In light of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., partisan voices are only getting louder on the issue of gun control. Recently, Washington Post columnist Matt Miller argued that “everyone knows we need to reduce gun violence” and that “we still need to boost the economy.”
Mr. Miller proposed a massive, $100 billion gun buyback program, using the ballyhooed Australian buyback program as his template. According to Mr. Miller, this included banning semi-automatic and automatic rifles and shotguns, and conducting a compulsory buyback program. Unfortunately, the reasons underlying Mr. Miller’s support for the Australian method of gun control collapse upon close scrutiny.
First, Mr. Miller says we need gun violence to go down. Yet according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, homicides have gone down since 2003 in America (albeit by a smaller margin than the average), and a Just Facts chart shows the homicide rate in America has gone down by approximately 50 percent in the past 20 years. Moreover, Reason’s Nick Gillespie points out a few important statistics, including that the rate of student victimization dropped severalfold from 1993 to 2010, and school murders went down by almost 50 percent. “Serious violent” crimes dropped by half.
So it is clear that pervasive gun ownership in America has not prevented violence as a whole from decreasing. The Guardian has noted FBI statistics that show firearms are the weapon of choice for homicides in the United States. Those statistics, however, also show the use of firearms for murder has declined in the past few years.
It is also important to distinguish between good and bad violence. “Good” violence saves the lives of innocent citizens threatened by others. Just Facts notes guns are used far more often in self-defense than in committing crimes, according to a number of government and private-sector studies.
Regarding Australia’s lack of gun violence, the aforementioned Just Facts graph also shows Australia’s homicide rate has dropped. While America’s rate has gone down by 3.9 percent, Australia’s rate has only dropped by 0.4 percent. This means that while America’s gun laws became somewhat looser with the elimination of the “assault” weapons ban, and Australia’s became stricter, America’s homicide rate has dropped much faster than Australia’s.
Granted, the U.S. homicide rate was already several times that of Australia’s before Australia implemented gun control. While many of those U.S. deaths can be attributed to guns, they can also just as arguably be attributed to factors such as gang violence and the war on drugs.
Mr. Miller’s economic argument is further flawed insofar as he is arguing that an infusion of cash into the American economy will help economic growth. Unfortunately, Mr. Miller is nearly paralleling the Broken Window Fallacy. Essentially, he argues that spending money in a way that is economically unnecessary is a good thing — much as economist Paul Krugman has argued that government spending money to prepare for an alien invasion would have a positive economic impact. Never mind the total and complete economic inefficiency of Mr. Miller’s proposal — especially since he is proposing to “overpay” for guns at $500 per weapon.
Perhaps most importantly with regard to Mr. Miller’s economic argument, we simply can’t afford more debt. Putting $100 billion into the economy through government spending is going to have the same effect as Cash for Clunkers. It will provide a cash influx that will last for a short time, then leave things the way they were, all the while adding the spending plus interest payments to future budgets.
The Australian example of gun control has been widely discussed and praised. While it may have merit, the facts are clearly being left out, which is a dangerous thing when it comes to public policy.
Kavon W. Nikrad is editor-in-chief of the campaign and elections website Race42012.com and a 2011-12 policy fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
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