In my previous post on gun control, I discussed the changes that I think need to be made in Canada. This section will be about why I think these changes need to be made, and my next post will primarily be a FAQ to debunk many of the myths being spread by the pro-gun lobby.
Some might say my anti-gun stance makes me a lefty, but it is possible to be both a conservative and in favour of tougher gun laws (except in places like the US and a few other countries). Margaret Thatcher banned semi-automatic weapons after the Hungerford massacre in the UK in 1987, while in Australia John Howard banned them after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. Both leaders were solid conservatives. In Canada, support for tougher gun laws used to enjoy popularity across the political spectrum up until the Reform Party emerged in the ‘90s. As someone who has long been a strong critic of the Reform Party and wishes the Conservatives would return to their Progressive Conservative roots, this makes a lot of sense.
Why Gun Control Works
Many factors determine murder rates, and gun control is by no means the only thing we should consider. As such, I cannot claim with 100% certainty that tougher gun laws will lower murder rates, but based on evidence, there is a high probability that would be the case. Like most laws we make, few are clear cut, most have benefits and risks, and when considering the cost/benefit analysis, one needs to exercise judgement on what is the best option. Below are some reasons I think gun control is important and necessary:
- Background checks and vetting have clearly shown to help reduce the chance of guns ending up in the wrong hands, but vetting is not 100% accurate, so there is always a chance someone will slip through the cracks. This is why I believe weapons with few redeeming features should be banned outright, even if there is only a small chance that it will be used improperly.
- For weapons that have legitimate uses such as hunting rifles, the issue becomes about weighing the risks vs. the benefits. Reasonable people can disagree on when the risks outweigh the costs.
- More guns owned means more weapons for criminals to potentially steal. Getting a gun on the black market is a lot harder than most think. You need strong connections and since most criminals are inadmissible to the US, smuggling one across the border is not easy, either. Reducing supply, alongside tougher border control is the solution.
- Economics 101 teaches you that when you reduce supply, prices will rise; holding all things equal, reduced supply also means less use. Banning smoking in many public areas is a good example of this, one of the reasons why smoking rates are much lower today than they were when it was permitted in most public places.
Likewise, Canada’s restrictive liquor laws as compared to most European countries is one reason why why our alcohol consumption rates are lower. Of course, there are many benefits from the alcohol industry in terms of jobs and it is not particularly harmful when consumed responsibly. However, there are still restrictions, which is why in Canada you cannot pick up a bottle of vodka at your local corner store like you can in many other places. Simple economics show a similar trend with guns; the more hoops you make one go through to get a gun, the less likely someone who shouldn’t have one will get it. It is not just in theory but also in practice that tougher gun laws work. Of the developed countries, the US has by far the most permissive gun laws and by far the highest murder rate. Conversely, Japan has some of the strictest gun laws and lowest murder rates. When Australia brought in tighter gun laws in 1996, they saw their murder rate fall by 59%. New Zealand had a much lower murder rate historically, but in recent years, Australia’s is lower and that can be attributed to the fact that they tightened their gun laws, while New Zealand did not. Tougher gun laws in both Finland and Germany have also seen big drops in murder rate as of late. Of course, there have been some exceptions; the handgun ban in the UK in 1997 resulted in higher murder rates over the subsequent five years, but that was largely attributed to a lack of enforcement. When enforcement was stepped up, murder rates fell, and now the UK has only 27 gun murders as compared to around 80 previously. In fact, the city of Toronto has more gun murders than all of the UK. The evidence clearly shows that tougher gun laws, when all else is held constant, will reduce murder rates.
We must also consider the social engineering front. Governments have a job to try and influence the creation of a better society. Although some on the right may hate the idea of social engineering, all governments do it to some degree. For example, strong stances against racism and homophobia have made both less socially acceptable and they are much less prevalent today than in the past. Likewise, tougher smoking laws have made smoking less socially acceptable; 50 years ago about 60% of the adult Canadian population were smokers and today only 15% smoke. Similarly, taking a tough approach on gun control sends a strong message that gun ownership should not be normalized and helps us steer away from developing a strong gun culture like in the US. If one of the goals of government is to create a more peaceful and compassionate society, tougher gun laws will help move us in that direction.
As I will discuss in my next post, some believe being able to own a gun is a sign of freedom, but I would argue this is incorrect. If you take the libertarian approach to freedom, that we should have as little government as possible, then perhaps that is true, but if you take a more liberal approach that one’s actions have impact and influence on others, one can argue more guns means less freedom. Guns cause death, and this contravenes the most fundamental freedom: the right to live