Along with abortion, religion, and Donald Trump, gun control is one of the stickiest debating points in modern America. People are either rabidly for gun rights, or just as rabidly against them, and any shades of nuance are often lost in the resulting melee.
But not everything is as simple as you might expect. Go looking through the history of guns and gun control, and you’ll find plenty of facts that are either counterintuitive or just downright crazy.
10. ‘Good Guys with Guns’ Stop Less Shootings than Unarmed Civilians
Every time there’s a mass shooting in the US, someone will say we need more ‘good guys’ with guns. The thinking behind this seems logical. If an armed citizen sees a shooter come in the door, they’ll simply blow his head off. Or so you’d think. Turns out there’s a more effective class of civilian at stopping mass-shootings. Those who are completely unarmed.
In a detailed FBI report into mass shootings between 2000 and 2013, the Feds found that over half of mass shootings only stop when the shooter wants them to (by committing suicide or running away). By contrast, armed civilians were found to have ended only 3% of mass shootings. Unarmed citizens, on the other hand, were responsible for stopping 13%. That’s a whole lot of murder-sprees halted by guys and girls armed with nothing but cajones big enough to eclipse the sun.
So why don’t armed civilians stop more mass shootings? As one armed survivor of the Umpqua Community College shootings in Oregon explained, “The SWAT team wouldn’t know who we were, and if we had our guns ready to shoot, they could think we were bad guys.”
9. Most Gun Owners Disagree with the NRA
The NRA is the biggest, most-powerful pro-gun lobby. They’ve got the money, the members, and the support of politicians. And surely that’s a good thing. After all, they represent the 33% of Americans who live in gun-owning households, right?
Wrong. Not only do the NRA officially represent only a tiny fraction of gun owners, most other gun owners disagree with them on significant positions.
It’s estimated there are between 73 and 81 million adult gun owners in America. The NRA claims it has 5 million members. That means only 6 or 7% of gun owners are card-carrying members. When you poll the remaining 93% of gun owners who aren’t members, you find that they tend to disagree with the NRA’s position on gun control.
For example, the NRA opposes background checks for private and gun show sales. Nearly three quarters of the organization’s own members support these background checks, compared to over 80% of non-members. That means nearly every single American who owns a gun disagrees with the NRA on one of their biggest issues.
8. How to Stop Gun Violence (Without Gun Control)
Gun violence is a tricky issue. Many believe the only way to stop it is with more gun control, while some think less gun control is the answer. They’re both wrong. The US already has a proven way to reduce gun violence. And it doesn’t involve any gun control whatsoever.
Project Ceasefire first started in Boston in 1996. At the time, parts of the city were plagued with gang shootings and armed robberies. In 1991, there were 113 fatal shootings a year. By 1999, they’d dropped to 31. The reason? The city started engaging with gang members.
The first meeting of Ceasefire was simple. Managers told gang members they would help them find jobs and build a life, and all they had to do was turn their backs on violence. On the other hand, if they left the meeting and went straight back to shooting, the city would come down on them like a ton of bricks.
The carrot and stick approach worked. After the first meeting, there were no fatal shootings of teens in Boston for 29 months straight. In Chicago, it reduced gun violence by 73%. Then in 2000 the Feds decided to cut funding for it. Immediately afterwards, gun homicides skyrocketed again.
7. Japan’s Crazy Shooting Statistics
The internet loves to talk about Japan as a crazy place that’s all madness and undie-selling vending machines. In reality, it’s a country just like any other. There is one area where it’s undeniably strange, though: the number of shootings each year in Japan is utterly insane.
We don’t mean thousands are dying annually in gun fights with the Yakuza. We mean that in a country of nearly 130 million people, the number of yearly gun deaths rarely ever rises above 20.
In 2013, the total number of gun deaths in Japan was 12. Believe it or not, this was at the higher end of the scale. 2006 saw only two fatal shootings in the entire country. When that number hit 22 in 2007, it caused a national scandal. There are single mass-shootings in the US that have more victims than that.
The reason for this is that hardly anyone in Japan owns a gun. Those that do are subject to an insane amount of government scrutiny. Mess up your handgun permit, and you can go to jail for ten years. Add to that a very low crime rate in general, a homogenous society and widespread support for government intervention, and perhaps these figures don’t seem so strange after all.
6. Iceland’s Bizarre Police Shooting Statistics
Japan has some of the strictest gun control on Earth and one of the lowest gun homicide rates. On the other hand, Iceland is flooded with guns, and its shooting statistics are equally weird. For one thing, the violent crime rate is almost non-existent. But it’s only when you look at its statistics on police shootings that you appreciate how strange things are. Iceland’s armed police hadn’t fatally shot a single criminal prior to 2013.
As in, not a single one. Ever. Before December 2, 2013, the total number of people killed by Icelandic armed police was a big, fat zero. When they finally did kill someone, it was a madman in Reykjavik who was firing a shotgun at police officers. Even with such an obvious rationale for killing the criminal, the Icelandic police were still upset by the incident. Immediately afterwards, they released a statement reading:
“The police are deeply saddened by this tragic event and would like to extend their condolences to the family of the individual in question.”
Hard to imagine that happening literally anywhere else in the world.
5. Guns and Men
It’s a big, long stick that fires a squirt of deadly masculinity out the end. Perhaps it’s no surprise guns are a predominantly male preoccupation. Exactly how male they are is another matter. Of all the millions of gun owners in the USA, only 12% are female.
Incredibly, this is considered exceptionally high by global standards. Geneva’s Small Arms Survey project estimates that 96% of all gun owners on Earth are male. That means women represent only 4% of all gun owners. Probably the only thing on Earth to have a higher percentage of male owners is penises.
It’s interesting to wonder why this might be. In the US, gun manufacturers often advertise their wares with masculine campaigns about ‘getting your man card back.’ But that wouldn’t account for the global figures. This strange distribution also effects how gun violence is spread across the genders. If you consider San Bernardino killer Tashfeen Malik a terrorist rather than a mass-shooter, then the US has only ever seen one female mass-shooter: Jennifer San Marco, who gunned down six postal workers in 2006.
4. Guns and Hitler
Every time someone talks about gun control, someone else will bring up Hitler. It’s an immutable law of the universe that you can see in action all the time: like when Ben Carson claimed gun control had led to the Holocaust. Specifically, he claimed Hitler had disarmed the citizens of Germany and more guns would have prevented Nazi atrocities. It’s a common claim, and one that has absolutely no grounding in truth. Germany’s gun-control laws pre-dated Hitler.
Under the post-war Weimar government, guns were banned. Ironically, this was to stop Hitler’s brown shirts getting hold of them and overthrowing the government. By the time Hitler actually came to power, gun control was at an all-time high. True, this may have suited the uni-testicled dictator. But then came 1938. Despite what Carson would have you believe, that was the year Hitler actually repealed gun control.
New Nazi regulations liberalized gun laws for nearly everyone. The sale of rifles and shotguns was deregulated, and many people were exempted from having to buy permits. The only people who had their gun rights curtailed even further were Jews. But to claim a handful of armed Jews could have prevented the Holocaust when entire countries failed to do so is ridiculous in the extreme.
3. The NRA was Originally Pro Gun Control
The only time you hear the words ‘NRA’ and ‘gun control’ in the same sentence is when people are saying something like, “the NRA hates gun control.” But this wasn’t always the case. Hard as it may be to believe, the historical NRA not only supported gun control, it also helped draw up the legislation.
In the early 1930s, the then-head of the NRA, Karl T. Frederick, was involved in drawing up the Uniform Firearms Act. The law blocked conceal carry without a specific permit, forced gun dealers to report every single firearm sale, and imposed a two-day period on handgun sales. In 1934, the group also lobbied in favor of the National Firearms Act; a law which raised taxes on certain types of guns and forced others to be registered. When asked about the 2nd Amendment, Frederick replied that the right to own guns
“lies in an enlightened public sentiment and in intelligent legislative action. It is not to be found in the Constitution.”
In 1968, the NRA again lobbied for more gun control, supporting the Gun Control Act. This act prohibited mail-order rifle sales. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the group’s libertarian wing took over the leadership and changed its political allegiances permanently.
2. The US is the Only Country to Loosen Gun Controls after a Massacre
Mass-shootings aren’t an American phenomenon. Although they happen more-frequently in the USA than elsewhere, Germany, Britain, Australia, Norway, New Zealand and others have all seen horrific gun massacres. The US is unique in one respect, though. It is the only country on Earth to relax gun laws after a massacre.
In the UK, the Hungerford and Dunblane massacres caused some of the world’s most-restrictive gun control legislation to be brought in. In Australia, the Port Arthur massacre led to a nationwide gun buyback. In less-extreme cases, gun screening laws have still been tightened, as happened in Germany following the Erfurt massacre. By contrast, following Sandy Hook the US saw 27 states pass 93 laws expanding on gun rights. These included the right to use guns in self-defense while drunk.
Even countries that don’t tighten gun laws after massacres don’t loosen them. The US is completely unique in this respect. Has it made Americans safer? We’ll leave it to you to tell us in the comments.
1. Surviving a Mass Shooting
This is something we hope none our readers ever have to use. Although not everyone is aware of it, US security professionals have produced a checklist for surviving a mass shooting. Promoted with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, it can be broken down into three chilling words: “Run. Hide. Fight.”
They mean exactly what they say. The very first thing anyone in an active shooter situation should do is run like hell. This was developed after the Columbine massacre in 1999, when current advice told people to hide. A group was found hiding in the library and killed. It later transpired they could have possibly escaped out a fire exit.
If running fails, hide. Ideally behind a locked door. Finally, current advice says you should fight if you have no other option. This doesn’t mean breaking out the kung-fu. It can be enough to simply hurl objects at the shooter. Automatic muscle responses mean this should cause his aim to go off, potentially giving other people time to escape.
We certainly hope our readers never have cause to use this advice. But it does highlight perhaps the weirdest gun fact of all: that modern America is a society where this advice needs to be issued. And that can’t be a good thing.