August 29 2013
A Harvard Study Takes Aim at a Key Gun Control Argument
Patrice J. Lee
A new study out of Harvard University targets a main argument in the arsenal of gun control advocates: the notion that fewer guns lead to fewer deaths.
Gun control advocates maintain that strict gun laws have led to the decrease in murders in the United States and overseas. Latching on to horrific mass murders like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary or Virginia Tech, the gun control lobby often calls for more state and federal measures that target law-abiding firearm owners instead of the truly dangerous and violent offenders. (Note that many of the mass murders which are often cited have other contributing factors such as mental illness that gun law reforms often ignore.)
But the new Harvard study calls into question "the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths." After looking at Eastern and Western Europe –regions the U.S. are often compared to- Harvard researchers discovered that countries like Russia with low gun ownership rates have higher murder rates than countries with higher gun ownership like Finland. And the U.S. is actually not the most violent country but trails behind other countries where guns are banned or gun ownership is much lower.
Here’s what they found:
International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately, such discussions are all too often been afflicted by misconceptions and factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative.
Since at least 1965, the false assertion that the United States has the industrialized world’s highest murder rate has been an artifact of politically motivated Soviet minimization designed to hide the true homicide rates… While American rates stabilized and then steeply declined, however, Russian murder increased so drastically that by the early 1990s the Russian rate was three times higher than that of the United States. Between 1998-2004 (the latest figure available for Russia), Russian murder rates were nearly four times higher than American rates. Similar murder rates also characterize the Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and various other now-independent European nations of the former U.S.S.R. Thus, in the United States and the former Soviet Union transitioning into current-day Russia, “homicide results suggest that where guns are scarce other weapons are substituted in killings.” While American gun ownership is quite high, Table 1 shows many other developed nations (e.g., Norway, Finland, Germany, France, Denmark) with high rates of gun ownership. These countries, however, have murder rates as low or lower than many developed nations in which gun ownership is much rarer. For example, Luxembourg, where handguns are totally banned and ownership of any kind of gun is minimal, had a murder rate nine times higher than Germany in 2002.
So don’t believe the hype. The U.S. is not the murder capital of the world due to our gun ownership tolerance. Nor is there a direct causal relationship between the reduction in violent crime and tougher gun control laws. There are other factors that contributed to the decline in murder rates during the 1990s including more violent offenders being locked up or executed.