I know we say that “bad guys will get guns anyway,” if gun control laws are enacted, but do we know that to be a fact?

A few days ago, after a man in body armor fatally shot a dozen people in a Colorado movie theater, I caught a snippet of someone official-looking being interviewed on television. (My sense was that he was with law enforcement, but he very well could have been an official with the National Rifle Association.) As I recall, he was standing in front of a gun shop that, outside its front door, had a sign proclaiming, “We Save Lives.” The reporter brought up the subject of gun control, and he responded by saying, somewhat definitively, that it doesn’t work. I can’t remember his exact quote, but it was something like, “Bad people are going to acquire guns, regardless of what we try to do legislatively. We know that to be true.” The reporter didn’t challenge him on this, but his statement got me wondering, “How do we really know that’s the case?” I mean, I’ve heard the argument before that, if we crack down, and make guns harder to acquire, it will only hurt the law-abiding citizens, desperate to protect their families, but how do we know that’s what would happen? Have we tried it? Is there really evidence that tighter gun control laws don’t lead to decreased gun violence? Or is this just another meaningless talking point that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny? Looking at the numbers of gun-related deaths in other countries, I have to think that, despite what people here might say, gun violence does drop when laws are put in place to insure that fewer guns are in circulation. The following graphic, which I think speaks to this, is from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Granted, our nations are different sizes, and these numbers were clearly cherry picked to illustrate the staggering disparity between the United States and theses other prosperous western countries, but how can you look at numbers like these and not wonder if maybe there aren’t alternatives to the status quo to consider? Or, are folks right when they say that legal intervention would be useless here? Are Americans just that much more blood thirsty and determined than those folks living in countries like England, Canada and Australia? Having met Australians in bars, I find that hard to believe, but is that the case?

In one year, guns murdered 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States.

Personally, I don’t claim to know the answer, and I’m not saying definitely that we should outlaw guns. I’m just saying that it would seem to me, based on murder rates around the world, to be misleading at best to say, “Oh, you can’t stop bad people from acquiring guns.” While it’s true that some bad people will acquire weapons, regardless of what roadblocks are constructed to stop them from doing so, I don’t think anyone could look at the fact that, in this one year, there were 39 people murdered with firearms in England, while there were 9,484 to die as a result of gun violence in America, and not think that perhaps the widely differing policies in our two countries play a role. Amazingly, however, I think there are people who would look at the two numbers, side-by-side, and say, not that we have something to learn from England, but that what we need to do is to put more guns on the street, in hopes that, in the hands of honest Americans, they’ll deter crime, and drive that number further down.

Sadly, I don’t think this is a conversation that the people of America are willing to have. From what I can see, we seem more interested, in the wake of this tragedy, to determine whether or not James Holmes used his student aid money to buy the weapons that he used, than we do discuss whether or not he should have been able to buy them in the first place. Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I think that if we see any legislation come about as a result of this shooting, it won’t be legislation to keep guns off the streets, but to further restrict student federal aid, using the argument that said funds could be used to acquire weapons. I know it sounds crazy, but nothing would surprise me at this point.

NOTE: Our last conversation on the constitutionality of gun control can be found here.

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  1. Posted July 25, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    I gotta tell ya, being a democrat — to me — does not mean owning a chemical machine that produces a projectile is bad. I have to believe we can be responsible enough to account for the inventions we create. (I’m just not gonna own one)

  2. Edward
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Where do you draw the line, MC Trash? Handguns? Assault rifles? Armor piercing bullets? Bazookas? Flamethrowers? Tanks? I don’t have that much of an issue with pistols, but I don’t see why, in modern society, anyone would need a weapon that pumps out a hundred “cop killer” rounds every few seconds.

  3. Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    Maybe the number of guns in circulation or our laws don’t account for the disparity — maybe we should be looking at our cultural disposition towards violence when compared to these other countries. I wonder if you compared media displays of violence, domestic violence, drug abuse, other violent crimes, I wonder if the disparity would be similar.

  4. Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Edward – the type of weapons you’re refetencing (automatic weapons) are federally illegal.

  5. Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Just read your other post linked here in this article. I took Mark Higgby’s Constitutional Convention class at EMU a couple years ago and I walked away with one central truth in my mind. We’re arguing about the look of the car without understanding the engineering that went into the engine. As long as either ‘side’ focuses the conversation on what was written and whether it accounts for today’s issues or not, without an understanding of HOW they arrived at these conclusions (the philosophical arguments behind them), we are at a loss to settle the dispute. I think the answers to today’s issues are there, but they’re in the context, the history, the philosophy, not in the document per se.

    Just my few cents…

  6. Posted July 25, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    As far as the constitutional issues go, can anyone offer an explanation why the Supreme Court has recognized many legitimate boundaries on the exercise of free speech and other first amendment rights, generally regulating “time, place, and manner”, as well as offering only limited protection to commercial, non-political speech, but we read the 2nd amendment as being expansive, absolute, and unlimitable? (And, why hasn’t the court then knocked down all weaponry-regulations ever, like the Brady Act?) Genuine questions, here, not just a setup to score points.

    For my own part, I do generally support (and believe the constitution to support) both collective and individual rights to own weapons, for the defense of both the state and one’s person.

    However, I do think reasonable limits are, well, reasonable. The debate over numbers of bullets in a clip seems like one reasonable limit, to pick something from the current debate. Has there ever been a case where a homeowner needed bullets #41-50 to defend against a home invasion? (Excluding zombie attacks as a special case, here.) I can definitely see decent reasons to keep and/or carry a handgun for personal defense, but assault weapon bans don’t seem to fall in that category.

    Similarly, on the defense against tyranny side of the coin, when Obama authorizes a warrantless remote drone strike against you for your pro-gun comments on this blog, do you really think having a larger clip is going to make a difference in defending yourself against the president’s flying death robots? In the modern world, it seems the defense against tyranny probably justifies owning SAM batteries and EMP generators, but again, not clear on why assault weapon bans are out of bounds.

    (And I’m serious on the EMP generator bit, so don’t think that’s some reduction to the absurd.)

  7. Knox
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, the people of Colorado have spoken on the issue, buying unprecedented numbers of weapons after last week’s shooting.


  8. Posted July 25, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    The constitutional argument is just bogus. Our plutocrats want us scared. By criminalizing an easily identifiable part of the population you end up with situations like with the Greffs ( http://annarbor.com/news/ypsilanti/couple-recalls-hiding-in-bathroom-and-listening-to-prowler-during-ypsilanti-home-invasion/).

    I have lived in what has been one of the most violent crime riddled parts of town for 30 years–and yet I have never been afraid to answer my front door-regardless of the time of day (and yes I have gone out into the street numerous times to stop crimes). Where is the social responsibility of stopping that child from committing a crime? Middle class white folks scared of black children that is america in the 21st century. Devoid of any responsibility for anything but me and mine.

    The gun folks would have preferred the Greffs be armed and “stand there ground”.

  9. Thom Elliott
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I guess my question is, why when something horrific comes about as a direct result of the utterly lax policy on guns do people who love guns take it as on opportunity to tell everyone how wonderful guns are? How desperately we need people to carry guns in public? Despite the fact another gun in this most recent event would have made no positive difference in the smoke- filled panicing stampede? It is so clearly in bad taste and insensative to the extreme, and unfounded, adding guns into violent situations makes them worse, and I don’t care what CCW advocates say, overweight white men (who are the only people I ever see wear their guns around) are not prepaired to take down a psycho on a killing spree, people just have no context for it, you never know how you’ll react.

  10. Michael Moore
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink


    Since Cain went nuts and whacked Abel, there have always been those humans who, for one reason or another, go temporarily or permanently insane and commit unspeakable acts of violence. There was the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who during the first century A.D. enjoyed throwing victims off a cliff on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Gilles de Rais, a French knight and ally of Joan of Arc during the middle ages, went cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs one day and ended up murdering hundreds of children. Just a few decades later Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula, was killing people in Transylvania in numberless horrifying ways.

    In modern times, nearly every nation has had a psychopath or two commit a mass murder, regardless of how strict their gun laws are – the crazed white supremacist in Norway one year ago Sunday, the schoolyard butcher in Dunblane, Scotland, the École Polytechnique killer in Montreal, the mass murderer in Erfurt, Germany … the list seems endless.

    And now the Aurora shooter last Friday. There have always been insane people, and there always will be.

    But here’s the difference between the rest of the world and us: We have TWO Auroras that take place every single day of every single year! At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns – and that doesn’t count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000.

    That means the United States is responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. Considering that the people of those countries, as human beings, are no better or worse than any of us, well, then, why us?

    Both conservatives and liberals in America operate with firmly held beliefs as to “the why” of this problem. And the reason neither can find their way out of the box toward a real solution is because, in fact, they’re both half right.

    The right believes that the Founding Fathers, through some sort of divine decree, have guaranteed them the absolute right to own as many guns as they desire. And they will ceaselessly remind you that a gun cannot fire itself – that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

    Of course, they know they’re being intellectually dishonest (if I can use that word) when they say that about the Second Amendment because they know the men who wrote the constitution just wanted to make sure a militia could be quickly called up from amongst the farmers and merchants should the Brits decide to return and wreak some havoc.

    But they are half right when they say “Guns don’t kill people.” I would just alter that slogan slightly to speak the real truth: “Guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people.”

    Because we’re the only ones in the first world who do this en masse. And you’ll hear all stripes of Americans come up with a host of reasons so that they don’t have to deal with what’s really behind all this murder and mayhem.

    They’ll say it’s the violent movies and video games that are responsible. Last time I checked, the movies and video games in Japan are more violent than ours – and yet usually fewer than 20 people a year are killed there with guns – and in 2006 the number was two!

    Others will say it’s the number of broken homes that lead to all this killing. I hate to break this to you, but there are almost as many single-parent homes in the U.K. as there are here – and yet, in Great Britain, there are usually fewer than 40 gun murders a year.

    People like me will say this is all the result of the U.S. having a history and a culture of men with guns, “cowboys and Indians,” “shoot first and ask questions later.” And while it is true that the mass genocide of the Native Americans set a pretty ugly model to found a country on, I think it’s safe to say we’re not the only ones with a violent past or a penchant for genocide. Hello, Germany! That’s right I’m talking about you and your history, from the Huns to the Nazis, just loving a good slaughter (as did the Japanese, and the British who ruled the world for hundreds of years – and they didn’t achieve that through planting daisies). And yet in Germany, a nation of 80 million people, there are only around 200 gun murders a year.

    So those countries (and many others) are just like us – except for the fact that more people here believe in God and go to church than any other Western nation.

    My liberal compatriots will tell you if we just had less guns, there would be less gun deaths. And, mathematically, that would be true. If you have less arsenic in the water supply, it will kill less people. Less of anything bad – calories, smoking, reality TV – will kill far fewer people. And if we had strong gun laws that prohibited automatic and semi-automatic weapons and banned the sale of large magazines that can hold a gazillion bullets, well, then shooters like the man in Aurora would not be able to shoot so many people in just a few minutes.

    But this, too, has a problem. There are plenty of guns in Canada (mostly hunting rifles) – and yet the annual gun murder count in Canada is around 200 deaths. In fact, because of its proximity, Canada’s culture is very similar to ours – the kids play the same violent video games, watch the same movies and TV shows, and yet they don’t grow up wanting to kill each other. Switzerland has the third-highest number of guns per capita on earth, but still a low murder rate.

    So – why us?

    I posed this question a decade ago in my film ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ and this week, I have had little to say because I feel I said what I had to say ten years ago – and it doesn’t seem to have done a whole lot of good other than to now look like it was actually a crystal ball posing as a movie.

    This is what I said then, and it is what I will say again today:

    1. We Americans are incredibly good killers. We believe in killing as a way of accomplishing our goals. Three-quarters of our states execute criminals, even though the states with the lower murder rates are generally the states with no death penalty.

    Our killing is not just historical (the slaughter of Indians and slaves and each other in a “civil” war). It is our current way of resolving whatever it is we’re afraid of. It’s invasion as foreign policy. Sure there’s Iraq and Afghanistan – but we’ve been invaders since we “conquered the wild west” and now we’re hooked so bad we don’t even know where to invade (bin Laden wasn’t hiding in Afghanistan, he was in Pakistan) or what to invade for (Saddam had zero weapons of mass destruction and nothing to do with 9/11). We send our lower classes off to do the killing, and the rest of us who don’t have a loved one over there don’t spend a single minute of any given day thinking about the carnage. And now we send in remote pilotless planes to kill, planes that are being controlled by faceless men in a lush, air conditioned studio in suburban Las Vegas. It is madness.

    2. We are an easily frightened people and it is easy to manipulate us with fear. What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, #1 in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer. Maybe we would take better care of each other (here’s a good example of what I mean).

    Those are my thoughts about Aurora and the violent country I am a citizen of. Like I said, I spelled it all out here if you’d like to watch it or share it for free with others. All we’re lacking here, my friends, is the courage and the resolve. I’m in if you are.

    Michael Moore

  11. Brainless
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    – Taking a longer view (like, the entire last century), Germans, Russians, Chinese, Cambodians and others are far more murderous per capita than Americans. War, murder, gulag – call it what you will. I’m just looking at numbers that I believe negate Moore’s point #1 above.

    – We didn’t “send” our lower classes (Moore’s codeword for “forced”). We have an all-volunteer military the last time I checked. I hated the invasion of Iraq more than I can ever say, but this is pure political spew.

    – Almost every single person on this blog either owns a car or takes a ride in one on a regular basis. Cars kill far more people than guns. If you care about safety and not politics, it would seem that you’d be howling to the moon about this fact. There are EIGHT Auroras on the roads every single day of every single year. We are clearly not “easily frightened” people. We are people who need remedial educations in statistics.

    – If any of you wonder how powerful an armed population is, ask the Afghans. Two superpowers have been brought to their knees.

    – And let’s face it: The Canada example (and probably Finland, too) makes it clear as day that it isn’t the guns; it’s the culture. They have guns. We have guns. Their murder rate is much lower. IT’S NOT THE GUNS.

  12. Posted July 25, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Even if you accept that “militia” means “citizens with guns,” the 2nd Amendment specifies that it be “well-regulated.” Personally, I think the Amendment needs to be rewritten, because it’s not 1791 anymore, but regulation is obviously part of the original intent.

  13. Billy
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Guns exist. Bad guys exist. Bad guys use guns. I want a gun to defend myself against the bad guys. End of story. Bang Bang.

  14. Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    US population 311,591,917 Guns per 100 residents in 2007: 88.8 (Ranked 1st in gun ownership)

    Finland 5,387,000 Guns: 32 (8th)

    Australia 22,620,600 Guns: 15 (42nd)

    England & Wales 56,100,000 Guns: 6.2 (88th)

    Spain 47,190,493 Guns 10.4 (61st)

    Germany 81,726,000 Guns: 30.3 (15th)

    Canada 34,482,779 Guns: 30.8 (13th)

    Top 12 Countries for “firearm related deaths”:
    South Africa Guns per 100 residents: 12.7
    Colombia 5.9
    El Salvador 5.8
    Jamaica 8.1
    Honduras 6.2
    Guatemala 13.1
    Swaziland 6.4
    Brazil 8
    Estonia 9.2
    Panama 21.7
    Mexico 15
    US 88.8

    Ranking of the United States “intentional homicide rate” related to other countries: 43rd

  15. Knox
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think anyone was saying that the US was the worst when it came to per capita handgun violence, Hillary. We all know that Russia, Mexico and the African nations are terrible. The thing is, we look terrible compared to our peers, like England and Canada.

  16. John Galt
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m torn. On one hand I want to say that this act in Colorado was terrible, as it proves that NIH grants are terrible and life-threatening. (We need to cut taxes in order to starve the NIH, and make theaters safe.) On the other, though, I want to say that this young man’s actions were, “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.” (That’s what Ayn Rand wrote about 1928 serial killer William Hickman.)

  17. Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I made no such claim. Mark’s premise was that fewer guns leads to fewer gun related deaths, but the statistics show no correlation, and if there is no correlation, then perhaps we should be looking for other causes and related solutions.

  18. Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Also, it’s adorable that we still think of our country as being on par with others in the industrialized world.

  19. Maria
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    We have too many guns, with too lax of an enforcement system, but I think what is even more obvious is that we have to many holes in the fabric of our social society. These people who end up being mass shooters have histories, leave clues, and there are others who know this, yet are not enough involved, connected or affected to be moved to intervene to prevent these repeated insanities. We are too disconnected to each other, and these problems slip on by, with tragic results.

  20. mark k
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    “but we read the 2nd amendment as being expansive, absolute, and unlimitable?”

    Really, have you tried to buy a ffully automatic gun, how about a tank, what about a RPG? You couldn’t even buy a taser, or real pepper spray in michigan until just resently. Why can’t Democrats stick to the facts.

  21. mark k
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    “These people who end up being mass shooters have histories, leave clues, and there are others who know this, yet are not enough involved, connected or affected to be moved to intervene to prevent these repeated insanities”
    Maria we have a person that comments on here that talks about thrill killing and is so full of hate its scary, yet not one Democrat has said a word about him. The fact is we have people who appear defective among us and we can’t lock them up because for the most part they never cross the line.

  22. Maria
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see that as a Democrat or Republican problem, it’s a not crossing the line issue.

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