The tragic Sandy Hook shooting has sparked furious debate on issues of gun control and gun violence. There are a lot of people on the pro-gun side that immediately fall back on the “Don’t politicize the tragedy” line, or express similar thoughts. I find myself disagreeing, and although the emotional climate might make discussion difficult, it is certainly not the time to ignore problems.

When looking at statistics it’s important to carefully consider their wording and context. As an example, counting the amount of gun deaths per 100,000 seems useful at first, but it can be misleading. If this figure includes suicides it makes it appear as if other crimes occur more than they actually do. Crime of all types is actually decreasing faster than suicides are. If you remove suicides from the category of firearms deaths, this removes half of the incidents. I am not trying to downplay suicide, but including them with murders makes comparisons difficult.

Looking at other countries can be useful, but misleading as well. Japan is constantly brought up as an example of firearms regulation succeeding, but one must realize that Japan had comparatively low murder and violent crime rates of any stripe before or after any legislation. They also possess the world’s sixth highest suicide rate. At around 20 per 100,000, it’s well above the USA. In Switzerland, and many other places in Europe, most males over 18 will handle a fully-automatic military rifle as part of their conscription, but mere possession does not seem to create spree shooters in those places. One can see that suicides will not necessarily disappear due to stricter regulation, possession does not necessarily create crime, and that comparisons between countries are quite difficult to perform.

The issue gets further muddled when one looks within a diverse and large country like the United States. New England has fairly lax gun laws in comparison to other states. An American is able to purchase and carry a pistol with minimal licensing and without a background check. New England is also one of the safest places in the United States.

The Midwest and Great Plains regions also have lax gun laws and low crime. The Western United States, specifically California, has tough laws but high rates of gun crime. The South has both relaxed laws and high rates of gun crime.

Break it down even further and it is an even bigger mess. Places like Chicago and Washington, which have very strict laws, have as much gun incidents as places with fewer laws, such as cities in the South. High rates of gun ownership also exist in places with both low and high gun crime.

Seeing how complex the issue is, it is not surprising that the legislative reaction is simplistic. Despite the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Department of Justice, having said that the previous “assault weapons” ban’s effect on crime and safety was tiny or even nothing, Senator Feinstein wants another go at it. One shouldn’t be surprised at the ineffectiveness of an “assault weapons” ban, because “assault weapons” are statistically negligible in terms of crime. It’s worth noting that “assault weapon” is an invented non-technical term that, for the most part, means “scary looking”.

The newly proposed “assault weapons” ban has nothing about background checks, safe storage laws, or safety courses. Its primary concern is banning weapons on the basis of whether one can attach a flashlight to their firearm, or fire more than 10 rounds out of a magazine. As much as these properties may appear frightening or relevant, it is important to understand not just appearances, but reality.

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