Much of the gun control argument is premised on a simple idea; that “more guns lead to more gun deaths.” It’s pretty simple, but there is reason to see why that idea is so pervasive. It sounds reasonable, after all. If guns are used and more bad actors have them, then those bad actors are more likely to use them.
The problem is that all of that is based on a faulty premise.
Yet that premise came to a head in the confrontation between Reps. Thomas Massie and Jamaal Bowman recently.
And Reason has the fact-check for Bowman.
But is Rep. Bowman right that “more guns lead to more deaths?”
The short answer is no. That’s great news, especially since reducing the number of guns in circulation presents not just immense pragmatic challenges but almost certainly insuperable constitutional barriers.
Over the past few decades, the number of guns in America has increased massively, so much so that there are now more guns than people in the United States. Yet federal crime statistics show that firearm homicides dropped about 40 percent between 1993 and 2018, from 7 per 100,000 people to 4.3 per 100,000 people (for nonfatal crimes involving guns, the decline was 71 percent). Violent crime, including homicides, did spike during the pandemic, and while the most recent data is incomplete, it’s clear that gun-related violence remains far below where it was 30 years ago despite more guns than ever being out there.
When it comes to schools, the 2020–21 academic year, the latest for which full data is available, did see the highest number of school shootings with casualties this century. There are thankfully too few violent deaths to generate statistically significant conclusions, but the long-term trends show no increase in homicides or suicides among students, staff, and teachers.
If more guns result in more deaths, then the period between 1994 and 2019 should have seen growing violent crime throughout those decades due to the increase in demand for guns, particularly over the last 20 years, and yet, we don’t. We see the opposite.
I get why “more guns mean more deaths” is a powerful talking point, but it’s wrong. It’s incredibly wrong and any evidence claiming the contrary usually involves ignoring numerous other factors such as economics, education, or pretty much anything else.
Unfortunately, it still works because there’s generally little pushback on it, at least where most people can see it. Reason, for example, is a publication I enjoy reading, but it’s not going to get the same attention that a study saying the opposite would get when published at the New York Times, for example.
And that’s part of the problem. It’s a soundbite, which makes it easy to digest and repeat. However, it’s at best simplistic, but the reality is that the best-case scenario isn’t what’s happening. This isn’t missing context, it’s outright wrong.
Now, Reason pointed out that Massie’s claim that there have been no negligent discharges by armed school staff isn’t correct, which they’re also right about. I respect them for pointing that fact out as well. Accuracy matters, after all.
But, in my humble opinion, that’s a mistake, not the outright lie of guns simply leading to death.