Why gun control is not a solution at all

These last few months, there has been a lot of debate in the US about violence in general and gun control in particular. I think it’s safe to say this is an emotional topic for a lot of people: there seem to be more knee-jerk responses from both sides than on most other topics. In many ways, I understand why this is such a hot-button issue. As this is a self-defense related topic I haven’t discussed before, I wanted to share my perspective with you here.

Before I go on, some qualifiers you should read:

  • I am not a US citizen. I live in Belgium. So whatever happens in the US is far removed from my daily life. That said, it is still relevant because what happens in the US is used to pass gun control legislation here in Belgium. Our media usually describe the pro-gun camp and the US society in general as a collective bunch of gun-toting nutcases. There is very little nuanced reporting. The other reason it matters to me is that it’s a constant topic of debate for many American friends of mine. So I’ve followed this issue for a long time, without ever commenting much on it, until now.
  • US law doesn’t apply to me. The Constitution of the US is irrelevant to me. I’m a Belgian citizen and we have our own Constitution. It gets raped and abused by our politicians here just as much, make no mistake about it.  But a constitutional right to bear arms doesn’t exist in my country. This makes many of the traditional points in the discussion irrelevant for me personally. So as far as I’m concerned they don’t matter.
  • I’m a cynic. I am not bitter and live a life filled with love for my children, family and friends while enjoying the good times I share with them. However, I don’t believe mankind is inherently good; I expect and prepare for the opposite.
  • Hunting isn’t big over here. There is some hunting of course, but it’s not that big of a deal over here in Belgium. So that argument is moot for me as well.
  • I’m not a weapons freak. Weapons are tools to me, nothing else. I can admire the skill a good craftsman puts into making a weapon or the hi-tech engineering that goes into it. But other than that, I don’t care much for them. Just as I don’t care about cars: they’re also nothing but a tool (get me from point A to Z).

The points I’ll make here are relatively straightforward, though they are in my experience very difficult to accept for a certain kind of people. Typically, this means those who have lived a comfortable, sheltered life in a Western society. Even though they loudly disagree with me on those points, I usually only get emotional diatribes as a reply, instead of reasoned debate. It’s ironic that their reaction only proves what I just told them, but that’s another story. Anyway, here goes.

 

Human beings are a violent species

We evolved away from our animal ancestors to become the dominant species of this planet. Science has made a more than convincing case on this front. Even though there is still so much left to investigate, it has also made a damn good case for the way our brain and body works. Add to this a body of work from anthropology and a few other branches and the picture becomes pretty bleak:

Humans are no better than animals when it comes to ferocious violence, even though we like to think we are. But an abundance of proof is against us.

That abundance of proof comes from studying our biology (which I won’t do here because it would take too long) but perhaps even more convincing, from our history.

Throughout human history, there has been a consistent presence of violence. This is true for every culture, on every continent. A lot of that violence was conflicts between tribes, or countries. But even more was institutionalized or an inherent part of the culture. This is undisputed. I could go on and on about this but all too often, people think of this historical violence only in abstract terms. So here are a couple examples you might want to skip reading about if you are easily upset:

  • The Judas chair was a torture method in which the unfortunate recipient was suspended via ropes above a a pyramid shaped structure. The victim was lowered so he was impaled upon it, slowly. Death took a long time to arrive… Impaling was used consistently in many cultures all over the world throughout history.
  • If you think impaling only happened in the long forgotten past, you might want to skip breakfast and lunch and eventually look at the picture of the torture of Captain Rosinsky by soldiers of the Red Army. I don’t recommend looking at this picture. Think before you click and at least make sure no children are around. If you still feel the need, the picture is here.
  • Balthasar Gérard assassinated William of Orange and was sentenced to death in the following manner: burn off his right hand, tear flesh off bone in six different places, quarter and disembowel him alive, tear his heart out to throw it in his face and finally decapitate him… That would have been kind by comparison to the three days of torture he got instead, until finally being executed. Here’s the thing: regular people systematically took their kids to go watch these executions and acts of torture. It was a family thing people did back then, their version of entertainment for the masses.
  • Milton Blahyi, who is now an evangelical preacher, admitted to the human sacrifice of children to pluck our their heart, divide it into pieces and eat it.

I could have gone back a lot further in time for tons more examples.

I could have given more examples from this day and age, all from our 21st century “civilized” societies.

I could have given examples of every day criminal violence back then and today.

The results would have been the same: mankind is violent and always has been. Claiming otherwise is delusional to the extreme.

Why gun control is not a solution

Why the history lesson?

Because it points out ever so clearly that violence is of all times and all places. It is a constant factor throughout our history. I believe I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s permanent and will never disappear.

However, the belief that societies can banish violence forever is relatively new. We can argue about this, but I’d say it really started with the Age of Enlightenment when some philosophers claimed man is inherently good. From then on and thanks to progress in science, medicine and technology, violence has indeed become less present in most people’s daily lives. Especially when compared to how present it was in the thousands of years before. Perhaps because of this, modern societies have been latching on to the idea that violence can therefor be eradicated completely. That those who use it are sick, wrong or need help.

I think this is wrong.

It goes directly against both science and documented history as explained above.

Case in point: Hurricane Katrina. It didn’t take long before the looting, killing and raping started in an otherwise modern state of a superpower nation. Just a couple of days of no running water or electricity, along with law enforcement and civil services down, and the citizen’s behavior reverted to primitive patterns. It took thousands of National Guard and other troops to restore order.

Case in point two: this is a video from about a month ago in Texas. It doesn’t really matter who’s wrong or right. Just watch how the two guys get those sucker-punches in and how this sets off the rest. It doesn’t take much for them to act like a pack of wild animals tearing into a prey.

These are by no means unique events. But apparently the belief that modern societies can be completely non-violent is rarely questioned, even though the proof that it doesn’t take much to scrape off that thin layer of civility is right there for all to see.

 

Where do the guns come in?

If violence is an integral part of human society, as I believe it is, then what are we to do?

The same thing as for any other problem: you prepare for it.

If you live in a cold climate, you learn to live with it. You make sure you have what it takes to survive in case the electricity and/or heating goes out and you need to keep warm.

I believe it is no different with violence.

If you live close to or with other people, you will eventually be faced with violence. So you need to learn to deal with it. The biggest part of the solution is prevention and evasion; violence can’t hurt you if you aren’t present where it happens. But if prevention fails, in most modern societies you have the moral and legal right to defend yourself. Which brings up the question of how you should best do that. That leads us to weapons: weapons make it easier to effectively defend yourself, just like it’s easier to drive a nail into a wall with a hammer than by using your hand alone.

The reasoning is again very simple: An average 100 pound woman against an average 200 pound man, the man will probably beat the crap out of her while sustaining little to no injury himself. Give the woman a weapon and her odds suddenly get a whole lot better. So weapons can be seen as disparity of force equalizers. Granted, not all violence will be between two opponents at such an extreme end of the physical scale. But it’s smart tactical thinking to assume your attacker will outweigh you significantly and prepare accordingly

Taking this reasoning a step further: Give the same woman a stick or a knife and she has to close the distance (which is risky) and have a minimum level of strength and speed to be effective. So these weapons are by no means a sure thing as a means for effective self-defense.

Give her a firearm and her odds improve more: it takes less physical strength to pull the trigger and the need to close in with the attacker is gone too. So as disparity of force equalizers, firearms are generally a better choice than a stick, knife or most other weapons.

This is just a pragmatic view of the problem of facing violence, leaving out all other considerations and factors. These other aspects (like training, morality, legal issues, etc.) are just as important but I’m not going to discuss them now, I already did so in plenty of other blog posts. For now, I think I’ve established the usefulness of firearms as a means to defend yourself in perhaps the most effective way possible.

 

Misuse of firearms and gun control

Of course, it isn’t as simple as that. Firearms are not always used for self-defense, as the Sandy Hook tragedy and other killing sprees have clearly demonstrated. Nobody in his right mind can deny that these are horrible events. But in my opinion, guns are not the issue there and gun control isn’t either.

The inherent violent nature of mankind, the need to handle violence in an effective manner; those are the real issues.

Given the exceedingly long history of weapons throughout human history, I’d say we figured this one out pretty quickly in our evolution.

Using weapons for effective violence was considered normal before firearms were common place and it will continue to be so even if all guns disappear overnight.

This idea of using gun control to stop or prevent tragedies like school shootings is ridiculous. Violent people (clinically insane or not) will find a way get a higher body count, with or without gun control. Criminals already do and will keep on using weapons other than firearms to “get paid” and do their thing. Controlling whatever weapons people have access too doesn’t stop violence from happening, nor does it stop violent people from committing horrendous crimes:

  • Post WWII, martial arts like kendo were outlawed in Japan. People turned in millions of samurai swords, some of them of priceless value. It didn’t stop violence from happening. Today, Japan still has extremely strict gun laws which seem to be working: there are very little gun related deaths. But that doesn’t stop violence from happening, it still does (even though it is a relatively safe country by most standards). It also doesn’t stop lunatics from assassinating people and mass-killing them with nerve gas.
  • Post WWII, the Communist Party outlawed all traditional martial arts in China. It didn’t stop the Chinese from practicing them in secret. Violence also didn’t go away. Nor did it stop an increasing number of lunatics from going into (elementary) schools with a knife to kill and butcher children.
  • Belgium has pretty strict gun laws too. It would be a long and difficult process for me to legally own a firearm. Yet that didn’t stop some nut-job from killing people with machine-gun fire and grenades on a busy market place. It also didn’t stop another idiot from killing and mutilating babies with a knife in a daycare center.

The list goes on and on, but you get the point.

 

Conclusion

It’s not about gun control. It’s not even about guns. Just as much as it isn’t about knives or any other weapon. It’s about the reality of violence being a part of life. Controlling or banning weapons does not remove the need for an effective way to defend yourself. Violence won’t suddenly vanish when the ban goes into effect. Believing that would happen goes against science and historical proof, as I have explained (ad nauseam perhaps…) here above.

So gun control is not a foolproof solution for violence because there simply is no such thing.

Gun control is an instrument politicians use to pretend they can control violence. They can’t. Never have (and in my opinion), never will. They full well know it, is my guess. But if there’s one thing a politician can’t do then it’s admitting he is impotent to solve a societal problem. Which is what it basically boils down to: you can’t erase violence. Not with gun laws nor any other kind of regulation.

 

For those who are going apeshit after reading this, some additional points:

  • Violence isn’t the only thing to our society. There is so much more, thankfully. But this blog isn’t about puppies and rainbows. If you want that kind of thing, this isn’t the place for you.
  • I did not say we should just allow gun use across the board and have a good old shootout every day. I said no such thing.
  • I selected a very narrow and specific line of reasoning to make a basic point. I do realize the issue is more complex than what I just wrote.
  • Please read the comment policy before replying to this post. It’ll save you time and save me the trouble of deleting your comment.

 

Resources

For some more information and additional perspectives, I recommend the following resources:

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Comments

  1. Would add Steven Pinker’s “Better Angels of Our Nature” to the reading list for an additional perspective on the drop in violence in the modern era.

    Mostly just backs up what you’ve said here, but still always good to have extra references

    • I didn’t include it because I haven’t finished reading some sources critiquing it. It seems there are some issues with his numbers. At this point, I’m not sure either way so I left him out; but it sure is an interesting book.

  2. Hi Wim,

    thanks again for sharing your insights with us.

    What do you think about the current law proposals in the U.S., still giving people the right to bear small firearms, but banning assault rifles (=big military ones) ?
    I do know you’re belgian like me and that it doens’t apply to you, but I’d still like to hear your opinion.

    have a nice weekend,
    Ben

    • The word “assault rifle” is the problem. What does that mean exactly. If you mean the AR-15 then the legislation proposed is IMHO bullshit because it isn’t functionally different from many other weapons. This video here demonstrates this issue well.

  3. IMO some sort of sensible gun legislation is part of the solution. When you compare the U.S. to other First World countries we have a problem. You might want to give the book “Private Guns, Public Health” a quick skim. There’s also an interview of the author at this link:

    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/12/looking-for-lessons-in-newtown/

    We have more systematic country-wide rules on motor vehicles than we do for firearms. Depending on the state, almost any idiot can get a gun. Also, if you live in a strict gun state you can just move to a lax one and still get your gun. If you look at motor vehicle regulations and added (sometimes mandatory) safety features over the last 20 years, you’ll see that they helped to decrease highway fatalities. One example: most states now have mandatory seat belt laws because it’s been proven they help decrease fatalities.

    Did we eliminate the distracted driver or the drunk driver? No. But what we did do is reduce the damage they can do. Will gun control eliminate the behavior? Again, no. However some sensible legislation might reduce the amount of damage the nut can do.

    My 2 cents.

    Bob

    • Like I wrote in the post, I’m fully aware the topic is very complex. I’m also convinced that some sort of gun control legislation is necessary. Personally, I would have no problem with it if my country would require a license, a record of the gun/ammo, regular training and certification, safe storage at home, etc. I’m all for it. but that’s something totally different from trying to ban guns from society. I believe it’s useless to try and un-invent a technology that has been adopted en masse by a society. I really don’t see that having any success.

  4. Whim, you have gained on of the highest levels of respect in my book. It seriously could not have been said any better. With your permission, can I post a link to this on a firearm blog? Thanks and as always, job well done!

  5. I think u make some good points.
    However I think we are overlooking some stuff.

    No I do noth think it is possible to prevent all violence.
    someone who is willing to go far enough will always be able to do lots of harm to his surroundings.

    However by making it harder to geth to dangerous weaponry. Lesser nutjobs will commit violence. And lesser nutjobs will commit violence wit firearms.

    Imagine the knife atacker in Belgium was carrying a assault rifle from the hot lady in your video. He would have killed way more people.

    Nutjob+knife= horrible
    Nutjob+firearm= disaster

    Also the arguement for firearms for self defense can be kind of questionable.
    From what I undestand. It takes lots of training to be able to use it in crisis situations. Also it takes lots of knowledge. Even with all of that the atacker will have the advantage since he can shoot first and has the initiative.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QjZY3WiO9s
    Noth sure how true this is, but it shows some interesting points.

    To overcome this disadvantages and use your skills in stress takes tons of
    dedicated training.

    I do noth have a perfect solution with my Sage wisdom :)
    However I think that making the semi automatic and automatic weapons illegal might make USA a lot safer.

    Forbiding handguns might be verry dificult. This since there are so much weapons around. And of course if everyone is carrying it would be verry scary to not posses a firearm. Perhaps in time they might chance this but I doubt we wil see this happen soon.

    • “However by making it harder to geth to dangerous weaponry. Lesser nutjobs will commit violence.”
      There’s no way to prove a negative, but from what I’ve seen, that’s just wrong. Nutjobs do what they do because of what they are: nutjobs. The presence or absence of weapons doesn’t change their nature.

      “Nutjob+knife= horrible Nutjob+firearm= disaster”
      You do realize that you’re making an argument for what exactly an acceptable body count is, right?

      “From what I undestand. It takes lots of training to be able to use it in crisis situations. Also it takes lots of knowledge.”
      The same goes for driving a car. Millions of people do it every day. Causes more deaths too…

      “Noth sure how true this is, but it shows some interesting points.”
      This is such a biased piece with so many flaws, I’m not even going to bother picking it apart.

      “To overcome this disadvantages and use your skills in stress takes tons of
      dedicated training.”
      Kind of like driving a car… Have you ever done a driving course to handle slippery conditions? I have, repeatedly. Forget about being able to do those maneuvers instantly right without regular practice for many years. Yet people are allowed on the road under those conditions every day…
      Also, an incredible amount of civilians have multiple times more firearms training than the average LEO. Yet the latter gets to strap on his weapon every day and is expected to be competent in a crisis situation.

      I understand your points. However, I think they are misinformed and not realistic. No big deal, to each his own opinion.

      • Look I understand your arguments. And I know there are lots of angles to judge this kind of situations from.

        However by making it harder to geth to dangerous weaponry. Lesser nutjobs will commit violence.”
        There’s no way to prove a negative, but from what I’ve seen, that’s just wrong. Nutjobs do what they do because of what they are: nutjobs. The presence or absence of weapons doesn’t change their nature.

        Well this depends. Perhaps I should have said law offenders. But most criminals do not want to be at risk. So mostly when pulling of a crime they prefer firearm over knife and a knife over a fist.
        The more powerful the weapon the less the victim can resist. So on a global level the violence will decrease. We see this in the violence statistics in USA compared to countrys without firearms.

        Nutjob+knife= horrible Nutjob+firearm= disaster”
        You do realize that you’re making an argument for what exactly an acceptable body count is, right?
        I think there are no solutions to solving these issues. But by using stronger control on weapons, we can prevent these troubled individuals from laying their hands on firearms. Of course stabbings are still horible, but with a firearm the damage will be way more bigger.

        From what I undestand. It takes lots of training to be able to use it in crisis situations. Also it takes lots of knowledge.”
        The same goes for driving a car. Millions of people do it every day. Causes more deaths too.
        Yes but the purpose of a car is to drive. purpose of weapon to harm.
        Noth everybody out there is responsible and lives according to the laws. Children can get acces to firearms. Troubled persons can use firearms to do harm on other people.
        Also an agressor will mostly have the advantage since he is allready mentally prepared and has the weapon ready. Defender will have to switch mental gears in seconds and draw his weapon.
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/10/gun-crime-us-state

        Noth sure how true this is, but it shows some interesting points.”
        This is such a biased piece with so many flaws, I’m not even going to bother picking it apart.
        I already said it was questionable. However hearing the opinion of a proffesional sportshooter is also not verry reliable. Just like measuring holes does,nt seem a proper way to calculate the advantages and disadvantages of a weapon using it for crime.

        To overcome this disadvantages and use your skills in stress takes tons of
        dedicated training.”
        Kind of like driving a car… Have you ever done a driving course to handle slippery conditions? I have, repeatedly. Forget about being able to do those maneuvers instantly right without regular practice for many years. Yet people are allowed on the road under those conditions every day…
        Also, an incredible amount of civilians have multiple times more firearms training than the average LEO. Yet the latter gets to strap on his weapon every day and is expected to be competent in a crisis situation.

        Yes but one is a vehicle. Other is tool designed to injure/kill.
        perhaps I was not clear. I think in this stage it will noth be possible to forbid firearms in USA. But I think it wil be a good start to forbid semi automatic weapons. Despite what the lady says, I think that you do noth need more then 10 rounds to take down a deer or defend yourself.

        Do I think we can ban violence from this world with rules and forbiding firearms… No.
        But I do think however that gun control in most societies can strongly decrease the number of murders and crime.
        Just my thoughts.
        Peace.

        • Johny,

          I’m bowing out of this discussion. To point out the fallacies and contradictions in your reasoning would take more time than I want to invest in it. As I really don’t think anything I say could change your opinion, there’s no point anyway.

  6. Wim,
    I practice Karate and I love your blog but I think you are taking this from a binary angle, gun control isn’t about all guns or no guns, I am not sure you meant it but it sounds like that.
    I am myself a proponent of gun rights but as long as it’s limited to certain types of weapons like a double round shotgun for example, I see no reason why people should be arming themselves with AR-15’s or armor piercing rounds or 30 round magazines for self-defense. That’s mil grade and quite unnecessary in civilian life. I think many gun control proponents are just pointing that out

    • I don’t see it as a binary problem, not at all. I just reduced the topic to a narrow part of it to illustrate what I think is a fundamental problem with the proposition of gun control to prevent active shooter or mass killing scenarios. Like I wrote, I’m well aware the topic is more complex than what I mentioned. But before we talk about those other things, this has aspect has to be covered, that’s all I did.

  7. Hi Wim,

    Hope I can add to the debate. The purpose of gun control for me is to make the violence (which you have correctly in my view stated that can and probably will happen as people compete for resources or conflict with each other over emotional issues) non lethal as far as possible. Gun control or banning certain weapons makes non lethal violence more probable.

    On pages 42 to 43 on the UN Global Study on Homicide 2011, it says that gun availability really represents a risk factor rather than a protective factor for homicide: It makes any possible violence potentially fatal.

    http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/Homicide/Globa_study_on_homicide_2011_web.pdf

    On page 115 of that report it shows that the percentage of homicides committed by a firearm as roughly 60% in America over the years whereas on page 117 of the same report it shows Switzerland (a high percentage of gun ownership in its society) as ranging from 50 to 80%. There is on average one gun murder per year per 200,000 people in Switzerland whereas in the US it is several times higher. (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21379912 ) . So a lower volume of lethal violence but a high dependence on guns to deliver that violence. Professor Martin Killias of that article says ‘43% of homicides are domestic related and 90% of those homicides are carried out with guns.’

    So tackling gun availability is certainly a factor that can be addressed to make violence potentially non lethal. Your Austin, Texas video above proves that even getting gang attack is not as hazardous as getting shot from your spouse.

    Incidentally, I would allow the introduction of armed guards (ex service men or retired cops suitably mentally screened would be perfect along the lines of the NRA proposal about Christmas time) into American schools to prevent them being soft targets as I see potentially no compromise of any kind in America regarding gun control.

    • Hi Marc,

      Jut browsed through those sources quickly. The key point is that these are hypotheses, meaning the jury is still out. The text clearly states the specific challenges they face to confirm them as valid or not. Sure, there is a body of work that suggests things are a certain way. But the way science works, if you can’t measure certain variables you really can’t state anything as fact. Personally, I believe accurate reporting of the use of firearms by gangs/criminals would paint a very different picture. But that’s probably never going to happen. Also, there is a systematic under-reporting and lack of research into the use of firearms in valid self-defense situations. This also skews the hypothesis a certain way. So IMO, it isn’t cut and dried either way.

      As for Switzerland, it would be interesting to compare the crime rates scaled down for size with the US rates. I’m not good enough at statistics to do it so I’ll leave it to others. That said, you might want to look into the differences in the gun laws of each country, specifically the carry permits: especially the latter are not the same as in the US. Same thing for the typical population involved in crime. (Ethnic background, immigration, etc. People get all upset about this but it has nothing to do with racism. It’s just about statistics that *are* reliable because they’re in the system) So the comparison will IMO by default not be totally valid.

      My biggest issue with people who are rabid about gun control is that they are pretty much arguing about what kind of killing spree is acceptable. The number a lunatic can kill with a knife is apparently OK because we can’t ban knives, that’s just not possible. But we can try to ban guns so that number is not OK. Even if in practice that number is often the same… IMO, the focus on the weapon is wrong. The focus should be on how does a society allow its citizens to defend themselves? If it allows them effective weapons to do so (like firearms), then that’s a choice and it has consequences good and bad. If it doesn’t, that’s a choice too. IMO, it has predominantly negative consequences as those legally allowed to use force in the most effective way (LEOs) can only rarely act pre-emptively. So the citizen then just has to die? I disagree with that.
      That doesn’t mean I am in favor of a free for all where everybody has a gazillion firearms. That also doesn’t mean I believe anything goes and there shouldn’t be any regulation at all. It means I don’t believe there are easy solutions. It most definitely means I don’t believe in half-assed nonsense measures like banning so-called high capacity magazines and a bunch of others. Those will do pretty much squat to solve the problem but they make politicians look good. Unfortunately, they don’t solve the problem of violence and how to deal with it. IMO, the way this is done now is completely out of touch with reality. But that’s just my opinion, not gospel. I could be wrong too.

  8. I agree with you, gun control is really not the solution. For me, the solution is to just make gun acquisition stricter and no background check no sales.

  9. I respect your opinion and your views about gun control. However, just the first part where you said that you are not a US citizen already gives you bias over firearms. You have not lived where guns are like cars and people do not treat it as a deadly weapon but just something they need.

  10. As a race, humans are inherently violent and guns only amplify that. Just like the bow and arrow we will only stop using guns when we find something better to inflict harm to each other.

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