Are guns all-American?

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Today, the Independence Institute's Kopel and The Economist's Lockwood address the international view on guns. Previously, they debated the fading politics of gun control and the lessons of Virginia Tech. Later this week, they'll talk about treasured myths and possible solutions.

Americans, and Europeans, have bigger worriesBy Christopher Lockwood
David, I've a feeling that we are going to end up agreeing about this one. I do think American gun laws are crazy, but I'm not at all sure that Americans ought to worry what the rest of the world thinks about them. There are plenty of things that we do in England, like drinking warm beer or having bad teeth, that Americans think are crazy. But we wouldn't have it any other way.

Now, there are American attitudes or policies that the world violently disagrees with that Americans really ought to be worried about. The way that the Iraq war has been mishandled has made America as unpopular in the world as I have ever seen it, and Americans certainly ought to be concerned about that. American views about the environment are quite different from those of much of the rest of the world, and I think that is a serious problem for America as well, because what America does in this regard has consequences for other countries, and they have legitimate grounds for feeling aggrieved about it. (Fortunately, there's quite a bit of movement on this one, not least from California.) If America and Europe are at odds over the sale of genetically modified foods, then it makes sense for Americans to consider how their actions affect countries who are still, after all, their allies.

But gun control is different. It's hard to see how America's homicide rate is anyone's concern but America's. If Americans, operating through their federal and state legislatures, politically take the view that 30,000 gun deaths a year is not a sufficiently grave problem for a fundamental rethink of the right to bear semi-automatic weapons, then in the end that is entirely a matter for them. Other countries are not affected in any direct way (though one might, at a stretch, argue that Hollywood's glamorizing of gun culture does have a somewhat malign impact on the rest of the world), so European tut-tutting is really nothing for Americans to worry about too much. We might be a little surprised that a country with all the ingenuity and energy that America has seems simply to throw up its hands when it comes to guns, and in effect declare that the homicide rate and regular appalling school massacres, are insolvable problems, about which nothing whatever can be done. But that's our problem.

That said, the rest of the world has a perfect right to express its surprise and disapproval of America's very liberal gun regime. I've been slightly shocked at the number of people who have slammed my paper for offering its views about American gun laws—Fox News, to take one example. The First Amendment, I'd have thought, is at least the equal of the Second.

—Chris

Christopher Lockwood is U.S. Editor of The Economist.


Foreign governments are anti-gun; foreign people are a different storyBy Dave Kopel
Chris, I wish you were right, but the United Nations has changed everything. With the support of many governments, including United Kingdom and Canada, the U.N. is conducting a relentless assault on the Second Amendment. The U.N. has already declared that there is no human right of self-defense, and that American gun laws are a violation of international law because they are too lax. Even those in New York City! Around the world, U.S. taxpayer dollars are used for U.N. gun confiscations which leave people defenseless against criminals, such as the government-allied sex trade kidnappers who prey on the people of Cambodia.

Perhaps it is the foreign laws which are really the crazy ones. The United Kingdom has the most severe anti-gun laws in the West. Yet according to the United Nations, Scotland is the most violent developed country in the world, and England and Wales are not much better; with significantly higher total violent crime rates than the U.S.

The British rate of home invasion burglaries is about nine times the American rate, partly because the British ban on defensive gun ownership guarantees safe working conditions for home invaders. Home invasions are also more frequent in Canada and other nations which prohibit defensive guns.

As you know, The Economist wrote last week that "A system of registration for guns and gun-owners, as exists in all other rich countries, threatens no one but the criminal." Yet Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are among the many nations demonstrating that gun registration does indeed pave the way for gun confiscation. Canada's gun registry was supposed to cost $2 million, and the cost is now over $2 billion.

Criminals benefited from Canada's gun registry disaster, because police and financial resources which could have been used to fight crime were wasted on compiling (highly inaccurate) lists of the serial numbers of farmers' shotguns or rifles.

A forthcoming article by Gary Mauser and Don Kates in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy analyzes international data and debunks the simplistic notion that higher rates of gun ownership are associated with higher rates of homicide.

Gun confiscation, however, is correlated with homicide—in that gun confiscation is almost always a condition precedent for genocide and other murderous atrocities by government. This was historically true in Turkish Armenia, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Guatemala, Cambodia, and Idi Amin's Uganda. It is still true in Ethiopia, East Timor, Srebrenica, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.

The experience of the Holocaust also shows that to the extent that victims do obtain firearms, they have a much greater chance of survival, even under the worst conditions.

In October 2005, the people of Brazil voted on a U.N.-backed gun confiscation plan, and 64% said "Não."

The confiscation campaign leader later warned his international allies, "First lesson is, don't trust direct democracy."

As Foreign Policy magazine observed in February 2006, the right to arms today "strikes a chord with people of very different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures, even when that culture has historically been anti-gun." Aggressively hostile to the right of self-defense against solitary criminals and criminal governments, today's international political and media elites are out of step not only with America, but with more and more people around the world.

Dave Kopel is research director of the Independence Institutein Golden, Colorado, and the co-author of the law school textbook Gun Control and Gun Rights (NYU Press).

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