In the wake of the horrible tragedy in Connecticut, the airwaves have exploded with opinions as to the causes behind this awful event. The immediate conclusion drawn by many Congressmen, media personalities, and fellow citizens appears to be that guns are the problem, and what we need are stricter gun control laws. One prominent commentator even called for outright confiscation of certain types of guns (1).
The case for gun control is backed by “evidence” presented as plain-as-day common sense:
- No ordinary citizen really needs these types of weapons.
- We’ve had too many incidents like this in recent years.
- America, with it’s proliferation of guns, is the only place this happens.
I disagree. I don’t believe guns were the cause. Nor do I believe it was violent video games, movies, music, books, or anything of the sort. The ugly truth is the shooter was a monster, incapable of discerning good from evil. This man would have caused a great tragedy no matter his access to guns, legal or otherwise. There is no law, no regulation, no government program that would have prevented such a massacre.
But how to address the “common sense evidence”? Wikipedia currently publishes a list of massacres. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_events_named_massacres
I extracted all the incidents which occurred in the United States over the last 100 years. Obviously, this is an incomplete list. But it does provide a starting point to begin thinking about the current clamor for gun control. Here are the entries:
- April 20, 1914 Ludlow massacre in Colorado – 9 striking coal miners, plus 11 children killed in an attack by the Colorado National Guard.
- February 14, 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago – 7 killed by Al Capone’s gang members.
- August 1, 1966 University of Texas massacre – 16 killed by lone gunman.
- May 7, 1970 Kent State massacre – 4 students killed by Ohio National Guard members.
- July 18, 1984 San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre in San Diego – 21 people killed by lone gunman.
- October 16, 1991 Luby’s massacre in Killeen, Texas – 22 people killed by a lone gunman.
- April 19, 1993 Waco massacre – 76 members of the Branch Davidian church died in a fire following an attack on the compound by the FBI.
- March 26, 1997 Heaven’s Gate (Hale-Bop Comet) massacre in California – 39 religious cult members commit suicide
- April 20, 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado – 13 people killed by two teenagers (+2 if you count their suicides).
- March 25, 2006 Capitol Hill massacre in Seattle – 6 people killed by a lone gunman.
- April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre – 32 killed by a lone gunman.
- November 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre in Texas – 13 people killed by a lone gunman.
- January 8, 2011 Tucson supermarket massacre in Arizona – 6 people killed by a lone gunman.
- July 20, 2012 Colorado Movie Theater massacre – 12 people killed by a lone gunman.
- December 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre – 20 children and 6 adults killed by a lone gunman.
So what do we find?
Excluding the Hale-Bop event, which was a mass suicide not involving guns, there were a total of 274 victims of mass murder by gunfire.
Do citizens really need to have all their guns taken away, or at least access curtailed?
Over the last 100 years, the government (including Fort Hood, which perpetrated by a US Army Major) was responsible for 113 of these 274 murders. With more than 40% of the murders caused by government entities, it’s hardly accurate to place blame on citizens with guns.
Still, excluding the Al Capone gang deaths, there are yet 154 murders on the list perpetrated by lone gunmen (or two in the case of Columbine).
But 154 murders in 100 years is an extremely small number. By comparison, USA Today reports that in 2011, 26 Americans lost their lives to lightening strikes. Down from an average of 300 deaths due to lightning in the year 1940. More people died in the United States from lightning strikes in 1940 than from mass murder gunfire in all of the last 100 years. Did the government institute tougher lightning regulations in order to reduce the casualties? Of course not. (The article reports the decrease was due to on-going public awareness.) 154 deaths over 100 years is certainly not cause for knee-jerk, alarmist gun control laws.
I think a case might be made that mass-murders are occurring more frequently in the last 5 to 10 years. But that doesn’t mean that guns are the cause. Guns were just as accessible in the prior 90 years as they were in the last decade. If anything, gun controls have grown stricter during that time-span. And, this does not address the fact that criminals have access to guns, regardless of gun control laws. One can argue whether the proliferation of guns in the United States is a good or bad development, but the fact is that they are here. Pragmatically, banning access to guns for law-abiding citizens does nothing to prevent criminal monsters from obtaining guns in order to commit mass murder.
As for the charge that these horrible events are only occurring in the United States, that may be true for incidents involving lone gunmen. According to the massacres listed for other countries, the killings are overwhelmingly committed by rogue political or government forces against one or another minority. But that doesn’t mean that eliminating guns from the citizenry eliminates overseas mass murders. In a clear example, the Wikipedia list includes the May 25, 2012 Houla massacre in Syria, in which 108 people were killed with knives – 49 of the victims were children.
Ours is not a society based on what the government believes we need, or don’t need. Ours is a society based on liberty, and the second amendment of the US Constitution protects our right to keep and bear arms. I am not saying that we ignore basic measures of common sense when considering ownership of “weapons of mass destruction”. But what is being called for in the media today, is not common sense.
No one wants to be reminded that this world is dangerous, fragile, and violent. No one likes to acknowledge that life is short, and that no matter how many laws, safeguards, and regulations are put in place, accidents will happen and tragedies will occur. It’s much easier to place blame on something else. Somewhere less painful lies a scapegoat to provide a shortcut to absolution. In the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, that scapegoat is gun control.