December 17th, 2012

Gun-free zones, gun ownership, and murder

I’ve never understood the point of gun-free zones, and of advertising them too. What are they other than an invitation to a shooter to take aim at a bunch of sitting ducks—or in the case of children, sitting ducklings?

I’m not a gun aficionado myself, but I support second amendment rights, with the usual safeguards to make it at least more difficult for the mentally ill or those with a violent record to obtain guns, and to attempt to assure their proper and safe storage. I know, of course, that anyone who wants to get them can get them, sooner or later, by hook or by crook—by bribing or convincing others to buy them for them or by stealing them (as I assume Lanza did from his mother), and that some people can get careless with storage in their homes.

And I’m not in favor of a bunch of children packing heat in a schoolroom, of course; that would be absurd.

But the knowledge that there are no guns at all in a school environment can only act as a siren song to a certain type of (fortunately rare) mind. Israel knows this, as do terrorists, who often target children. Israel is a country with a lot of guards and a lot of guns, but it is also a country with a very low murder rate outside of terrorism.

Israel is not the US; the US has special demographic and historic circumstances that give it a higher murder rate. But it’s not all that high—in fact, not quite as high as it’s cracked up to be, at least in comparison to other countries.

The ideal comparison isn’t actually between countries, because countries are so different in other ways, and those ways impact upon the murder rate so greatly that the best measure of the effect of a gun-control law is probably a country before and after that law is passed. And even that doesn’t tell you as much as you might think it does, because crime rates fluctuate over time based on other factors, many of them poorly understood.

But here’s a fascinating chart giving gun ownership statistics the world round as well as murder statistics (by firearm, and by firearm as a percentage of total murders) in each country. You can see that the US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, and a higher murder rate than most western European and other Western countries (which are also more homogeneous demographically than the US, as well as having different cultures and traditions), but that several of those countries (Switzerland, for example) have high rates of gun ownership and low rates of murder. You will also note that some countries, such as Australia, have high gun ownership rates but low rates of murder and that a low percentage of its murders are committed by firearm (unlike Switzerland, in which a high percentage of its relatively few murders are by firearm).

One caveat is that the rates of gun ownership are given as the number of guns per 100 people, and of course if each gun owner in a country tends to own a lot of weapons, that will skew the results higher but doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of people who actually own guns. In Switzerland the number is about 46, and in the US it’s approximately 89, the highest in the world (and by the way, you can see what a strange statistic it is, because I don’t think anyone believes that 89% of the US population is armed; it must reflect multiple-gun ownership).

But the US murder rate is by no means the highest in the world. And some of those that are very much higher (Belize, for example) have very low rates of gun ownership.

It’s a confusing picture, although I’m sure the number-crunchers can do better than I at making sense out of it. Or at least try. I haven’t the time right now to study it in depth; I’ll leave that to you.

But before I finish this post I’d like to draw your attention to the US statistics for firearms and murder as reported by the FBI. The year is 2009, the most recent one for which I can find a full report.

Looking at the murder rates from 2005-2009 categorized by weapon, you’ll see that, roughly, from year to year, about 2/3 of murders in US are committed with some sort of firearm, the vast majority of them handguns. And see how remarkably similar the stats are for the different regions of the US, too; I would have expected more regional variation.

Here’s a chart with a great deal of data in it. You can see that many more men are murdered than women (about 77% men) in the US. They constitute 81% of the felony victims who are murdered in the course of the commission of a separate felony by the perp (for example, robbery, or rape—and rape of course features more women murdered: 24 to 0, or 100%, so the absolute number of such deaths is quite low). Males constitute 73% of murder victims who are not killed in the course of the killer’s committing a separate felony (for example, in love triangles, bar brawls, and gang fights).

And what of mass public murders, the sort of crime that has occasioned this entire discussion today? They are exceptionally rare even in the US, accounting for less than one tenth of one percent of all murders. They engender tremendous horror, however, and can be used by anti-gun forces playing on that fear to further their agenda.

35 Responses to “Gun-free zones, gun ownership, and murder”

  1. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    (I’m moving this comment — edited and merged with a followup comment — from the earlier Pied Piper thread to this one, since it fits better here.)

    To a logical, not-insane assailant, the “gun-free school” signs advertise that the school is full of defenseless targets. But I think it’s quite possible that the signs are worse than that. It seems to me that — in the angry, disturbed and chaotic mind of a person capable of an act like last week’s — the signs may serve, on an illogical gut level, simply to ASSOCIATE the concepts of guns and schools and thus give birth to the idea of using a school as the scene of a mass killing in the first place. I’m not positing anything so rational as thoughts like “will I get caught? will somebody shoot back at me?” but instead something more jumbled and chaotic that simply joins guns and schools together in a deranged and violent mind, when they were not so connected before.

    Although we know little about how such people think, I imagine we can agree that they don’t think like the rest of us. We should recognize that these signs certainly do not work as the wishful thinkers who hung them intended — it should be clear by now that hanging up a sign does not have the magical effect of turning a school into a safe place. Instead, these signs certainly advertise the presence of helpless targets and may even actively generate school shootings by suggesting the idea to deranged and/or evil minds.

  2. M J R Says:

    “I’ve never understood the point of gun-free zones, . . . .”

    The point is moral preening: “see? I’m politically pure; I support the Correct Causes; we at this here site are politically pure and support the Correct Causes.”

    Outside of that, I can see no point at all in this curious example of moral exhibitionism.

  3. KLSmith Says:

    About six months ago I became a first time gun owner. The left made me do it. I had never wanted one until I began to fear that one day I might not be allowed to either own one or, maybe more likely, not be able to buy the ammunition.
    I also want to be able to leave them to my adult kids who don’t want them now but, maybe would like to own one day but not be allowed to buy them.
    Not sure if they’ll do anything that drastic but, then I used to think my government couldn’t force me to buy healthcare. And that our country wouldnt re-elect a guy with such a miserable record.

  4. vanderleun Says:

    For better charts try “”Small Arms Survey.” There she would have found “Annexe 4. The Largest Civilian Firearms Arsenals for 178 Countries.”” at the very informative Finem Respice

  5. T Says:

    “. . . mass public murders . . . are exceptionally rare even in the US . . . .”

    Like plane crashes they are rare but spectacular and, unfortunately, perfectly suited for the visual media of TV/internet which take full advantage of such “death porn” and feed into the left’s politicization of any tragedy to asseert their need for control.

  6. Mr. Frank Says:

    The U.S. murder rate is a bit misleading because of the difference in the black and white rates. The black rate is seven times the white rate and blacks commit about half of all murders. Thus, the U.S. rate reflects neither group. White Americans have close to a European murder rate in spite of all the guns.

  7. Molly NH Says:

    i read elsewhere that “gun free zone” signs are there SO you can be charged with a crime for getting caught there with a gun !

  8. thomass Says:

    Yeah, I went over the numbers a lot around 2002-6ish and what concluded was, with European countries, there were no correlation between gun ownership and murder rates. Examples were countries that once had private ownership but phased it out. Not much changed.

    re: The UK had a low murder rate when people had guns. They had a low murder rate when they didn’t.

  9. southpaw Says:

    Neo- a comment, and a question: first the comment — I definitely skew the results if they’re counting multiple guns…
    And it’s always been hard for me to understand the people who insist that having a gun leads to criminal violence. Like most kids my age, in the region of the northeast where I was raised, I had a rifle in my closet. It never occurred to any of us to point it at people, much less shoot at them. And it’s not like we didn’t get into fights or have personal disagreements or bully each other.
    Now the question — your statistical post made me remember something and I was wondering if you had ever heard of it — Some years ago there was a study done by a social scientist or psychologist? Anyway he published an article or book and claimed to correlate (roughly) the crime rates of Americans to their native countries. As you can imagine, it got a bit of negative attention, as the message was not politically correct, and as with all social studies, there are so many variables involved, you can shoot holes through any study if you try. No pun intended. I think it was largely dismissed for it’s inflammatory premise, even though it was trying to say anything about any particular race -it also broke down various European segments of our population and attempted to correlate criminal data across all ethnic backgrounds.
    Just wondering if you recall hearing about it. I don’t know what makes creatures like this kid, but it almost like they are a genetic mutation rather than a product of some environment.

    When things like this occur, it almost seems to me that we are so far from understanding the cause of these things that we are like our ancestors 2000 years ago, ignorant of the cause of infections. I listen to “experts” on this sort of thing, and they offer so many possible answers, combinations of answers, etc. They seem so far from a definitive answer, it would not surprise me if some day it was discovered a rare virus was the cause of this kind of abnormality – we seem that far from knowing.

  10. M J R Says:

    Ya can’t make this up . . .

    The website reproduces actual death threats from the ever-tolerant, peace-loving adversary, including death by ^shooting^.

    WARNING: vulgarities. This crowd is prone to occasional obscenity.\

    Post-Newtown witch hunt: NRA president and members bombarded with death threats

  11. Paul in Boston Says:

    The real dirty secret and scandal of murder in the US is the very high rate among blacks. All the numbers that follow are taken from the CDC document,

    From Table B, page 5 the total homicides in 2009 were 16,799 with a ratio of black to white of 5.4. This means there were 2,620 white murders and 14,200 black murders. (Note that these numbers are for all homicides, not just guns.) From Wikipedia the 2010 white US population was 223 million and black was 39 million. This make the murder rate for whites to be 1.17 per 100,000 and for blacks 36.4 per 100,000. If the black rate dropped to the white rate there would only have been 456 black murders, 13,700 fewer deaths.

    From Table 10, p 39 actual firearm deaths are about 68% of all homicides.

  12. carl in atlanta Says:

    Has everyone here seen this classic episode of Penn & Teller on gun control?

    It’s eerily prescient (it dates from 2005):

  13. Teri Pittman Says:

    I don’t believe the folks screaming for gun control are really serious about preventing these tragedies. I’ve read comments from people that don’t like the idea of having teachers with guns. Fine, but I’ve not seen anyone suggesting arming them with Tazers. It seems like the perfect solution. Yet, what they seem to want to do is have more gun free zones so that we can have more helpless people. It makes no sense. With the exception of the Gabby Giffords shooting, murders involving more than three people have been in gun free zones. The Aurora movie shooter went out of his way to find a gun free theater. I am tired of dealing with the sort of people that are so clueless that they don’t understand that automatic weapons are illegal but feel that they somehow have enough expertise to insist on what guns should be banned.

  14. parker Says:

    “… I had a rifle in my closet. It never occurred to any of us to point it at people, much less shoot at them. And it’s not like we didn’t get into fights or have personal disagreements or bully each other.”


    I grew up in Iowa. Nearly every boy I knew as a kid had his own .22 LR rifle by the age of 8. My first rifle was purchased for under $20 including shipping and handling and delivered by the USPS. No background check, no age verification, and no big deal. Those were different times in a different society. Firearms are not the problem, society is the problem.

    What I fear now is what BHO will attempt via executive order.

  15. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Remember teenage drunk driving and all the outrage over the related deaths back in the 80s? Those led to the organization, Mother’s Against Drunk Driving or MADD. Their goal was to decrease access of teens to alcohol, reduce all driving while under the influence, and to support those victimized by drunk driving accidents. Unfortunately, MADD has gradually morphed away from those goals and become a prohibitionist organization, working to stop all alcohol consumption. In spite of their activities of education, activism for tougher laws, and efforts to ban alcohol; drunk driving accidents still occur. However, they have apparently had some positive affects on drunk driving overall. Here are the figures:
    In 1982 there were 43,945 auto fatalities and 26,173 or 60% were alcohol related. By 2009 total auto deaths were 33,808 and 12,744 or 38% were alcohol related.
    See the total figures here:

    While not perfect, their efforts have produced fewer alcohol related deaths. MADD doesn’t have a great reputation as a charity. Their fund raising costs are way too high, but a decrease in alcohol related deaths from 60% to 38% is a positive result.

    They don’t call for banning the autos, which are the instruments of death. They ask for more responsible use of autos. IMO, that ‘s what the NRA does with respect to guns.

    Since nearly all of these massacre shootings are perpetrated by individuals who are mentally deranged, it seems we should concentrate our efforts as a society on identifying them before the massacre happens. Could we stop all of them? No, but a 22% reduction in these incidents, would be a significant improvement even if they are a small percentage of all gun related deaths. The question is, are we ready or willing to put forth the effort? And can we do it in any rational way?

  16. Mr. Frank Says:

    Most mass murderers are white males. It’s a category that watches lots of “action” movies and plays violent computer games. Is that a factor? The violence in movies has become very gratuitous and graphic. Does that matter? Society has been down on white males for a few decades. Is that a factor? Mental hospitals have been largely emptied, and it is difficult to get someone committed. That may be a problem.

    When we start having the discussion about mass shootings, the subject will be mostly about guns.

  17. Paul in Boston Says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s La Griff’s explanation of why most serial killers are white men,

    Using violence in movies and video games is a good way to rile up liberals but it probably has no more relevance than gun laws contributing to mass murder. It’s the evil nature of the killer. Here’s a link to a famous case from 1966,, in which eight nurses died by stabbing and strangulation.

  18. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    There are places you are not to carry.
    I and others have permission from our pastors.
    Don’t mistake our church for a “gun-free zone”, yet you won’t find a more loving Christian fellowship.
    OTOH, my son went to a Tigers game and locked his gun in the car in a paid lot.
    Car was broken into and $750 pistol stolen.
    cops finally showed up hours later and asked why he didn’t just carry into the sports arena (Comerica Park)?
    He said it was against the law and they said “Is this any better?”

  19. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Several here are close to identifying the determinative factor in gun violence. Neo points out that Switzerland, among other nations, has high rates of gun ownership and low rates of murder.

    Mr. Frank points out that, “The U.S. murder rate is a bit misleading because of the difference in the black and white rates. The black rate is seven times the white rate and blacks commit about half of all murders. Thus, the U.S. rate reflects neither group. White Americans have close to a European murder rate in spite of all the guns.”

    It’s not race, it’s what cultural values are embraced.

  20. Oldflyer Says:

    Mr Frank asks the questions that I ask. Paul in Boston shrugs them off, as do many others.

    I am not sure that anyone has correlated violent entertainment with desensitizing individuals to violence. For one thing, healthy individuals probably have some immunity. It is, of course, the other who are the concern.

    For another, the entertainment industry is too rich, and spreads too much money around to be questioned.

    Still, I am sure there are studies;there is certainly overwhelming anecdotal evidence that exposure to violence and brutality desensitizes people. One need only ask the Veteran’s Administration. It is a given that men in ground combat could not survive emotionally if they did not become inured to the horror. You can learn a lot just by talking to the survivors–if they will talk about it. We even have a phrase, PTDS, even if it has become grossly overused. Ironically the Obama crowd is now focusing on combat veterans as potential problems in society; while at the same time they deny that a steady diet of mayhem and violence fed to immature minds over the course of many years has no effect. Again, the healthy mind may separate fantasy and reality; the fringe may not. It is clearly the fringe that causes the problems.

    Much simpler to blame the tools than to understand the craftsman (perpetrator).

  21. parker Says:

    The number of firearms owned per person will always be worthless information except to the gun grabbers. I own 5 rifles, 2 handguns, and 1 shotgun. I know fellow members of my range who own 20 or more firearms each. These guns are not used to create murder and mayhem. Instead they are used for target shooting and hunting. Twice I have pointed a gun, a shotgun once and a handgun once, at wannabe criminals storming into out house. In both cases the criminals promptly fled. Two were later apprehended, 1 was not found. Guns do deter crime. This Lanka sicko could have been put down with 3 taps to the chest in 2 seconds and far fewer innocent people would have been murdered or wounded.

  22. Don Carlos Says:

    Oldflyer sez; “It is a given that men in ground combat could not survive emotionally if they did not become inured to the horror.”

    Inurring to the horror is an essential part of medical education, and, at least in my day, a great deal was made of the difference in favor of empathy and against sympathy, the former being understanding without emotional involvement, the maintenance of objectivity and problem-solving in the face of a wretched sufferer, e.g. multiple injuries or a gross necrotic, foul, bleeding, painful breast cancer recurrence at the mastectomy site. Sympathy in those circumstances yields no clinical benefit. Yet the afflicted, when healed, often complain about their “capable but cold” doctors, devoid of sympathy.

  23. rickl Says:

    Here’s a fascinating article I found via Liberty’s Torch:

    Clues to Mass Rampage Killers: Deep Backstage, Hidden Arsenal, Clandestine Excitement

    It’s long, but well worth reading. I do sort of take exception to this part:

    To be clear about the diagnosis: I am not saying that anyone who collects guns is a potential mass killer. The crucial signs are: first, the guns are kept secret, part of a deep backstage. In contrast, most gun owners are quite open about them; they may be involved in a cult of guns but it is a public cult, visible as a political stance, or a well-advertized pastime such as hunting or target shooting. (See Kohn, Shooters.) It is the hidden arsenal that is dangerous– psychologically dangerous.

    I own a few guns, but I generally don’t mention them to casual acquaintances. I figure that if I blab about them too much, word could get around and my house might become a target for burglars. Nobody is home for several hours every day while I’m at work. Even though I live alone and no child has access to them, I bought a gun safe to store them. The safe actually cost more than any individual gun. But having them stolen and used in a crime is a headache I don’t need.

  24. beverly Says:

    Penn & Teller on Gun Control. Savagely funny, and spot on. Pass it on!

    (I’ve noticed that most of the defenders of the right to keep and bear arms aren’t really making the case on the grounds that the Bill of [Inalienable] Rights is sacred any more. Penn & Teller do, however.)

  25. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    }}}} re: The UK had a low murder rate when people had guns. They had a low murder rate when they didn’t.

    Ahhhh, but the general crime rate — burglaries, assaults, robberies, rapes, pretty much EVERY violent crime EXCEPT murders?

    It’s been steadily increasing since the 1980s…. only in the last couple years has it tapered off a bit.

    And, in the UK, the victims are much more commonly the elderly and women — who, well, aren’t really able to go toe-to-toe with a young thug armed with a bat, lacking “Mr. Colt’s Great Equalizer”.

    And then there’s the at-home statistic.

    In the USA, home invasion robberies occur about 20% of the time when the owner is at home. Crooks think it’s a better idea to break in and make the home owner’s things their things when the home owner isn’t around to whip out a gun and shoot them.

    In the UK, that’s reversed — 80% of the robberies occur when the owner is at home… because the thug knows that the best way to find the best goodies is to get the owner to tell them where they are… and they, being young thugs armed with bats, aren’t generally all that afraid of the home owner’s potential response.

  26. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    Sorry, Oldflyer. There’s a mental distinction between “cartoon” violence — that is pretend violence — and real violence. Any vaguely rational person makes that distinction. Yeah, the nuts may not, but you can’t censor an entire industry based on the fact that some might not handle it well. That’s just not proper by American standards of behavior and conduct by society.

  27. TUESDAY GOD & CAESAR EDITION | Big Pulpit Says:

    […] Gun-free Zones, Gun Ownership, and Murder – Neo-neocon Can't Find What You're Looking For? […]

  28. thomass Says:

    Paul in Boston Says:

    “The real dirty secret and scandal of murder in the US is the very high rate”

    Another is that the FBI inflates the murder rate.. which makes sense as the worse it looks the better for their budgets.

    Their rules for calculating the murder rate does not allow for recategorization. So; once the police show up and make an initial decision a murder has been committed it can not be changed, in the stats, regardless of what the fact turn out to be down the line.

  29. thomass Says:

    M J R Says:

    “The point is moral preening: “see? I’m politically pure”

    Same thinking I picked up in Obamacare support….

  30. thomass Says:

    rickl Says:

    “The crucial signs are: first, the guns are kept secret, part of a deep backstage.”

    I agree; talking raises the chance someone will try to steal them.

    Also it sorta reminds me of the two tie joke. They’d argue we were nuts if we liked displaying them…

  31. T Says:


    I agree with the pretend violence distinction. I grew up watching and loving cartoons (esp. Looney Toons) and I have never once been inspired to drop a safe, an anvil or a piano on an unsuspecting human being.

  32. JuliB Says:

    Somewhere, somewhen, I read an account of an older military instructor (or perhaps someone in the field). He stated that early in his career, men who saw a dead body (in combat, so someone who was injured before death) would get sick and carry it around with them.

    As time went on, that stopped. IIRC, it was during a time of increase in the display media violence. People were desensitized to violence. That in itself is a scary thing. People were no longer affected – or is it effected….

  33. DonS Says:

    When my grandfather was in school in the 1880s, the older boys wore revolvers to school. This was in cattle country in Southern California. When Mexican horse theves stole horses from the school children the older boys gave chase and killed the Mexicans. They finished them off with a knife.

  34. DonS Says:

    With respect to violent video games: acts of violence have been decreasing.

    IIRC the homicide rate in the mid 80s per 100,000 people was:

    About 6 for white non hispanics. Now it is 2.5.
    About 34 for blacks. Now it is about 16.

    If games increase violence, so other factor is very effective at decreasing it.

  35. DonS Says:

    On Hot Air I visited a link where someone had this insight:

    If a magazine ban is in force, it might simply mean that an active shooter type killer might decide to target easy targets like small school children. If all he has is revolvers, he might select targets that are least likely to fight back when he’s busy reloading. This, of course, assumes the mag ban is actually effective at preventing the shooter from obtaining them.

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