In the wake of every mass shooting or heinous crime committed with a gun, a certain sort of emotional hysteria overwhelms common sense and logic and a number of major myths about gun homicides emerge.
Over the past week--the fact that the FBI, local, and school authorities all missed major warning signs about the Parkland, Florida gunman--the focus of America's collective outrage hasn't been focused on the obvious failures of law enforcement, but rather on a need to "do something" about guns.
What that something is is never specifically outlined, but it invariably has to do with guns. This rush to judgment combined with high emotions over a national tragedy and, quite frankly, crass political demagoguing and opportunism lead directly to the public unwittingly accepting patently false precepts about gun control, namely:
The United States is the Only Country in the World Where Mass Shootings Happen
Not even close. In fact, the mass murder in Parkland was the 57th deadliest in the world over the past century. The deadliest mass shooting in American history--the Las Vegas Massacre in October--was just the 15th deadliest mass shooting in the world.
Just two of the 30 deadliest mass shooting events in the world over the past 50 years occurred in the U.S. And it's not as though most of the deadliest events happened generations ago, allowing other nations to enact gun laws that stopped mass shootings. Nine of the ten deadliest mass shootings happened in the last decade.
All of them were the result of Islamist terrorism, as were the overwhelming majority of the world's deadliest mass shootings (including the second-deadliest in American history, the attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016).
This myth, though, is so commonly repeated that it has become dogma. Even President Obama said it in 2015. Yet the numbers thoroughly contradict this claim, as the Crime Research Prevention Center made clear:
Between January 2009 and December 2015, the period that President Obama has been in office, there are 11 European countries with a higher frequency of these mass public shootings than the US, and 10 European countries with a higher rate of deaths from these attacks.
Indeed, over that same period of time, the European Union (EU) suffered 303 deaths from mass public shootings, while the US had 199. In terms of injuries from these attacks the gap was even much greater, with EU countries facing 680 versus just 197 for the US. However, given the EU’s larger population, the per million people fatality rate for the US and the EU as a whole are virtually identical (0.62 for the US and 0.60 for the EU). By contrast, the injury rate in the EU is much higher (0.61 for the US and 1.34 for the EU).
Those numbers, by the way, held for the remainder of the Obama Administration, as FOX News pointed out:
There were 29 such shootings (four or more fatalities in a public place, according to the FBI’s official definition) in the U.S. during the eight years of the Obama administration; 26 in Europe. The rate at which people are killed is virtually the same in the European Union as in the United States.
More Guns Mean More Murders
This particular myth can be debunked rather easily. Over the past quarter-century, the number of privately owned firearms has dramatically increased while the gun homicide rate has dramatically declined.
The Centers for Disease Control determined that while there were approximately 9.0 gun homicides for every 100,000 Americans in 1993, that number had declined by about 40% to 3.6 per 100,000 by 2013...even as private gun ownership increased by 56% over the same period (approximately 0.93 guns per person in 1993 to 1.45 in 2013).
Even after the so-called "Ferguson Effect" led to a jump in gun homicides from 2014 to 2016 before dropping again in 2017, the rate has still been dramatically lower than it was in 1993, when there were far fewer guns in private hands.
More "Assault Weapons" Like the AR-15 Mean More Murders
Just as the overall rate of private gun ownership has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, so too has the rate of AR-15 ownership...and the gun homicide rate has continued to decline.
On September 13th, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (more commonly known as the "Assault Weapons Ban"), which lasted for ten years. When it expired on September 13th, 2004, Americans could again legally purchase the Colt AR-15.
It should be noted that the "AR" in AR-15 does not, as commonly thought, stand for "Assault Rifle," but rather "ArmaLite Rifle"--the company that originally manufactured the gun before selling the design to Colt.
With the AR-15 back in circulation, the gun homicide rate essentially stayed flat before dropping to a low of 3.6 per 100,000 people in 2014 and then rising again as a result of the "Ferguson Effect."
Moreover, the AR-15 (and rifles in general) are relatively rarely used in homicides. For example, in 2012, there were a total of 12,765 total gun homicides. In those, the perpetrators used a total of 8,855 guns. Of those, 6,371 (72%) were handguns. Just 322 (3.6%) were rifles. This is true every year the FBI has kept data on what types of firearms were used in homicides. Rifles such as the AR-15 are used in just a tiny handful.
Gun Confiscation Like Australia's Would Reduce Gun Crime
After the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, in which 35 people were killed, Australia enacted the National Firearms Agreement, which resulted in the government confiscation of between 650,000 and 1 million firearms from private citizens.
This is invariably cited as a model for the United States in the wake of every mass homicide. "If we could only do that here," the thinking goes, "then we could reduce gun murders here."
There's only one problem: There's no evidence that Australia's gun confiscation actually reduced the homicide rate in Australia. Two different academic studies attempted to determine whether the National Firearms Agreement had any impact, and both found that Australia's gun homicide rate was already declining at the time of the law's enactment and continued declining at about the same rate after it went into effect.
In their 2007 study “Gun Laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference?” researchers Jeanine Baker and Samara McPhedran found that "when compared with observed values, firearm suicide was the only parameter the [National Firearms Agreement] may have influenced, although societal factors could also have influenced observed changes."
The following year, Wang-Sheng Lee and Sandy Suardi with the University of Melbourne concluded that "there is little evidence to suggest that [the National Firearms Agreement] had any significant effects on firearm homicides." Additionally, "the evidence so far suggests that in the Australian context, the high expenditure incurred to fund the 1996 gun buyback has not translated into any tangible reductions in terms of firearm deaths."
Mass Gun Confiscation is Possible in the United States
Quite simply, voluntary gun buyback programs don't work. As Mother Jones noted:
A 2004 report released by the National Research Council found that the theory underlying gun buybacks is “badly flawed” for an obvious reason: Criminals who actively acquire guns generally don’t want to give them to the police department to destroy, even if it’s done anonymously.
The Centers for Disease Control in 2013 reached a similar conclusion: Gun buyback programs don't work because career criminals such as gang members and/or drug dealers (i.e. the people most likely to use their guns in crimes) don't want to give up their guns or fear the consequences of walking into a police station with a crime gun.
Thus, the only way to get guns off of the streets would be a gun confiscation program. Australia's National Firearms Agreement resulted in the seizure of approximately a fifth to a third of all of the privately owned guns in the country.
A similar rate of seizure here would be between 60 and 105 million guns. How feasible would that be? It would also not be Constitutional. The Second Amendment protects private, lawful gun ownership, while the Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful searches and seizures of lawfully owned items such as guns, and the Fifth Amendment protects against the deprivation of "property...without due process of law." This means that every single person who would be compelled to give up his or her guns could theoretically require a hearing to determine if such seizure is lawful.
Spoiler alert: It is not.
Most Gun Deaths are in Homicides or Accidental Shootings
Nope, not even close. Of the 33,000 annual gun deaths in the United States each year, a whopping two-thirds are suicides.
"But if we got rid of guns," one might be tempted to think, "couldn't we dramatically reduce suicides?"
Perhaps, but consider this: Japan has near-total gun control, yet its suicide rate is 60% higher than the world average, and its suicide rate of 19.5 per 100,000 people is dramatically higher than the U.S. suicide rate of 13.4 per 100,000. This sadly means that even in the absence of guns, a suicidal person will still find away to end his or her life, just as they are in Japan, where guns are ostensibly much more difficult to obtain than in the United States.
The NRA Buys Politicians to Prevent Gun Control Laws
This is a particularly pernicious myth that almost invariably pops up--primarily to scapegoat Republicans, who generally receive more in contributions from the National Rifle Association. But how much do they actually receive? Not a whole lot.
The NRA, gun makers, and gun rights issues do not even show up on the OpenSecrets website lists for top lobbying firms, top lobbying sectors, top lobbying issues, or top lobbying industries for the years 1998-2017.
The Poltifact fact-checking website puts the total amount of NRA spending since 1998 at $203 million. That figure is even smaller than it looks when you consider 30 percent of Americans, or about 100 million people, own a gun. By contrast, Wall Street and the broader financial industrial shelled out more than $1.1 billion in the 2016 election cycle alone. The financial industry employs only about six million people in total.
The bulk of that $203 million doesn't actually go to candidates as the hysterical tweets and finger pointers seem to believe. It's spent on those "issue ads" that you see mostly on cable news channels during election years. But even if those ads are extremely influential, they are a much different animal than direct campaign donations to individual congressional and presidential candidates.
There's even a question of whether the NRA is very persuasive among actual gun owners. Fewer than 20 percent of American gun owners are even NRA members. That should tell us something about the "chicken or the egg" argument about the gun lobby. The NRA is much more likely piggybacking off the beliefs of gun owners as opposed to framing them in the first place. The real power is with those voting gun owners, not the lobby group that purports to represent them.
This would suggest that the NRA is actually far less influential than the hysterical finger-pointing would suggest. Take, for example, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has been repeatedly blasted for having "blood on his hands" in the wake of the Parkland shooting. According to CNBC:
A look at the top 20 donors to Rubio directly and his PAC since 2009 does not include the NRA. Over his career since 2009, Rubio has raised a total of more than $91 million in donations. The NRA is responsible for just over $3 million of that, or 3.3 percent. Big whoop, as they say. Yes, $3 million is a lot of money and more than most of us could ever donate to anything. But context is everything, and the even a so-called "poster boy" for NRA donations would only be 3.3 percent lighter in campaign cash without them.
It's rather difficult to say Rubio is "bought and paid for by the NRA," then, isn't it? One would think so, but alas, this myth of the NRA boogeyman--like all of the gun control myths--seems to persist.