As a supplemental post to my previous article on gun control I thought it would be helpful to show you statistics from the U.K. about violence, and in particular gun violence. Since the gun ban of 1997 (which banned just about every kind of hand-gun) the gun lobby has made hay of a spike in violence that followed the ban. But when we look at statistics we need to be careful – the temptation to cherry-pick a statistic to prove your point (and defend your ideology) can be too much to bear if things look like they’re going the other way. This is what I believe happened in the article, Gun Control in England: The Tarnished Gold Standard, by Joyce Lee Malcom and used by my friend Aron Gahagan in our most recent debate.
The article makes two important assertions, both of which are baseless. The first assertion is that all kinds of violence, but especially gun violence, spiked and trended upward as a result of the gun ban in 1997. While the data does show that violent crime increased in the first few years after the ban, there is no direct correlation between the short-lived increase in crime and the ban. If what gun proponents say is true the trend should keep going steadily upward, but this isn’t happening, in fact the trend is in the opposite direction. The Home Office Statistical Bulletin: Crime in England and Wales, the publication the government of the United Kingdom relies on for tracking crime, says this about overall violence in the U.K.:
“Although the 2010/11 BCS showed no statistically significant change in levels of violent crime in recent years (the apparent 6% increase between 2009/10 and 2010/11 was not statistically significant and followed a period of general stability in recent years), compared with 1995, it has fallen by one half (47%). Since 1995, violence with injury has fallen by 50 per cent and violence without injury by 44 per cent (see Figure 2.6 for trends in overall violence and Table 2.01 for all crime types). “
Please notice that it fell onward from 1995, two years previous to the gun ban. What Malcolm has done is fairly transparent. She picked the years, of which there were very few, that came after the ban that showed an increase in violence. This M.O. has been followed by many pro-gun advocates that are eager to build a case against gun control. But this approach not only lacks integrity, it lacks sophistication. Crime does not go up simply because there are less guns. Gun ownership is one of the most marginal factors in mitigating violence. The approach ignores other factors like poverty, lack of education, and cultural decline. Malcolm lowers herself even more egregiously when she writes, “In the four years from 1997 to 2001 the rate of violent crime more than doubled. The UK murder rate for 2002 was the highest for a century.” This statement is meant to induce fear in well-meaning citizens. But again, the correlation is built on a fallacy and some of the information is patently false. The U.K. murder rate in 2002 involving the use of guns did see a spike, but then dropped off steeply in the years that followed (you can see that here).
Again from the Home Office Statistical Bulletin:
“BCS crime rose steadily in the decade from 1981 and continued to rise during the early 1990s, peaking in 1995. Subsequently, BCS crime fell markedly between 1995 and the 2004/05 BCS. Since 2004/05 the underlying trend in BCS crime has continued to be downward, although at a slower rate and with some fluctuation in year-to-year estimates. Based on interviews in 2010/11, BCS crime was estimated to be 50 per cent lower than the peak in 1995, representing nearly 10 million fewer crimes in 2010/11 compared with 1995. BCS crime now remains around the lowest level ever reported.”
My primary concern, as stated in my previous post, was the use of guns to commit acts of violence. In that post I argued that the number of homicides committed with a gun averaged less per year after the ban. According to a research paper written for Parliament by the House of Commons Library, the average gun homicide rate in England and Wales in the 11 years before the ban was almost 59 murders per year. In the 11 years after the ban the average number dropped to 37 per year. A 36 percent decrease.
At this point I want to state again that I am not for a ban like the one in Great Britain. But the numbers don’t lie. The assertions made in the Malcolm article are clearly motivated by one thing: preserving unfettered gun ownership. This idea is directly connected to an ideology that views government in the worst possible light. What troubles me most, in a way, is the near conspiracy theory lunacy that is at the base of gun advocate psychology. Western Europe and other responsible countries have been able to enact tougher gun laws without any threat to the freedom of their people. In fact, their people are safer than people in the United States. England is safer than the United States, period. And I don’t think that anyone can contest the fact that this is because there are less guns in the U.K. My hope is that during the public exchange on ideas about gun control this fact will become painfully obvious to just about everyone.