Thursday, December 20, 2012
As a parent, I am both saddened by the recent mass shootings of school children
in Newtown, Connecticut, and appalled at how quickly certain politicians and
activists have taken the opportunity to whip up anti-gun hysteria. Over the
past week, a couple of good rebuttals to this nonsense have come to my
attention. (I also see that both articles have been brought up for discussion on HBL.) The articles look at scientific and
historical data regarding whether controls over who can purchase guns actually
accomplish reductions in the murder rate and the evidence wanting.
On that score, I particularly appreciate the following demolition of the gun grabbers' favorite talking point by Thomas Sowell:
The few counter-examples [to broader gun ownership being correlated with a lower murder rate] offered by gun control zealots do not stand up under scrutiny. Perhaps their strongest talking point is that Britain has stronger gun control laws than the United States and lower murder rates.As Sowell adds, "Neither guns nor gun control was the reason for the difference in murder rates. People were the difference." And speaking of people, David Kopel, who makes similar points in the Wall Street Journal, also considers a problem that begs for discussion, but which can easily be drowned out amidst the left's current fear-mongering and the necessity of quelling it:
But, if you look back through history, you will find that Britain has had a lower murder rate than the United States for more than two centuries-- and, for most of that time, the British had no more stringent gun control laws than the United States. Indeed, neither country had stringent gun control for most of that time.
In the middle of the 20th century, you could buy a shotgun in London with no questions asked. New York, which at that time had had the stringent Sullivan Law restricting gun ownership since 1911, still had several times the gun murder rate of London, as well as several times the London murder rate with other weapons. [bold added]
A second explanation [for the increase in mass shootings] is the deinstitutionalization of the violently mentally ill. A 2000 New York Times study of 100 rampage murderers found that 47 were mentally ill. In the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law (2008), Jason C. Matejkowski and his co-authors reported that 16% of state prisoners who had perpetrated murders were mentally ill.Deinstitutionalization of the violently insane is an issue Clayton Cramer raised in the wake of the Tucson shootings in early 2011. While I am not sure how involved the government should be in treating the dangerously mentally ill, I think that it has a proper role in keeping them from threatening others at will. For starters, as I put it then, "[T]here is no right to menace other people."
In the mid-1960s, many of the killings would have been prevented because the severely mentally ill would have been confined and cared for in a state institution. But today, while government at most every level has bloated over the past half-century, mental-health treatment has been decimated. According to a study released in July by the Treatment Advocacy Center, the number of state hospital beds in America per capita has plummeted to 1850 levels, or 14.1 beds per 100,000 people.
There is no way to guarantee that such tragedies will never happen again, but two things are clear to me. First, taking guns out of the hands of stable, responsible adults will do nothing to prevent similar things in the future. (Indeed, common sense and hard data suggest that doing so will make mass shootings more likely to occur, and deadlier when they do.) Second, we need to take a serious look at how quickly and easily we are releasing people who pose an objective threat to others. (I understand, based on a brief conversation with a psychiatry professional that it is very easy to differentiate such people from nonviolent mentally ill individuals.)