Although I’m a pacifist (and a pragmatic one not a fundamentalist*), I don’t get particularly passionate about gun control because despite the fact that it generally reduces homicides and suicides, because other factors are even more important for reducing homicides. Furthermore, homicide isn’t the most important cause of death. There are a lot of other public health issues that are more important such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use and even traffic safety. The recent focus on mass shooters is an even lower priority for me than guns in general because mass shooters are so rare.
Another reason I’ve been reluctant to put effort into control is that I’ve been pessimistic about the tremendous political effort that would be required to buck the gun manufacturing lobby whose funding is the true power behind a lot of the “gun rights” work of the NRA:
The NRA promotes the idea that they don’t give much money directly to political candidates, but they spend an enormous amount on political lobbying and pressure in addition to the cash they give directly to politicians. Political interest groups like the NRA are legally banned from giving unlimited political lobbying money directly to candidates, but they can spend an unlimited amount of money on other kinds of political influence peddling so that is where the big money goes.
I have been apathetic about adding any gun control measures because they would require a large investment for a relatively small health gain. But the political winds are suddenly shifting. Most pundits are giving the credit to the Parkland shooting survivors who certainly deserve kudos for being remarkably effective for a bunch of “mushy brained” teenage “clowns” who are too dumb to get into college.
But some Wonkblog data today shows another possible reason. Although homicides by weapons other than guns has been declining for a quarter century, the last couple years has seen a sudden spike in gun homicides that is larger than the spike created by the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Nobody knows what caused this spike, but if it continues, it could have an effect on society like the homicide wave of the 1970s which dramatically changed politics including gun politics and led to America’s obsession with mass incarceration. Or consider how the spike of deaths of 9/11 reshaped politics by creating more domestic spying, torture, and leading to the Iraq war. This time the spike in gun deaths might result in more gun control like spikes in gun violence did in Australia, England, Canada, Finland, and Norway.
Suicides have also been rising in tandem with gun homicides perhaps due to the fact that guns make suicides much, much more deadly.
The above graph is from Ella Koeze and Anna Maria Barry-Jester at 538 who also show that the rise in suicides is more of a phenomenon of rural counties than urban ones and the rise in homicide (which is entirely due to rising gun homicide) is also mostly in rural areas with a few urban exceptions like Gary Indiana, Indianapolis, Detroit, and a few southern metropolitan areas:
It would be interesting to see if there is any relationship between gun prevalence and the above maps, but the government cannot collect that kind of data, partly because it has been banned from studying the effect of guns on health and safety so nobody knows. There is mandatory gun ownership in some American towns, and the goverment is banned from studying whether these kinds of gun laws help or hurt the rates of violent deaths. Perhaps public health would be better served if we abolished our attempt to move towards universal health insurance, Obamacare, and instead used the savings to buy guns for everyone and move towards universal gun ownership. We could call the program Obamaguns to market it to the Democrats. Switzerland has nearly universal gun training for young men and the Swiss government issues military weapons to nearly any young man that wants to take one home, but they have a very low rate of homicide compared with the US. Although the Swiss have a strong gun culture and the third highest gun prevalence in the world, it is much lower than in the US and they have much stricter gun regulations.
*I define pragmatic pacifism as trying to minimize violence using realistic tools which can even include violence! Fundamentalist pacifists don’t believe any violence is ever justified. Although nearly everyone wants to minimize violence and could identify as a pragmatic pacifist in theory, hardly anyone who says that they want to minimize violence identifies as pacifist because most people (the non-pacifists) are convinced that violence is frequently redemptive when ‘good guys’ intentionally use violence and believe that just war is common. Most people believe that nearly all wars that us ‘good guys’ get involved in are just going to be just. Pacifists are highly skeptical that wars can ever be just in practice (although pragmatic pacifists believe that it is possible in theory just like it is possible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle). All pacifists are highly skeptical of warfare being just however pragmatic pacifists believe that policing and criminal justice can often be just because although police use violence, they really do minimize total violence when they do their job efficiently. Whereas most soldiers expect to kill during wartime, most police expect to never kill anyone. That is a big difference.