17 April 2007

US gun school massacre could happen here as well.

...but of course it is a lot less likely to happen here because we have less weapons on the streets mainly because we have always had decent gun controls, the handgun ban of 1997 has reduced gun deaths even more.

I am not going to harp on about isolated incidents like this, what is far more important is the overall statistics - around 29,000 killed by guns in the US compared to around 160 people killed in the UK - if that doesn't tell us something I don't know what does.

Unfortunately incidents like this make headlines and get people's attention rather than mere stats - it even took a Dunblane to get a ban here. But decisions should be based on stats not isolated incidents.

The Tory press use isolated incidents to make their case and it is working, but when you go to vote in a few weeks, remember the stats on the economy, public services, you name it, are with Labour. Use your head and don't believe the Tory hype.


  1. Yeah but those stats can be misleading. For a start, you have to factor in the size of the population, so multiply the UK figure by 5.

    Even then, of course, gun deaths are far more common in the States than in the UK. But if you have guns there, that will be the case. It's a lifesyle issue, a constitutional issue, a choice issue as well.

    Making all cigarettes and alcohol absolutely illegal in the UK would instantly save many more thousands of lives. But that doesn't necessarily make it the right decision.

  2. "Making all cigarettes and alcohol absolutely illegal in the UK would instantly save many more thousands of lives."

    For a start it is not practical and even if you could do it I doubt it would save lives because there would be an explosion in crime (I also think all drugs should be legal for this reason). It is far easier for a bystander to avoid dying by alcohol and cigarettes than by a gun (though I do back the indoor smoking ban).

  3. Including suicides in the tally of gun deaths is misleading. If someone wants to commit suicide and owns a gun, he'll probably use it, because it's easy and certain. You may as well include people who throw themselves under trains in the stats for "deaths due to train crashes".

    To be fair, you probably ought to include on the credit side the number of lives saved by guns (self-defence shootings of burglars, muggers and rapists).

    You should also make sure that you're only including people that have been murdered - not those that have been legally killed. The purpose of guns is to kill people. If I have a gun for self defence, and kill someone who attacks me, that's a feature. Obviously if you increase gun ownership but hold crime constant, you will increase the number of legal self-defence shootings. The more interesting question is what a change in the number of legally-owned guns does to the level of gun crime.

  4. I am a mathematician so when I see a statement such as "the handgun ban of 1997 has reduced gun deaths even more" I want to see some evidence of causality. Your link provides evidence of correlation but that is not evidence of causality. Prior to 1997 the private possession of handguns was tightly controlled. Those legally owned firearms were not being used to commit crime, they were being used to punch holes in paper targets. The massacres of Dunblane and Hungerford are not statistcially significant, being highly extraordinary events from which it is impossible infer trends. The pistol ban has ensured that such crimes could never again be committed with legally owned firearms but it is impossible to say that we have reduced the risk of them happening again with illegally owned firearms. They are simply too rare for the risk of their happening again to be ponderable.

  5. Stephen: Your are correct to state that all these stats only demonstrate a correlation rather than a causality but...

    It seems pretty obvious to me that limiting the number of guns will reduce the number of gun deaths.

    Now I accept that making something illegal doesn't always reduce supply but unlike prohibition of narcotics or banning abortion, it is relatively much easier to regulate the number of guns and crucially ammunition (detecting guns at ports is easier than detecting drugs) and because demand for guns is far lower this also means less resources are needed to detect guns.

  6. [It seems pretty obvious to me that limiting the number of guns will reduce the number of gun deaths]

    That doesn't seem to me to be obvious at all unless you strongly qualify the statement. Ensuring as far as practicable that firearms are accessible only by responsible persons may limit the number of gun deaths. But that was the point of the Blackwell Committee and the 1920 (and successive) firearms acts. Canada has the roughly the same density of firearms ownership as the US but much fewer gun deaths. In fact, prior to 1920 when this country had virtually no gun control, firearms crime was extremely rare.

    Logically there is no reason why a properly administered system of firearms control should lead to increased number of gun deaths. If your were to argue on the basis of risk you would have a more logical argument, in that you could say that even the very small risk of permitting legal handgun ownership was not worth taking to indulge a sporting pastime.

    But that's an argument about which risks are worth taking and which are not. The blanket statement that more guns must mean more gun crime is palpable false.