By Karl Radl
Gun control advocates are extremely keen to seize any national tragedy, such as a school shooting or a terrorist attack, to push the idea that… well… if we just banned guns, it would all stop happening.
This is magical thinking. A gun is but a tool: Guns don’t cause violent attacks in and of themselves any more than having access to kitchen knives causes knife attacks or having access to vehicles causes vehicle-based terror attacks.
Proponents of a gun ban argue that the availability of guns ostensibly makes it easier for attacks utilizing guns to occur. However, the fly in the ointment here is that there is no clear link between the availability of guns and mass shootings.
Think about it this way: There were enormous amount of guns and explosives available throughout the nineteenth century in North America and Europe (far more than at the present time), and yet there were no mass school shootings. Indeed, mass shootings of any kind outside of actual warfare were practically non-existent. Switzerland has to this day one of the highest levels of gun ownership in the world, but yet has no concomitant problem with mass shootings of any kind, let alone school shootings.
Gun control advocates simply sidestep this issue by pointing to the “availability” of guns as being the problem and then adduce countries that have more or less completely banned gun ownership in practice, such as the United Kingdom, as evidence for why banning guns works.
The problem with this logic is that while it is true that making guns less available may cause a decrease in the number of mass shootings due to a decreasing ability to acquire firearms, it disregards the fact that someone who wants to get a gun will still be able to obtain one and perpetrate a high-casualty shooting. In fact, a mass shooting may be easier to commit because there is less likelihood that someone in the vicinity will be armed and able to stop the shooter. This argument also disregards adaptation: If you take away people’s guns it merely forces people to re-think their choice of weapon, not their decision to perpetrate violence.
The United Kingdom illustrates both of these points well. Assault/automatic weapons were banned in 1988 following the Hungerford massacre, and all pistols, as well as most semi-automatic weapons, were banned in 1997 following the Dunblane massacre. However, knife and gun crime continued to rise steeply in 2017, (1) despite the number of armed police officers being at an all-time high in London. (2)
Knives, however, haven’t been banned. Indeed, criminals in the UK have found an even more easily accessible mass casualty weapon: bowls of acid. (3) These facts invalidate the idea that gun control prevents mass casualty attacks or even school shootings: People adapt, whether they do so by using a different weapon or simply getting their gun on the black market rather than Walmart.
What gun control does is take away the power of individuals who are not members of the military or the police to help the situation by defending those targeted by the attacker(s). It causes individuals to become potential targets for the attacker(s) as well as possible hindrances to those who are able to mount an armed response.
Creating a situation in which people are no longer able to respond directly to a mass shooting unless they are armed by the government is a rather ludicrous strategy. It will likely take a significant amount of time for even the best emergency team to organize a response and get to the location, and even longer to do anything about it.
These are all reasons why people who argue that guns should be able to be bought and sold freely get so vocal about any kind of gun control: once you ban one type of gun, the same argument can be used for any other type of gun. Indeed, you can use the same arguments for banning acid, kitchen knives, cars, and even building materials.
Banning guns simply does not make any sense.
(1) Rise in recorded crime is accelerating in England and Wales | UK news | The Guardian
(2) Police Federation sceptical after London increases armed police | UK news | The Guardian