Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gun control not the answer to mass killings

In the wake of last week’s school shooting in Newtown, Ct. there have been many renewed calls for gun control from the left. On Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) said on MSNBC that she will introduce a bill to ban “assault weapons” and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called on President Obama to “exploit” the killings according to the Washington Times. Today, President Obama announced that Vice President Biden will head a group to craft new gun control policy and that the issue will become a second term priority. Many pro-gun Democrats, such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, are changing position.

The liberal position is that if there had only been more laws, Adam Lanza would not have been able to steal the guns that he used to kill 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A look at past mass killings indicates that the opposite may be true.

The Citizens Crime Commission of New York City lists 27 mass shootings (defined by the FBI as four or more victims killed) in the United States from 1984 through August 2012. When geographical location is considered, the majority of these shootings took place in states with strict gun control laws. Two of the states with the most restrictive gun control laws, Wisconsin and Illinois, were both the site of mass shootings. Two mass shootings occurred in Wisconsin. Four mass shootings took place in California, despite its gun control initiatives. Connecticut was the site of two previous mass killings before Sandy Hook, even though the state’s gun laws are considered some of the toughest in the nation according to a Washington Post article that cites studies by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Brown University.

A common argument is that gun control fails because criminals buy weapons in states with lax gun laws. If this is true, then mass shootings should be more common in states that allow freer access to guns. In reality, many states with unrestrictive gun laws saw no mass shootings. When shootings did occur in these states, they often happened in places such as schools where guns were not allowed. In the Aurora, Co. movie theater shooting, the theater did not permit guns. In the Fort Hood, Tx. shooting, soldiers were not permitted to carry weapons on base.

There is a striking similarity to the map showing locations of mass shootings and blue states from past elections. Although the comparison is not perfect, the red states across the south from Louisiana to North Carolina had no mass shootings. Likewise, the Midwest experienced few mass shootings while liberal meccas like California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and New York all made the list.

The failure of gun control to prevent mass shootings is even more stark when other countries are considered. Without even considering mass killings perpetrated by governments (the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, etc.) and terrorist groups (the Palestine Liberation Organization, al Qaeda, the Irish Republican Army, etc.). Governments and paramilitary terrorist groups have murdered far more innocent civilians than any lone gunman could ever hope to.

Even without considering killings by organizations, mass shootings occur around the world. This is true even though the United States is one of the few countries in the world where the ownership of firearms is legal and common for civilians. In fact, of the top ten rampage killings listed on, only two occurred in the U.S.

Lists compiled by Wikipedia concur that mass shootings are not an American phenomenon. The worst mass shooting in the world occurred in Norway in 2011 when 68 people were murdered and 110 were injured by Anders Behring Breivik. Breivik also killed another eight people with a car bomb. The second worst shooting occurred in South Korea in 1982 when a man killed 62 people and wounded another 37 before committing suicide. The worst mass shooting in the Americas occurred in Bogota, Colombia in 1986 when a man used a variety of weapons to kill 30 people and injure another 15.

In one interesting case, the same man perpetrated two mass killings in Africa. William Unek murdered 21 people with an axe in the Belgian Congo in 1954. He escaped to Tanganyika where he went on another rampage three years later, this time using a rifle as well as an axe to kill 36 people.

In Europe there have been a surprising number of mass shootings in the past few decades in spite of onerous laws against the private ownership of guns. According to the Associated Press, in addition to Norway’s Anders Breivik, there were mass shootings in the United Kingdom in 2010 and 1987, Switzerland in 2001, France in 1989 and 1995, Russia in 1999, Finland in 2007 and 2008, Germany in 2009 and 2002, and Spain in 1990. In 1996, sixteen kindergarteners were murdered in Scotland by a gunman who then committed suicide.

Even communist China, a literal police state, is not immune to mass shootings. A man killed 23 people and wounded as many as 80 in Beijing before being shot by police in 1994. Other mass murders in China used other weapons. In 2001, two Chinese men killed 14 people in China with guns and knives. In 2006 in Gongyi, China, 12 kindergarteners and four adults were killed with knives and a gasoline fire. A man killed seven children and two women with a meat cleaver in Xian in 2010. In Hebei in 2010, a man ran over 17 people with a shovel loader tractor.

Knives and explosives have been used to kill large numbers of people on many occasions. In 1950, a man killed 22 people in India with a knife. The worst school massacre in American history used explosives, not guns. According to, in 1927 a former school board member in Bath Township, Mich. set off three bombs that killed 45 people and wounded 58.

The worst school massacre in the world occurred in Beslan, Russia in 2004 when Chechen terrorists took 1,200 students and adults hostage. In the ensuing gun battle, 355 people were killed (not including the 31 terrorists) and more than 700 were injured. Of the dead, 186 were children between the ages of six and 16.

Conversely, legal guns in the hands of citizens have prevented several massacres. Days before the Sandy Hook shooting, Portland’s News Channel 8 reported that a concealed carry holder confronted a man who had already killed two people in a mall in Clackamas, Wash. When he saw that he was confronted by an armed civilian, the murderer then killed himself before he could take any more lives.

It wasn’t the first time that citizens had prevented such a tragedy. In 1997, an assistant principal retrieved a pistol from his car to stop a shooting spree at Pearl High School in Mississippi. In 2002, two students used their personal guns to help end a shooting spree at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia. In 2007, a churchgoer shot a man who had killed four people in a Colorado Springs church. A Salt Lake City gun owner stopped a man who suddenly began stabbing shoppers in a grocery store. There are many other reports of armed citizens saving lives as well.

In spite of the perception that mass shootings are becoming more frequent, criminologists say that random shootings are not becoming more frequent according to the Associated Press. Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections and the author of a book on mass murders in America, says that mass shootings increased between the 1960s and 1990s, but that mass killings have decreased since 2000. Duwe says mass killings in the U.S. peaked in 1929. In spite of the emotional impact of random killings, the majority of murder victims know their killer.

It seems that no amount of gun control, even outright bans, can effectively prevent mass shootings from occurring. In fact, by disarming legal gun owners who are often on the scene before police, strict gun control laws might often make these rampage attacks even worse.

Originally published on

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