Why Gun Control Laws = Epic Fail

The Constitutional Basis

Law abiding citizens, in the United States, have the constitutionally guaranteed right to own and use firearms to defend themselves, their families, their property and their communities against anything or anyone seeking to deprive them of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, the primary purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that the People could protect their States from the Federal gov’t…

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.”

–James Madison, Federalist #46

Way back when the States were debating ratification of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison wrote a series of essays (the Federalist Papers) in an effort to assuage concerns among the States that the Constitution would cede too much power to the central gov’t. Madison’s essays dealt primarily with the republican nature of the new Federal gov’t.

Federalist #46 (1788) dealt with the balance of powers between the States and Federal gov’t. Madison assured the States that the Federal gov’t would never be able to subjugate the States through force of arms because we had an armed citizenry led by officers “chosen from among themselves.”

To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.

This assurance was insufficient in the eyes of many delegates and conditioned ratification on the adoption of a Bill of Rights, modeled after Virginia’s Declaration of Rights.

The Second Amendment was proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1791.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In 1788, the “militia” consisted of all men, capable of bearing arms, their own arms. The purpose of the militias was to preserve the Sovereignty of the several States and to protect them from all potential threats, particularly the Federal gov’t. It was assumed that all citizens would be as well-armed as any Federal soldier if they chose to be.

All rights, enumerated or not in the Constitution, are natural. The Bill of Rights simply enumerated certain rights so important that George Mason and other Antifederalists demanded extra clarity in their protection. The Constitution did not create “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.” It was a reminder to Congress that the Constitution awarded them no power to infringe on that right. The Second Amendment did give Congress some power to regulate the militias

That every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred [sic] and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack.

In 1792, a musket was an assault rifle. People who wished to serve in the militias were required to bring their own assault rifles. The Second Amendment preserved the individual “right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” because a “well regulated Militia” was “necessary to the security of a Free State.” At the time these documents were written, many of the framers (Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, etc.) viewed the Federal gov’t as one of the greatest threats to the security of Free States.

In the recent Heller decision, SCOTUS ruled that the evolution of the militias to the National Guard (Mason, Henry, Jefferson & Madison would have rejected this) and the unsuitable nature of many modern military arms for personal use did not dilute the individual “right of the people to keep and bear Arms.”

Furthermore, in Federalist #78, Hamilton assured the States that the Court would have no power to interpret the Constitution. As the Supreme Law, the Court would have to ascertain its meaning…

The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

The United States Supreme Court has no constitutional power to interpret the Second Amendment in any manner other that its original meaning. So, if you don’t like the original intent of the Second Amendment, all you need to do, is to convince 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4 of the States to abolish or amend it.

The Statistical/Logical Basis

Start with the CATO institute’s Tough Targets and then check out these studies…

There are approximately two million defensive gun uses (DGU’s) per year by law abiding citizens. That was one of the findings in a national survey conducted by Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist in 1993. Prior to Dr. Kleck’s survey, thirteen other surveys indicated a range of between 800,000 to 2.5 million DGU’s annually. However these surveys each had their flaws which prompted Dr. Kleck to conduct his own study specifically tailored to estimate the number of DGU’s annually.

Subsequent to Kleck’s study, the Department of Justice sponsored a survey in 1994 titled, Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms (text, PDF). Using a smaller sample size than Kleck’s, this survey estimated 1.5 million DGU’s annually.

There is one study, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which in 1993, estimated 108,000 DGU’s annually. Why the huge discrepancy between this survey and fourteen others?



Defensive gun use (DGU) is difficult to quantify because the majority of DGU incidents don’t involve a shooting victim and the studies are heavily dependent on anecdotal information and statistical models.

Estimates range from 80,000 to more than 2 million DGU’s per year. With about 15,000 homicides and 3 million burglaries per year, the odds are heavily in favor of responsible, law-abiding gun owners. The DOJ’s 1994 study found that more rape attempts were fended of with firearms than the total number of rapes and attempted rapes reported to the police. Even if the DGU reports were exaggerated by an order of magnitude, 30,000 rapes are annually averted by DGU.

Risk probabilities can only be calculated with math and risk management depends entirely on statistics. Pathetic appeals to emotion are the antithesis of risk management.

If armed intruders broke into my home while I was there, I’d have at least an even chance to defend my wife and me with my .357 magnum. If I was limited to my Bowie knife and/or a baseball bat, my odds would be a lot less than even, even if the intruders were only armed with knives and clubs. Here’s one study that actually quantified the “kill ratio”…

N Engl J Med. 1986 Jun 12;314(24):1557-60.

Protection or peril? An analysis of firearm-related deaths in the home.

Kellermann AL, Reay DT.

To study the epidemiology of deaths involving firearms kept in the home, we reviewed all the gunshot deaths that occurred in King County, Washington (population 1,270,000), from 1978 through 1983. The medical examiner’s case files were supplemented by police records or interviews with investigating officers or both, to obtain specific information about the circumstances, the scene of the incident, the type of firearm involved, and the relationship of the suspect to the victim. A total of 743 firearm-related deaths occurred during this six-year period, 398 of which (54 percent) occurred in the residence where the firearm was kept. Only 2 of these 398 deaths (0.5 percent) involved an intruder shot during attempted entry. Seven persons (1.8 percent) were killed in self-defense. For every case of self-protection homicide involving a firearm kept in the home, there were 1.3 accidental deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides, and 37 suicides involving firearms. Hand-guns were used in 70.5 percent of these deaths. The advisability of keeping firearms in the home for protection must be questioned.


Kellermann and Reay (1986) has been long-cited by libiots, asserting that gun owners were 43 times more likely to be killed by their own firearms than they were to kill an intruder.

There are two major flaws with Kellermann’s conclusions:

  1. The kill ratio was worse in non-gun households.
  2. The vast majority of deaths were due to suicide and only 22% of homicides involve strangers.

Kellermann and Reay looked at all gunshot deaths in King County, Washington from 1978 through 1983. They found the following:

Unintentional deaths 12
Criminal homicide 41
Suicide 333
Unknown 3
Total 389

Self-protection homicide 9
DGU Ratio 1:43.2

For every self-protection homicide, there were 389 total gunshot deaths.

Kellermann and Reay failed to mention that the ratio was worse among violent deaths not involving firearms…

Unintentional deaths 0
Criminal homicide 50
Suicide 347
Unknown 0
Total 397

Self-protection homicide 4
No Gun Ratio 99.3

For every “gun free” self-protection homicide, there were 99.3 “gun free” violent deaths.

1:43 may not sound like good odds, but they are far better than 1:99.

Now, if you control for accidents, suicides and domestic-type incidents, you get the following:

With Guns

Criminal homicide (Minus Domestic) 9
Self-protection homicide 9
Ratio 1.0

Gun Free

Criminal homicide (Minus Domestic) 11
Self-protection homicide 4
Ratio 2.7

Homeowners with firearms had a 1:1 kill ratio against assailants. The gun-free kill ratio dropped to 1:3.

Since, responsible law-abiding gun owners tend to not shoot themselves or family and friends… The odds against intruders are three times better with a gun than without.

Risk cannot be calculated with pathetic appeals to emotion (all appeals to emotion are, by definition, pathetic). Rather than trying to quantify mass homicides with firearms, we’ll look at all firearms homicides. According to the US DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are about 11,000 homicides with firearms in the US each year(~0.0003% annual risk) and there are about 3,000,000 household burglaries (~3% annual risk), including about 1,000,000 through forcible entry (~1% annual risk).

If the Federal gov’t could ban the private ownership of firearms and instantly confiscate every pistol, rifle and shotgun from everyone, it would eliminate a 0.0003% risk at the cost of depriving all law abiding citizens of the means to defend themselves against the 3% risk of burglary. It would also deprive law abiding citizens of the means to defend themselves against the risk of knife, blunt instrument and bare-handed assaults.

Gun control laws have had no effect on the US murder rate over the past 50 years…

Note that the R² = 0.0298. This is the coefficient of determination. It can range from 0 to 1. 1 is a perfect fit. 0 is no fit at all. An R² of 0.0298 is indicative of no trend at all. Also note that y = -0.0209x + 48.808. The slope is -0.0209. This means that the murder rate has declined, albeit insignificantly.

Now, let’s take the data back to 1900…

The murder rate has fluctuated between 4 and 10 per 100,000 since the Federal gov’t effectively seized control of the State militias in 1903.

The fact is that the violent crime rate in the U.S. is at a historically low level…

FBI: Violent crime rates in the US drop, approach historic lows
By Andrew Mach, Staff Writer, NBC News

Violent crime rates in the U.S. are reaching historic lows, according to new FBI data released Monday.

Instances of murder declined overall by 1.9 percent from 2010 figures, while rape, robbery and aggravated assault declined by 4 percent nationwide, according to records from more than 14,000 law-enforcement agencies around the country, FBI spokesman Bill Carter told msnbc.com.


NBC, June 11. 2012

While these stories make for big headlines, mass shootings are not increasing in frequency…

2012 is tragic, but mass shootings not increasing, experts say
December 18, 2012|By Matt Pearce


“There is one not-so-tiny flaw in all of these theories for the increase in mass shootings,” James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, wrote for Boston.com in August. “And that is that mass shootings have not increased in number or in overall body count, at least not over the past several decades.”

Fox cited a particularly broad set of FBI and police data that counted shootings between 1980 and 2010 in which four or more people were killed: The average pace was about 20 mass murders per year, with a death toll of about 100. Casualty counts fluctuated wildly — some years would have almost 125 dead, but then be followed by a year with fewer than 50 mass shooting fatalities. Far steadier was the number of attacks, which usually stayed at fewer than 25 per year.

This year has been especially bloody, though. According to a running tally by Mother Jones magazine, whose counts slightly differ — the magazine excluded robberies and gang violence, to some criticism, and limited the tally to public attacks — 2012 has been the deadliest year for mass shootings since 1982 by far, with almost 80 dead.

The overall number of casualties, when injuries are included, made 2012 almost twice as bloody as the next-worst years: 1999 and 2007, when massacres at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., respectively, inflated the numbers.

Mass shootings make up only a small fraction of the country’s overall gun crime. Between 2007 and 2011 — which saw an almost unprecedented drop in violent crime — the U.S. experienced an average of 13,700 homicides, with guns responsible for 67% of the killing, according to the FBI’s crime reports.

But experts say it’s the spectacular nature of the attacks that give public mass shootings such impact beyond the affected communities, with intense media coverage lending extra piquance: five or six or even seven attacks in one year may not be statistically significant, but they’re emotionally resonant.


LA Times

Comments like, “I’m sure your statistics will give their parents the peace of mind they need right now,” are the logical equivalent of saying, “I dare you to tell the families of the plane crash victims that flying is safer than driving.” This subject can actually be discussed logically and dispassionately.

Responding to tragedies like this with calls to ban guns is exactly like responding to the rare fatal reactions to flu shots with calls to ban flu vaccines. The various assault-style weapons ban proposals will do nothing to prevent or even mitigate tragedies like these. Columbine happened while the 1994 AWB was in effect and one of the shooters’ weapons was a 9mm carbine designed to comply with that AWB. The Newtown shooter’s .223 Bushmaster was legal under CT’s AWB. It’s an undisputable fact that the type of firearm is more or less irrelevant when the targets are unarmed, unprotected and trapped in a closed environment (schools, movie theaters, etc.)

This tragedy, without any doubt, merits an emotional outpouring of grief, sorrow, sympathy and support for the families and friends of the victims. However, it would be idiotic to confuse the emotional response with a logical response. And it is nothing less than scurrilous for politicians to play on people’s emotions in an effort to undermine the Constitution and expand Federal powers.

The logical and constitutional response would be to 1) make it more difficult for criminals and mentally ill people to obtain firearms, 2) work to remove the stigma of mental illness, so people will be more willing to accept treatment, 3) pressure the entertainment and video game industries to stop glamorizing senseless violence and work to restore respect for human life and private property (change the culture) and 4) harden the likely targets for mass shooters, because every successful mass shooting in recent US history has occurred in locations where the victims were unprotected and unlikely to be armed. The illogical and pathetically emotional response would be to further infringe upon the constitutionally protected rights of law-abiding Americans.

It’s true that you can no more prevent psychos like Lanza from going on killing sprees, any more than you can prevent lightning strikes and shark attacks. These all carry infinitesimally small risk profiles. However, mass shootings comprise a very tiny fraction of our homicide rate. And I think a big factor in the overall homicide rate is a cultural loss of respect for human life and private property rights. I think this could be fixed, if not for the fact that so many politicians and celebrities benefit from the cultural degradation.

Gov’t could try to control lightning strikes and shark attacks. Congress just needs to pass laws prohibiting going outside in the rain and swimming or wading in the oceans and all connected bodies of water. This would reduce the death rates from lightning strikes and shark attacks from insignificant to a slightly lower level of insignificant. It would also make just as much sense as passing more gun control laws in an effort to prevent mass shootings..

Mass shootings by lone gunmen are extremely rare and the frequency of such incidents is not increasing…


Mass shootings are not growing in frequency, experts say


[T]hose who study mass shootings say they are not becoming more common.

“There is no pattern, there is no increase,” says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston’s Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices.

The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox says. Most people who die of bullet wounds knew the identity of their killer.

Society moves on, he says, because of our ability to distance ourselves from the horror of the day, and because people believe that these tragedies are “one of the unfortunate prices we pay for our freedoms.”

Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century.

Chances of being killed in a mass shooting, he says, are probably no greater than being struck by lightning.



While not a rigorous statistical analysis, if I take the incidents from the following article, sum up victims by nation and then calculate a mass shooting rate based on the current populations…

Timeline: Mass shooting incidents in last 25 yearsFri, Jul 20 2012(Reuters) – Here is a timeline of some of the worst shooting incidents carried out by one or two gunmen around the world in the last 25 years:March 13, 1996 – BRITAIN – Gunman Thomas Hamilton burst into a primary school in the Scottish town of Dunblane and shot dead 16 children and their teacher before killing himself.April 28, 1996 – AUSTRALIA – Martin Bryant unleashed modern Australia’s worst mass murder when he shot dead 35 people at the Port Arthur tourist site in the southern state of Tasmania.[…]Reuters


I find that, despite the preponderance of firearms here, the USA had a lower rate than all but Belgium before Newtown and ranks in the middle of the pack after Newtown…

These sorts of incidents are horrifying… But they are extremely rare. Even if the number of victims of mass shootings in the US was an order of magnitude larger than indicated in the Reuters timeline, the risk would still be infinitesimally small.

Banning the sale and/or possession of military-looking rifles and high-capacity magazines would be just as illogical and ineffective as prohibiting walking in the rain or swimming in the ocean. Death from mass shootings in civilized nations carries a similar risk profile as lightning and shark attack.

Actually, it would be a lot worse. It would strip law-abiding citizens of a means to defend themselves, their families and property in an effort to protect them from a 0.00006% annual risk of being killed in a mass shooting. It would also undermine one of the main purposes of the Second Amendment (Federalist #46).

Columbine happened in the middle of the 1994 AWB. Two psychotic teenagers (redundant) armed with two sawed-off shotguns, two 9mm handguns, a 9mm carbine (designed to comply with the AWB) and a couple of sacks of IEDs managed to kill thirteen people, despite being intermittently engaged by sheriff’s deputies.

The only real solution to mass shootings would involve hardening every conceivable target and institutionalizing every person with any sign of mental illness, or the propensity to develop such. That solution is as impractical as more gun control laws would be mindlessly idiotic.

These steps won’t eliminate the risk; but they would substantially mitigate it: We need to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill people. We need to change the culture and restore respect for human life and private property rights. And we need to take reasonable steps to harden vulnerable targets and protect defenseless potential victims.

We don’t need to further infringe on the rights of law-abiding Americans.

Guns Per Capita

Murder Rates

2013 Index of Economic Freedom

There is a box on each graph with some numbers, letters and mathematical symbols. These boxes describe the statistical relationship between the two variables.

Where x equals the number of guns per 100 residents of a nation and y equals the nation’s Economic Freedom Index:

y = 0.3794x + 55.687

The slope is positive. Every additional gun per 100 residents increases the Economic Freedom Index by 0.38.

You’ll note that R² = 0.1593. This is the coefficient of determination. The function explains about 16% of the variation in the data. This is a fairly weak correlation. However these two variables are four-times better correlated than guns and murder rates.

Where x equals the number of guns per 100 residents of a nation y equals the nation’s murder rate:

y = -0.2135x + 12.295

The slope is negative. Every additional gun per 100 residents decreases the murder rate by 0.2 per 100,000 population.

You’ll note that R² = 0.0389. The function explains about 4% of the variation in the data. This is a very weak correlation. However, it is also in the wrong direction from a gun-grabber’s point of view.

Here’s the cross-plot of guns vs. economic freedom with a 95% confidence band (two standard deviations)…

Some have asserted that the US skews the trend line. It does a bit; but, once again, it skews it in the wrong direction from a gun-grabber’s point of view. The dashed linear regression excludes the USA…

The slope actually gets a bit steeper if the USA is excluded and the relationship remains the same:

More Guns–>More Freedom

If I include social freedom, I get the same results. This study rated Political Rights and Civil Liberties on scales of 1-7, with 1 being free and 7 being not free.

To make these compatible with the Economic Freedom Index I calculated a Social Freedom Index:

Social Freedom Index = [((1/Political Rights)*100)+(1/Civil Liberties)*100))]/2

Example: Angola has a Political Rights factor of 6 (Not Free) and a Civil Liberties factor of 5 (Partly Free).

SFIAngola = [((1/6)*100)+(1/5)*100))]/2 = 18.3

I then calculated a Total Freedom Index by averaging the Social and Economic Freedom Indices. Here are cross-plots of guns vs. social and total freedom….

It’s the same basic relationship as economic freedom vs. guns.

Now, to address the cherry-pickers, here’s a cross-plot of guns vs. total freedom, limited to nations with TFI’s greater than 80…

And here’s a cross-plot of guns vs. murder rates for that same population (TFI >80)…

The R² is essentially the same.

Laws aren’t very mathematical… But there is no correlation between gun ownership and homicide rates in the States…

The only way I get anything even close to a correlation is if I include Mordor on the Potomac…

Any questions? (A rhetorical question).


5 Responses to “Why Gun Control Laws = Epic Fail”

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