Misleading Gun Facts by Brad Edmonds
A particularly gullible member of the public watched Michael Moore's Bowling
for Columbine, in which Moore apparently (and in keeping with his pattern)
blames the existence of guns for gun crimes, and quotes false statistics. This
viewer then read one or another of my gun articles, and decided I needed
correcting. His thinking is probably common, and some of his misconceptions
need to be dispelled, the more so the more common they are.
First, and most telling, the reader told me "there's only one
statistic that needs to be addressed," that being that there are more guns in
the US than in Japan, and more gun deaths in the US than in Japan. This kind of
thinking makes one's mind ripe for takeover by such hucksters as Michael Moore.
There is never only one statistic that needs to be addressed.
For example, there's just one statistic that will tell you the US
has both the world's highest per-capita incidence of osteoporosis and the
world's highest per-capita intake of calcium. This one statistic would tell a
naïve reader that calcium causes osteoporosis. Our doctors believe just the
opposite, and they prescribe calcium to treat osteoporosis. The more likely
explanation of our high rates of osteoporosis in the US is that our older women
don't lift a lot of heavy weights. Lifting makes your body demand growth in
bone density. People lift things more in other countries as part of their daily
My reader then stated that the only differences between Japan and
the United States are "homogeneity and race factors," after which he concluded
that the difference in gun deaths is explainable only by the presence of guns.
There are other significant differences between the US and Japan, however, that
help explain the difference in gun violence.
For one, Japan is officially a gun-free state. While the Japanese
enjoy more civil liberties than Americans in many respects, owning a gun
legally is beyond the reach of nearly every Japanese citizen. Hence, in Japan,
only organized criminals and the police own guns. I would consider this
For another, the US wasn't a high-crime area until the 1960s, when
our courts decided that leniency, understanding, and protecting convicted
criminals would reduce crime. Per the Dave Kopel research linked above, Japan
is not lenient toward criminals. For another, most gun deaths in the US - 52% -
are suicides. The suicide rate in Japan is so much higher than in the US,
combining suicides with gun deaths makes the combined rate in Japan actually
higher than in the US. Hence, the true gun violence rate, when that violence is
directed from one person to another, is not as much higher in the US as raw
statistics would lead you to believe.
My reader quoted some numbers that must have come Moore directly -
for example, that the gun violence rate is 43,000% higher in the US than in
Japan. The UN tells us the US rate is only 8 times higher than Japan's.
Further, crime is on the rise in Japan, while for years in the US it has been
falling as city and state governments relax gun-control laws (and local police
departments perhaps fudge the statistics a bit, as you'll see in the news from
time to time).
If you could undo the damage done by our judges, undo the difference
in culture (Japan has had centuries of often unquestioning obedience to
government, while the US has had a few centuries of rugged individualism - now
on the wane; and for centuries in Japan, weapons have been owned only by the
ruling classes), separate the contaminating effect of suicides, and make gun
laws the same in both places, you'd probably find violence rates to be very
similar between the two countries.
And every time you relax gun laws, allowing more people to own guns,
gun crime will go down - in any country.
This is because all the statistics are driven by ordinary human
nature. Given the opportunity to be able to defend themselves and their
families, fathers and mothers will take the opportunity, making criminals and
government (or do I repeat myself?) less daring in their threats against our
lives and property. At the same time, the vast majority of us, in every
country, don't want to go out and commit crimes against others for a living.
With these two ordinary, observable facts together, you can bet that in any
country, taking guns away from people will result in an increase in ordinary
crime and in government oppression. Ultimately, the statistics paint a picture
consistent with that.
When you see vast disparities in a single datum between one country
and another, nothing as simple as the "presence of guns" will be the
explanation. Guns are, after all, completely inanimate. And there is no case in
which a single correlation is all you need to know.
This much you can know, however: You are better off when you are
allowed to own all the guns you want; and so is your neighbor.
August 3, 2004
Brad Edmonds [send him mail], author of the new book There's a
Government in Your Soup, writes from Alabama.
Copyright © 2004 www.LewRockwell.com