CO013 Rob Morse on Guns and Safety

Rob Morse is the author of Slow Facts and co-host of the Polite Society podcast.

I referred to this Swiss study which concluded “The restriction of firearm availability in Switzerland resulting from the Army XXI reform was followed by an enduring decrease in the general suicide rate.”

Rob and I disagreed on international crime rates. These rates are difficult to compare because of the different practices in reporting and recording crimes. Serious crimes give the most valid comparison because they are nearly always reported, and are considered crimes in all jurisdictions. The United States has a murder rate of 4.7, which is much lower than some Third World world countries, but the highest of any major developed country. Ireland has a murder rate of 1.2; source.

I got gun international ownerships rates slightly wrong, but was correct that the rate in the US is by a wide margin the highest in the world.

Rob and I differed on the ability of a ‘good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun‘. This was in the context of NRA president, Wayne LaPierre’s reaction to several mass shootings, saying that armed civilians can make society safer. Rob cited several examples from his page Saved by a Good Person with a Gun, which lists 10 examples. However, only four cases (10, 9, 4, 2) actually claim to be an incident where an American civilian with a gun stopped a shooting, and none meet the definition of a mass shooting, four or more victims shot in a single incident, although it is reasonable to think that they might have, without an intervention.

Rob doesn’t provide links, though I am happy to accept his word. However, to collect those four examples, Rob has to go back over almost 20 years, and by the stricter definition there have been many thousands of mass shootings in the US in that period, now at a rate of almost one per day. Four incidents is a vanishingly small proportion of gun crime. Rob makes the point:

We seldom see a ‘mass shooting’ when an armed civilian intervenes in an attempted public violence.  The civilian stops the murderer before 4 people get killed.  The average being 2.3 dead if a civilian on the scene intervenes, versus 14.3 dead if no armed civilian is present and the murders proceed until the police arrive.

It is certainly valid to count incidents where an attacker is stopped by a civilian and set them against mass shootings with more casualties because nobody intervened. I don’t know the source of the figures he quotes,  and I acknowledge that it is possible to end up with a different dataset by changing the criteria, but accepting all of the incidents he cites over the past 20 years, they don’t indicate that armed civilians can provide much protection from the rate of one mass shooting per day in the US in recent years.

This is the Democracy Index, ranking countries by the quality of their democracy. It is clear that there is no correlation between liberal gun laws and the quality of the democracy.

I overstated Somalia’s level of gun prevalence, it has about one gun for every 10 people.