Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Guns and crime

Alex Tabarrok points to an article about the Swiss festival Knabenschiessen.

The greatest shooting festival in the world for youngsters takes place every year in Zurich, Switzerland. Imagine thousands of boys and girls shooting military service rifle over three days amid an enormous fair with ferris wheels and wild rides of all kinds. You’re at the Knabenschiessen (boys’ shooting contest).

Held since the year 1657, the competition traditionally has been both a sport and a way of encouraging marksmanship in a country where every male serves in the militia army. Today, girls compete along side the boys. In fact, girls are now winning the competition.

It’s September 13, 2004. In the U.S. on this date, the Clinton fake “assault weapon” ban sunsets. In Zurich, some 5,631 teens – 4,046 boys and 1,585 girls, aged 13-17 – have finished firing the Swiss service rifle, and it’s time for the shootoff.

That rifle is the SIG Strumgeweher (assault rifle) model 1990 (Stgw 90), a selective fire, 5.6 mm rifle with folding skeleton stock, bayonet lug, bipod, and grenade launcher. The Stgw 90 is a real assault rifle in that it is fully automatic, although that feature is disabled during the competition. Every Swiss man, on reaching age 20, is issued one to keep at home. Imagine all those teenagers firing this real assault rifle while their moms and dads look on with approval, anxiously awaiting the scores.

Not surprisingly, the Swiss don't have much of a fondness for gun laws.

The Mayor is a member of the Socialist Party, but being on the left does not necessarily entail being anti-gun. A few years ago, the socialist fringe wanted to ban the Knabenschiessen, but the proposal was promptly shot down. Last year Switzerland’s Minister of Justice was voted out of office after proposing firearm registration. Switzerland stands alone in Europe with her free market economy and respect for firearm ownership, and citizens vote accordingly.

Which led me to wonder, what is their murder rate? According to Nation Master, there were 69 murders in 2000, of which 40 were by firearm. Unfortunately, they only get down to the hundredths place when listing their murders by firearm per 1000 capita, because that gives you a very unenlightening 0.00. Estimating that the population in 2000 was around 7,000,000 [rounding down], we get 0.0057. This compared to the US's .02 murders by firearm per 1000 capita in 2000. So do gun control laws have any effect?

Well, the National Academy of Sciences seems to think not in their recent report on gun control laws. As John Lott stated over at the Volokh Conspiricy:

Based on 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some of its own empirical work, the panel couldn't identify a single gun control regulation that reduced violent crime, suicide or accidents.

From the assault weapons ban to the Brady Act to one-gun-a-month restrictions to gun locks, nothing worked. (Something that I have been the first person to investigate empirically for many of these laws, and I also had been unable to find evidence that they reduced violent crime.)

The study was not the work of gun-control opponents. The panel was set up during the Clinton administration, and of its members whose views on guns were publicly known before their appointments all but one had favored gun control.

The one issue that has gotten some attention is the report's claim that right-to-carry laws do not deter crimes. However, Lott, who has published about this before with the conclusion that they do in fact reduce crime, is dubious about their findings. He brings to attention the fact that one of the committee members for the study, James Wilson, a professor of management and public policy (emeritus) at UCLA and Ronald Reagan professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, wrote a dissent with regard to this conclusion. As Lott notes,

James Q. Wilson's very unusual dissent is very interesting (only two out of the last 236 reports over the last 10 years have carried a dissent). Wilson states that all the research provided "confirmation of the findings that shall-issue laws drive down the murder rate . . . " Wilson has been on four of these panels and never previously thought that it was necessary to write a dissent, including the previous panel that attacked Isaac Ehrlich's work showing that the death penalty represented a deterrent.

Wilson said that that panel's conclusion raises concerns given that "virtually every reanalysis done by the committee" confirmed right-to-carry laws reduced crime. He found the committee's only results that didn't confirm the drop in crime "quite puzzling." They accounted for "no control variables" - nothing on any of the social, demographic, and public policies that might affect crime. Furthermore, he didn't understand how evidence that was not publishabled in a peer-reviewed journal would be given such weight.

Maybe we should do a debate about gun control.


Adam Scavone said...

A field trip to the Supreme Court is ok...

A field trip to the Knabenschiessen would be *awesome*!

(Bonus points for having a whole helluva lot of reefer available for over the counter purchase in the non-French regions! Sadly, in the French region, only the purchase of whole, growing marijuana plants is legal.)

Adam Scavone said...

Wow - James Wilson is one of the biggest asshole drug war hawks in the world. Good to see him sticking up for somebody's rights.

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