleven for 2008, but a more typical year for Japan is about 38, and even that low figure is disputed. Japan averages 736 homicides per year, regardless the weapon used, so its gun-homicide to homicide ratio is about 5%; which is roughly the same as ours. Moreover, you are looking at wrong measures in support of your assumed objective (i.e., reduction of ‘avoidable deaths’). While Americans may suffer a high gun-death rate, the Japanese suffer from a higher suicide rate (highest in the world). At, 32,845 total suicides, Japan’s avoidable death rate is about 24 per 100,000; which is higher than our combined reported death rate from all causes (US=31,347 v Japan>33,581). Our overall death-rate is 8.25 per 1,000 compared to Japan’s 8.53 per 1,000; so overall we are the ones doing somewhat better.

    The last year for which we have a reliable estimate of gun related deaths is 2008, and that was just under 30,000 (and falling, not rising). CDC gives 31,347 for 2009, but the relation of guns to deaths is unclear, and they lumped in things like ‘deaths due to explosives other than firearms’. Another part of CDC’s report clearly states 59.8% of gun-related deaths (18,745) in the U.S. were suicides. Suicide can be accomplished a variety of ways, so the fact so many chose guns over other means only tells us they regard a bullet the least painful, most convenient exit strategy; and removing guns merely shifts their options to the next least objectionable method (it also means suicides will suffer more than it does using guns to off themselves). Again, and referencing your example of country to emulate, the Japanese have no difficult killing themselves with or without guns; and a rising rate of suicide (in both places) appears to be the greater problem facing us just now.

    The FBI reports 12,664 homicides for 2011, of which 67.54% (8,553) were committed using guns. As with suicides, the majority of homicides are unpreventable because removing one means only shifts the weapon of choice to some other. There are ample examples of countries where guns either have been eliminated from the equation or never had much presence to begin with, and with high murder rates, that bear this out. If we subtract out homicides and suicides from the total, that leaves about 4,000 for which there may be some plausible expectation of a death-rate reduction; but there is still a large uncertainty associated with that expectation. Also, and as shown previously, there is substantial evidence homicide (and other forms of deadly assault) increase the more law-abiding citizens are disarmed without also effectively disarming criminals. The question then becomes what is the net gain/loss of these two contending tendencies. If the number of added homicides encouraged by the lack of deterrence outweighs the number of ‘accidental’ and incidental deaths, then we are heading in the wrong direction.

    One thing I find curious is that you harp on large number of gun-deaths as though a statistical explanation for what happened at Sandy Hook, as though the large number killed at Sandy Hook was in some vague way related to the large number of violent-deaths in the larger population. Yet, the larger you make the latter, the smaller Sandy Hook shrinks in significance, and the smaller becomes its relevance to what is going on in the aggregate. That is because most murders are not motivated as Sandy Hook type massacres are. As shown before, massacres occur the world over; many without benefit of guns. China in the late 19th century and early 20th suffered a rash of massacres by desperados wielding axes and similar weapons in which many innocents were brutally slaughtered, and some of those were only stopped by someone with a gun. London had its Jack the Ripper who struck down five prostitutes (maybe more) using nothing more than strangulation followed by throat slitting, and who terrorized England many months. In this country, roughly same number are beaten and kicked to death as are shot. Spree-killers, like Charles Starkweather ( ) use a variety of weapons (including guns) to kill, and for those knives, strangulation, mutilation, beating and clubbing increasingly become preferable to guns. Jeffrey Dahlmer ( ) never used a gun in any of his 17 known murders. In China in 2006, Shi Yuejun went on a stabbing spree killing 12 and injuring another four. In 1952 Sweden, police officer Tore Hedin ( ) killed 11 people using an axe and gasoline. Ernst Wagner (Germany, 1913 ) killed 14 and wounded another 11 using a combination of blackjack, dagger and hand guns. A farmer named Wirjo (1987 Indonesia ) killed 21 and wounded another 12 using a sickle and machete. 1956 Philippines, Domingo Salazar ( ) killed 16 and wounded 1 other using only a bolo and spear. 1897 Borneo, a coolie named Antakin ( ) killed 15 and wounded one other using a kris (dagger) until gunned down. 1927 in Bath Township, Andrew Kehoe ( ) murdered 44 (including 38 children) using dynamite and homemade firebombs. 2006 in China, Bai Ningyang ( ) killed 12 children, injured 5 more (including his primary target their teacher) using arson as his weapon. In 1964 Germany, Walter Seifert ( ) killed 11 and injured another 22 using homemade flamethrower, lance and mace. The list goes on.

    Finally, your snide comment “<i>I think both Bob and Thomas would agree that if we can, in fact, reduce the chances of the repeated mass murder of children, we should try to do it, even if it is not ‘easy’<>” is a non-argument and a backhanded attempt at making us look the ones ridiculous, unreasonable and obstructive. The difficulty with that is you only admit to one possible solution, and are deaf to any other. Your comment has the quality of lecturing to children (deliberately, and insulting for that) as though we, and not you, need the obvious explained. Well, Bob and Thomas express our ideas and views a good deal better and clearer than you express yours. Moreover, we are the ones more open to reason even when it challenges our own. Where we have provided cogent arguments, sources and fact-laden accounts, you are merely tossing talking-points into the ring with an [unrealistic] expectation those overwhelm logic. You are simply ‘emoting solutions’ many times debunked, for which you admit having no specifics. Rather than agree to that (or appear to), I would sooner be tarred an obstructionist by those who’d keep us chasing chimeras than own up to leftist policy failures and fail to take any kind look that is not first and foremost partisan as you do.

    Additional links & comments

    There are at least 100 things that rank above firearms for cause of death (out of 113 CDC tracks). See .;=&askid;=&l=dir&o=0&oo=0&sv=0a5ca9d3&ip=ad45aec3&id=ABD9ACE02E936CAC5ACDE70EABFC2E97&q=crime+prevention+japan&p=1&qs=1&ac=107&g=23b9DOSrX9JpVh&cu;.wz=0&en=te&io=0&ep;=&eo;=&b=a005&bc;=&br;=&tp=d&ec=1&pt=Japan is widely regarded as a successful case of crime prevention ...&ex=tsrc=tled&url;=&u= – says controlling crime in Japan has come at cost of civil liberties - alleges corruption and under-reporting, and suggests Japan’s low violent-crime rate is due to deterrence that includes suspension of citizen rights. Consider how low our reported homicide rate might be if most murders were either suppressed or disguised as something else in the data. Possibly, a mix of ‘cultural-values’ and differences of definition are at work here, however, and we have simply misread their signals. Another source ( writt,en by a Japanese), suggests the answer may be found in the way Japan handles crime at the community level. This would tend to make Japanese police reports sketchy as the community (aka, Yakuza organizations) wouldn’t inform police very much of their vigilantism, and the Japanese may prefer it that way. - interactive global map – homicide rates by country - interactive global map – population by country
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  10:50 AM
  6. So, Bob, should we infer from your comments that you believe we should make no attempt at all to reduce gun-related deaths and violence in the USA?

    Or are you saying that although you agree that it would be a good idea to reduce gun-related violence you believe it is impossible and that therefore no effort should be made?
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  11:14 AM
  7. J. Jay,

    From your comments ought we to infer it is your position law abiding citizens (including children) should be abandoned to the tender mercies of murderers, rapists, racists, radicals, muggers, serial-killers, spree-killers, pedophiles, marauders, gangs, and flash-mobs?

    I thought you said you were ready to play nice. It was you who complained we were not being civil, and here you are (again) the first to break the truce. Well, two can play at your game, and you’ve played it once too often (first with Thomas, and now with me). If you really want to get nasty, I can certainly oblige by turning up the heat higher than you can handle.

    There was nothing in my comments to give anyone (other than some unrepentantly viperous partisan) reason to infer I discourage attempts at reducing violent crime. To the contrary, it is you liberals who claim to own all the ideas and make all the progress. Yet, all your ideas (the few there are) have only resulted in greater death and suffering. In fact, your ideas on the subject boil down to just the one – eliminating all guns by getting rid of the 2nd Amendment. Worse, you reject out of hand any and all suggestions others have had or may have on the subject, and refuse to look at the results of your own careless-of-consequences policies.

    You want to reduce violent crime, fine, then let’s talk deterrence. Let’s talk about putting some teeth back in our laws, teeth with an actual potential for reducing crime. Let’s talk about putting armed guards in our schools (which, BTW, was Clinton’s policy). Talk with us about allowing properly trained school teachers to carry concealed without first mocking the idea as hopeless and dangerous before you’ve even considered it as a possibility. Talk with us about enforcing laws already on the books that are not properly enforced under the current system. Give some serious consideration to weaknesses in our courts that allow the guilty to slip right through, who then inflict additional harm. Talk to us about ways we can make judges more accountable to us (the people they serve) and less to convicts and their slippery lawyers so that fewer judges will be quick to release malefactors back onto our streets. Seriously discuss the illegal-alien problem, its impact on crime rates and incarceration, and with a view to deporting as many violent offenders as possible; and to controlling our borders so that we (not they) decide who comes in, how many, how often, and who is kept out (especially criminals and terrorists). Let’s talk about limiting the means convicts have to cheat justice and to overturn convictions on technicalities. Talk about revising Miranda Rights so as to preserve intent without giving criminals every advantage. Talk about capital punishment for the more depraved and repeat killers whose guilt is beyond doubt. Talk about making prison less comfortable, more a place they’d prefer avoiding. Let’s talk about making justice swift and final so that at least some of those inclined to murder will hesitate, and so that the victims of crime can have their lives back and the rest can stop living in dread depraved killers are soon back among us. Let’s talk about getting the Federal Government’s fingers out of every pie, including law enforcement so that local communities can decide what is best for them (us) without the constant threats of Federal interference or revocations of grant money. And, let’s talk about rearming the citizenry (including positive encouragements to arm and train in their safe usage), and to giving us back real participation in our justice system (as it was in the early days of the Republic, and as intended by the Founders).
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/27  at  09:54 AM
  8. J. Jay,

    There is another topic for violent crime deterrence we can discuss which I failed to mention in my above list, and that is ‘societal moral values’. I realize this is a thorny subject for you and one regarding which we differ greatly; but I, for one, am open to every avenue for raising this particular bar, be it religious or secular based; and I think you should be too. Whether you think religion fraudulent or not, it has proved an excellent means for welding communities together in shared values, including those values that disqualify violence as a valid reaction to perceived slights and injuries by stress-challenged individuals (typical violent-crime perpetrator); and is especially effect among those impervious to other forms of reason. There was a time in this country when appeals to G-d, morality and forgiveness were sufficient to quell many a tempest, but no longer.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/27  at  11:31 AM
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