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Of Course the Handgun Ban is Ludicrous

According the Daily Express (and others) Nigel Farage provoked “Fury” last week by saying, “I think the ban on hand guns is ludicrous.” I say we are in a sad predicament when the statement of such a vacuous truth can provoke “fury”.

Anne McGuire, the MP for Stirling, said that Mr Farage’s views on the ban are “idiotic”. And a Mrs Majorie Davies, who was chair of the Dunblane community council at the time of the 1996 massacre which prompted the ban, said that Farage’s remarks were, “insulting to all the hard work done by the campaigners to bring in the ban. The ban clearly works as there has thankfully never been a repeat of Dunblane in the UK but when you look at somewhere like America it feels like every few months there has been a shooting.”

So let’s take a dispassionate look at the effect that the Firearms Acts of 1997, to which Mrs Davies was referring, have had on homicide and firearms offences in the UK, then hazard a glance at the effect of gun ownership abroad, in order to test these good ladies’ claims.

 I include for your edification and amusement a chart showing the number of homicides in the years immediately preceding and those subsequent to the aforementioned act:

If Anne McGuire’s unseemly accusation that Farage is “idiotic” held any water and that, “the ban clearly works”, per Mrs Davies claims, we would expect to see a sharp fall in the number of murders perpetrated in UK after the 1997 handgun ban. Instead what we see is a broadly flat trend with a greater number of murders in seven of the intervening years and fewer in seven also (as of 2011). This is of course what we should expect: Firstly because criminals tend to ignore bans – that’s what makes them criminals – I suppose the member for Stirling expected all those gun toting gangsters to give up their weapons because John Major and then Tony Blair told them to? Secondly, if one is intent on committing homicide there are tools other than handguns which will do the job just as nicely: “Guns for show knives for a pro.”

As for the claim that, “there has thankfully never been a repeat of Dunblane in the UK”, what about Derrick Bird? He managed to kill twelve and injure eleven in 2010, which by my admittedly shoddy arithmetic happened after the 1997 ban. It’s true that Bird’s victims were adults and that he used a shotgun and rifle, not a handgun, but the fact remains that the Firearms act did not prevent a massacre from being committed by a gun wielding maniac. Who would expect it to? Does anyone out there really believe that deranged psycopaths can be legislated out of existence by politicians? Besides, there was a previous tightening of firearms regulation in response to the Hungerford massacre of 1987 which by Marjorie Davies “logic” would have prevented the Dunblane massacre from ever happening: It didn’t.

Whenever gun control is mentioned in Britain, just like night follows day, there is always a nanny statist on hand to trot out stories of the terrible number of murders in the USA, conjuring up images of good old-fashioned, wild-west saloon-bar, gun-slinging chaos. Indeed, the Manchester Evening News wheeled out Peter Fahy, the Manchester Chief Con’, who said, “We should all be grateful that we have got such tight gun control in this country – when you look at the States, it’s awful over there“. Of course this is a lie promulgated by knaves and fools.

 In reality the murder rate in the US, whilst higher than in Europe, is low in global terms. What is remarkable about the USA is that it demonstrates, categorically, that firearm ownership and murder rate are NOT subject to a simple linear correlation from which we can blithely attribute a cause and effect relationship.

I include, for your delectation and delight, a chart showing global gun ownership figures versus the homicide rate for a sample of 171 countries:

[Admittedly this data is unreliable, but it is the shape of the plot and the relative position of the USA which maters]

If we were to apply a simple linear regression model to this data (as I have, simply to demonstrate its unsuitability) it would imply that firearm ownership rates above about 0.55 per capita cause negative homicide rates, which of course leads to an obvious policy prescription: If we supply free guns to the under-fives (obviously at tax payers expense) then we’ll see murder victims, like Lazarus, being miraculously raised from the dead within a generation! There is a serious point to this silliness: the anti-gun lobby relies on similar abuses of statistics in order to support the ban. Which is why you shouldn’t.

As a point of interest I have labelled the Latin American narco-states (Honduras is at the top of the chart) where gun ownership is relatively low but murder is rife. Which brings me to a more serious policy prescription: Want less murder? Legalize drugs!

Anyway, the pattern, or lack thereof, demonstrated above is repeated if one examines the USA on a state-by-state basis. In 2001 a survey asked 200,000 Americans, “Are any firearms now kept in or around your home? Include those kept in a garage, outdoor storage area, car, truck, or other motor vehicle.” Once again plotting the rate of positive responses to this question against murder rates in each state for the same year is instructive:

The lowest rate of gun ownership coincides with the highest murder rate (in Washington DC), inconveniently for gun control enthusiasts, and the rest of the data shows little to no trend over a range spanning 10% to 60% of households with guns. Of course the brighter of the gun control advocates out there might complain that Washington DC is an urban area and cannot be compared to a low population density wilderness such as Alaska. This is perfectly true but it makes my point for me: gun ownership is not the major explanatory variable when considering the homicide rate!

Even if one omits Washington DC from the above data set increased gun ownership shows a slightly negative correlation to the murder rate, in direct contradiction to the simplistic “more guns-more murder” thesis of gun control advocates. However plotting normalized residuals pertaining to the previous chart serves up a large helping of heteroscedasticity (the data “fans out” from left to right), indicating that a linear regression model is an unsuitable fit to the data anyhow.

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One can further demonstrate that banning firearms is a fool’s errand by looking at the historical homicide rate in Washington DC itself over a period of many years. In 1976 Washington DC introduced legislation restricting residents from acquiring handguns. The act required all registered firearms to be kept unloaded and disassembled. It is widely agreed that Washington has amongst the most stringent gun control laws of all the US states. Despite this Washington experienced a crime wave in the years after the ban, culminating in the 90’s, with homicide rates around 80 per 100k population. Therefore we would be just as well placed to argue that banning guns causes people to commit murders as we would to argue the converse, but that would be silly, wouldn’t it?

Returning to the European context we see more of the same, which should come as a surprise to nobody. Selecting the members of the EU 15 and EFTA (I have omitted Leichtenstein, principally because it’s a micro-state) as a sample of geographically proximate, advanced economies, once again there is no correlation between gun ownership and homicide to be found:

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Of particular note is the band of data points forming a vertical line around 30 guns per hundred mark. Norway sits atop this cohort with a murder rate of 2.3 per 100k and Austria is at the bottom with a mere 0.6 per 100k. This might force me to revise my opinion that Austria is the fount of all evil; can anyone name an Austrian other than Adolf Hitler or Josef Fritzl though? Happily though, if you were of the equally odd opinion that firearm ownership had any significant bearing on the murder rate then you can now disabuse yourself of that foolish notion too!

Of course I’m thinking rather wishfully. After all the British body politic is singularly unimpressed by facts and/or logical hypotheses, preferring to base their politics on appearing to be “nice” and rolling with the in-crowd. And so we have people holding to the fantastically naive opinion that because guns are “bad” that banning them is somehow “good”. Furthermore we are blighted by a venal cabal of over-paid, under-scrupled journalists and politicians who are all too happy to play to the somnolent gallery given the slightest opportunity. Take for example the apparently “outraged” Labour MP Chris Williamson, who told the Mirror that Nigel Farage’s (correct) opinion on the Firearms ban was, “an insult to victims of gun crime”. This is logically equivalent to stating that questioning a ban on penises would be an insult to victims of rape. But it matters not in the island cult of faux-outrage and lachrymose sentimentality that we call Britain. Here its people like me (and Farage) who are the idiots.