Will More Laws Reduce Gun Violence? Amnesty Thinks So.

Now that everyone is convinced that the Congress will turn blue in November and some degree of political sanity will be restored, the hopes of my friends in Gun-nut Nation that a more rational method can be found to reduce gun violence are once again rising to the fore. To bolster this belief (and maybe it will come true) everyone is now producing a report of some kind which promotes the idea that we need better laws and regulations in order to reduce the violence caused by guns.

amnesty1The latest entry into the ‘more laws equals less gun violence’ sweepstakes comes from Amnesty International, an organization whose anti-violence creds are above reproach.  When it comes to pushing for a more just and humane world, the folks at Amnesty are the real deal and nothing that I am going to say should in any way be taken to raise the slightest doubts about the value of their work, okay?

Be that as it may, their just-released report, In the Line of Fire – Human Rights and the U.S. Gun Violence Crisis, should be read by everyone, but also should be read with care. And the reason for my concern has nothing to do with their basic argument, i.e., that our failure to adopt a comprehensive, regulatory system to control guns is a fundamental violation of human rights. Rather, it is the degree to which the report promotes an unstinting belief in the idea that we can legislate our way out of the gun-violence mess. Which also happens to be the approach not only of all the major gun-control advocacy organizations, but also serves as the basis for most of the public health gun research upon which these organizations depend.

With all due respect, I don’t agree that new gun-control laws will necessarily change the situation at all. And the reason I don’t agree is that I have yet to read a single piece of research on gun violence which shows that after a new gun regulation is passed in a particular jurisdiction, that gun violence in that jurisdiction actually went down. Note the use of the word ‘actually.’  What this means is that one can make a definitive cause-and-effect connection between an event – a new gun regulation, and a trend – the gun-violence rate, over time.

I know all the studies which purport to prove that states with more restrictive gun laws experience less violence caused by guns. I also know all the studies which again purport to prove that when a state passes a permit process that allegedly slows down how quick it is to buy a gun, that impulsive gun suicides also go down.

These studies prove nothing of the sort.  They are counter-factual regression analyses using synthetic controls, which basically estimate that if a certain state had not passed a certain law, then the rate of gun violence affected by that law would have remained the same as the rate of gun violence in states that didn’t pass the same law. Know what happened in Colorado after the state passed a comprehensive background check in 2014?  The gun homicide rate didn’t go down, it went up – to the tune of 50 percent!

Before you accuse me of selling out to the pro-gun side, or trying to promote John Lott, or any of the other angry comments I invariably receive whenever I tell Gun-control Nation that maybe, just maybe, they don’t know all that much about guns, let me make myself very clear. I am not opposed to regulating or correcting any dangerous human behavior by passing and enforcing  proper laws. But I am opposed and won’t back down from the idea that you can’t say that a certain law will work just because you want it to work. Gun violence isn’t going away because all those law-abiding gun owners will obey another law.  After all, if you don’t own a gun, when was the last time you passed a background check?

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