Do Laws Prohibiting Firearms Work?

After scowering the internet and a few of my favorite statistic gathering websites for data on the link between firearms and violent crimes/murder/and accidental deaths I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.  The data is all over the place. 

When you look at JUST the data inside the United States its confusing enough, but when you begin looking at the entire planet the task become daunting.  There is WAY too much misinformation and bad data on both sides of the argument (pro gun/anti gun) to take almost any article at face value.  So after reading what seems like 100 articles and 100 data sets I finally came to a few conclusions that I think are worth sharing. Since this will probably be a fairly lengthy and boring article I’ll give you the conclusion first:


A.) Evidence shows that legislation (strict gun laws) is not the determining factor between firearm ownership and firearm crime.
B.) Evidence shows that there is a coorilation between gun availability and the number of firearm related incidents (sometimes, but not always realated to A above)
C.) Evidence shows that there is a coorilation between Government Oppression of the population and lack of legal gun ownership.
D.) Evidence shows that in any population most violent crimes involving firearms were almost always perpetrated by an illegally obtained firearm regardless of the strictness of firearm laws. (Laws do not prevent criminals from obtaining guns).
E.) Evidence shows overwhelmingly that Demographics (race, gender, education, income, ethnicity) play the KEY role in the link between firearms and firearm related incidents.
F.) The answer to ending gun violence in America and optimizing Liberty is by addressing education, income gaps, social norms, and behavior of the people – especially males between the age of 17 – 26.

What the Numbers Say

Statistics show that there is no real coorilation between strict gun laws and gun related homicides as countries with varying percentages of households with firearms are found all over the list.  I found this chart very interesting – the countries with the most strict gun laws (no households with guns) were found on both the top and bottom of the list for ranking by Firearm Homicide.  This tells me that there MUST be something else going on.  A quick bit of research in to these countries tells me that drugs, war, and demographics are the key to crime and more specifically gun related crime.

Death rates are per 100,000

 An issue of Demographics?

The link between demographics and firearm incidents was disturbing to me.  These statistics in and of themself are enough to tell me that we are addressing the wrong problem when we talk about gun control.  This shouldn’t be an issue of “should we have guns or not”, but rather one of “how do we fix the cultural problem” in this country.  Why the disparity? 

The fight against gun control is fighting the symptom, not the problem.

United States Only

  • In 2007, African-Americans represented 13 percent of the population yet accounted for 49 percent of all homicide victims.
  • In 2007, 80 percent of gun deaths among Whites were from suicide.
  • There is a strong link between race/class and education/test scores.  Furthermore there is a strong link between lack of education and violent crime indicating those in poverty and of specific ethnic groups are at higher risk of committing a firearm related crime.

Weapon Availability vs. Gun Legislation

There is certainly a link between gun availablility and firearm related incidents. However, “availability” is not always measured or coorilated to the legality of obtaining those weapons.  So we cannot conclude from that alone that the strict legislation prohibiting the pocession of weapons is the case.  Furthermore, in the United States we see other effects of gun ownership – such as the states with the highest levels of gun ownership actually have the lowest overall crime rates.  Is ther a link?  I don’t know, but it is important to remember that causation is not always coorilation.

To give an analogy – The United States has the highest percentage of population with availability to automobiles, thus we also have the highest number of automobile related deaths and crimes.  Does this mean we should create more legislation dictating how we use our privilage to drive? No.  As with gun ownership there are intrinsique benefits and risks associated with gun ownership as well as automobile ownership. 

Also, creating legislation around Gun Control implies that people intend to follow the law.  Studies show that most violent crimes related to firearms were made by people with guns obtained illegally in the first place.  Laws only effect people who intend on following them. 

Freedom and Gun Control

Something the Founding Fathers knew all too well was that for citizens to remain free from the tyranny of their Governments (or any other oppressor) it was necessary to have the ability to fight back.  In the most oppressed countries around the world it is no surprise that legal gun ownership is almost zero everytime.  To rule a population, first you must disarm them.

I certainly am NOT saying that the trick to ending oppression in these nations is giving every household a gun, but what I am saying is that there is a certain amount of liberty in RESPONSIBLY owning a firearm.  Furthermore, there is no evidence that further legislation in the United States would do an ounce of good toward disarming criminals.  Even at a global scale we see inconsistant data as to whether strict gun laws help or not. 

What should we do about firearms and violence?

The data points in one direction.  The ONLY way to decrease gun related crimes while maintaining our liberty is to via education, closing income gaps, and altering cultural norms.  Just like we knew all along – to change the world, first you have to change the heart and minds of the people living there. 


25 thoughts on “Do Laws Prohibiting Firearms Work?

  1. drugsandotherthings

    I have to disagree with many of your conclusions.

    While it is true some of the most repressive governments ban or heavily restrict gun ownership, many more do not. And many non-repressive free countries likewise ban or heavily restrict gun ownership.

    And the reality is our founding fathers wanted private gun ownership because they did not want a standing federal army- a reality we gave up long ago. And in the US, and all developed nations, private gun ownership has become meaningless to prevent government control because we can not begin to counter the overwhelming armarement of the nations armies.

    And I disagree with your insinuations regarding firearm violence related to race. Poverty is the largest indicator, and minorities are dispproportinately effected. When the numbers are adjusted – we actually find white males to be the largest perpetrators of gun violence by far.

    I will agree though- there is something unique about the american love for violence- for developed nations it is absolutely staggering. And something Americans need to look long and hard at.

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      1. Based on the stats I dug up there is a strong link between a ban on gun ownership and oppression by leaders. Disarming the population is an easy way to prevent uprising. Furthermore, strict gun control laws are a sign of absence of liberty (although not always so). I’m basing these conclusions off of pure data – I would love to see the data refuting that fact. Private gun ownership gives people the confidence that they can fight back – that is dangerious to an oppresive government.

      2. I agree that poverty is a direct link to violence; however in the US race and poverty are directly coorilated. Not that you are bad because you are a certain race, but rather as I indicated in this article there is certainly something to be said about the coorilation between race/education/poverty and firearm violence.

      3. “When the numbers are adjusted – we actually find white males to be the largest perpetrators of gun violence by far.” That is false – as I pointed out in a bullet point in the article.

      In 2007, African-Americans represented 13 percent of the population yet accounted for 49 percent of all homicide victims.

      You are giving out mis-information or please site your source.

      4. “there is something unique about the american love for violence- for developed nations it is absolutely staggering. And something Americans need to look long and hard at.”

      True – we need to re-educate our people and adjust the cultural norms. Especially the popularization of bad behavior including gun usage. As stated in the beginning of the article.

      F.) The answer to ending gun violence in America and optimizing Liberty is by addressing education, income gaps, social norms, and behavior of the people – especially males between the age of 17 – 26.

      1. drugsandotherthings

        No it is not mis-information. When poverty and (mostly inner-city) violence is accounted for with poverty being the deciding factor then race it is clear white male gun violence is then the greatest.
        The majority of suicides, murders of family, and murder suicides involving firearms are perpetrated by white males. see some of the reports here: or here: as just a couple of examples.

        And please show me the developed countries that can be compared to the US where gun control as led to dictatorships? Canada and most european countries have strict gun control laws and yet remain democracies. And you ignore the fact that in this day and age, with the overwhelimg armarement of governments, that personal gun ownership has become meaningless in protecting freedom. This is NOT 1776. The balance of power has shifted- due to our allowing of a standing army in direct contradiction to the 2nd ammendment- the very ammendment gun supporters oddly cling to.

        1. Atticus Finch Post author

          1. You just said when you ignore several factors its clear white males have the most gun violence. That makes no sense. I’m sure if you look at those white males that there were problems at home, poverty, and psychological issues. So its not helpful to ignore certain factors when discussing this debate. We have to take a wholistic viewpoint and come to our conclusion. That includes problems with poverty, education, and et al.

          2. I think you are missing my whole point. My point is the you cannot legislate morality. I demonstrated this point by showing that some countries with strict gun laws have problems with firearms while others with many households having firearms (Canada) do not. There is no data pointing toward strict gun laws and gun related violence – its a larger cultural issue. Rather than the Government legislating our behavior the changes should start with education, poverty, etc.

          3. Gun ownership is critical to freedom as EVERY right a person has is critical to freedom. That is why it is important not to legislate morality. Tyranny in developed nations do not necessarily come from force, but rather from the people giving it away slowly or laws that take it away over time. Freedom isn’t taken, its chipped away.

          Thats why I demand gay rights, protection of the internet, habeus corpus, protection of gun rights, etc. The easiest way for the Gov. to justify tyranny is for our own protection (patriot act).

          4. The fact that non-developed/oppressed nations have strict gun control is a sign of the greater problem of a lack of liberty – which is the overall point I was making. It’s not about whether “protecting ourselves” from the military would be effective, but rather if we have that choice to do so.

        2. jon

          DrugsandOtherThings — I imagine that when you look at groups of whites and blacks with equal levels of poverty, it might well be, as you say, that whites have a higher level of firearm violence. I’d like to see the data on that. I followed the bradycampaign and lcav links which go to the home pages of the sites. If you have the opportunity, and find links to graphs or statistics within these sites that deal with this issue, I’d like to look at them. Not doubting it (or accepting it), just curious to see the data that exists on this question.

  2. jon

    I think this is a great analysis. I’m not disagreeing with some of what ‘drugsandotherthings’ wrote, but some of what ‘drugsand..’ says is 100% in line with your conclusions (which are about crime and poverty – as an explanation for the graph showing violence/race associations). Really, this is such an incisive piece.

    The table at the top, exactly as you say, shows that legal firearm-in-households doesn’t predict firearm death (either an increase or a decrease). But is seems to me that the relation isn’t exactly random. The fact that the top 5 and the bottom 5 countries in terms of %firearm death are all countries that prohibit guns seems non-random. There seems to be something interesting going on – but I don’t know what it is. If it were a random relation, you’d expect the countries with firearm in home = n/a to be randomly spread throughout the table. To some degree they are, but I wonder if there’s a reason why they also make up the top 5 and bottom 5 in terms of firearm death. ????? It makes me think that the true answer might be something like “If you want the country to be lowest in terms of firearm deaths you need a) strict gun control + b) a second factor. And “B” would be some factor that distinguishes the countries at the top of the list and the bottom e.g., a well developed legal system or a certain level of education or a certain level of affluence spread throughout society (i.e,. the type of factors you point to in your conclusions). If you sort countries in that table according to mean education level, for instance, would a clearer relation to firearm deaths emerge? What if they were sorted according to some number that combines mean education level + strictness of gun laws? That type of thing. (Not saying you should do this, just a thought experiment).

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      See Jon, this is why I need a guy with a PHD critiquing my work. I was actually thinking along similar lines. However, I think its more like there are factors B, C, and D in addition.

      That’s why I say it has to be something to do with the entire culture – not just because the law says so. I think that a law in the US outlawing guns would be virtually ineffective because culturally we aren’t there yet.

      The US actually does have fairly strict controls on who can have a gun legally – but those laws aren’t working. So I hesitate to believe that further restictions/licensing would do much good. Criminals don’t need a license.

      Instead we need a campaign like the one against tabacco usage preaching better behavior and responsibility with weapons.

  3. Atticus Finch Post author

    Funny thing is I think we all agree that there is a problem with the rate of firearm incidents in the US we just don’t agree as to whether the Government is the solution or not…

  4. jon

    It’s definitely true that the anti-tobacco campaign seems to have an impact – but I’ve got to say – in NYC (and lots of other cities), local ordinances prohibiting smoking in most bars, restaurants (even the park – which to me is getting fanatical) seems to have a big effect too.

    The gun laws are a tricky issue. I agree, like you, that there are freedom of choice vs government control issues at stake. But on the other hand, I worry that some sensible restrictions (like making cop-killer bullets illegal) are sometimes hard to pass because it seems like the NRA is spending a lot of money and clout to protect its profits (and may be wrapping itself in the flag in order to protect its own ‘bottom line’.

    Also, I know that lots of people own guns for perfectly good reasons – but I wonder if there’s also a machismo factor for some people. I guess that even if there is, they maybe could have the right and liberty to express machismo if that’s what they want to do. But I do have the underlying intuition that the gun-culture we live in (which i think is unusual among the developed 1st world nations) isn’t working in our favor. But I really don’t know.

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      I’m all for “sensible” gun laws. I don’t want an unsupervised child, a psychopath, a criminal, etc. to have access to a firearm. That makes complete sense.

      I do question whether those laws actually prevent criminals from accessing guns or simply creates another avenue of revenue via the criminal black market, but in any case I support those laws.

      What I question is tighter restrictions preventing law abiding citizens from owning guns.

      We have to remember that we are from cowboy and gangster country. Cowboys ruling by force with their “peace-maker” or gangsters robbing a bank or ruling the slums is popularized and mimiced. That is the underlying problem – a cultural one.

      I hesitate to put more power in the hands of the Government… 🙂 I’m sure you could have guessed that though…

  5. philebersole

    You are right to say that gun prohibition won’t work, for the same reasons that alcohol prohibition didn’t work in the past and drug prohibition isn’t working now. Restrictive laws might keep firearms out of the hands of some potential criminals or suicides, but you also would be setting the stage for more tragedies like Waco or Ruby Ridge.

    The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution defines a private right to keep and bear arms. This is the plain meaning of the words, and also the interpretation given by the Supreme Court. This is not to say that constitutional rights are not subject to some reasonable regulation consistent with their purpose. But ownership of firearms by responsible law-abiding people is not a social problem.

    The right to self-defense is a fundamental human right—arguably the most fundamental human right. The mark of subjugated peoples down through history and across cultures is to be denied the rights to keep weapons and to have access to the courts.

    Last year, after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona, I posted some statistics and links about gun deaths and gun laws. They pretty much support what you are saying.

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  10. gun control worked for us

    I wonder how much of the statistics are skewed. There’s a graph above saying “what the numbers say” but I notice the years of statistics vary from 1990 to 2005. Who chose what year? on what criteria? wouldn’t there be a more accurate assessment by using the same year for all countries?
    I noticed this cos the year Australia was assessed is 1994. The year of our worst Mass shooting. in those days we did not have strict gun laws. It was a consequence of that event that the strict gun laws came about. Since that time fatalities by firearms has drastically reduced. In fact…
    “The Australian example provides evidence that removing large numbers of firearms from a community can be associated with a
    sudden and on-going decline in mass shootings, and accelerating declines in total firearm-related deaths, firearm homicides and firearm suicides.” Professor Simon Chapman international research journal, Injury Prevention.

  11. Doc

    I think your all missing cause and effect, Viiolence in the entertainment industry, Please don’t tell me the constant exposure to violent movies, video games and music does not desentitize our kids, do not tell me the no blame, no winners and no losers in school and the and someone elses fault culture has nothing to do with it. Firearm have been around for centuries, yet its only since the 70’s that we started having problems with it, the removal of God and Morals from our schools and the refusal to hold people accountable for thier actions are the direct cause of this degenerate generartion… guns are just an means to an end, be it in defense or in offense of a particular goal… The left wing are directly responsible, the gutting of morals in out society have led to this, but people refuse to acknowledge it, the destruction of the family, single mothers… right to contraception, abortion… please spare me the hypocrisy of blaming law abiding gun owners… Look to the Gov in all its glory, they have succeeded in doing what the Soviet couldn’t

    1. Atticus

      Morality probably does have something to do with it. However, God doesn’t. Japan and many western European nations have almost no gun related crime and are secular nations. At the same time many Latin American countries were are almost completely Christian have some of the highest gun related crime rates on the planet. So I agree that there is something culturally missing, but to say it’s because of the removal of “God” is a fallacy.

  12. Paul

    What should we do about firearms and violence?

    The data points in one direction. The ONLY way to decrease gun related crimes while maintaining our liberty is to via education, closing income gaps, and altering cultural norms. Just like we knew all along – to change the world, first you have to change the heart and minds of the people living there.

    This is absolutely true. Something still bothers me…

    Yes these changes are necessary, but how long will it take? Maybe phrased more bluntly, how many innocent lives will be lost before hearts and minds are changed?

    Your conclusions (A to F) are all correct. A criminal will always have gun and will be wiling to use it, laws or no laws. Conclusion B.

    “Evidence shows that there is a coorilation between gun availability and the number of firearm related incidents (sometimes, but not always realated to A above)”

    Shows a simple truth….fewer guns = fewer deaths. If we remove the criminal aspect from the discussion and we focus just on limiting deaths the only conclusion I can make is to limit the guns. While limiting crime is important limiting deaths especially of innocent lives trumps limiting crimes (although I am not God, I think God would agree since he told us to turn our other cheek). I also believe that it is the quickest way to stop such deaths.

    1. Atticus Post author

      I think it would be very difficult for the largest arms dealer in the Planet’s history (the U.S.) to enforce tighter gun control laws. The change has to be from top to bottom – leadership to the people. Otherwise it will not work.

  13. Paul

    How true: but do you think the conclusion made::
    F.) The answer to ending gun violence in America and optimizing Liberty is by addressing education, income gaps, social norms, and behavior of the people – especially males between the age of 17 – 26
    Is any easier?

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