This post is in response to debate that took place on Twitter regarding gun control.

I don’t like to get involved in non-tech debates, but I feel inclined to do so in this instance. [@BitlogIT]

While I very much agree with this sentiment, I just didn’t want to leave the statements made in complete ignorance left unanswered. (Prov 26:5)

Okay, let’s have a discussion then: Why do you think mass shootings are a problem only in the US and nowhere else in the western world? What is the difference between the US and all the other countries that gets so many Americans killed in mass shootings. [@oe1cxw]

Okay, let’s have a discussion. This initial statement is uninformed, and based upon false premises. The US isn’t the only nation that suffers from mass killings. Neither is it the only Western nation suffering from mass murder. But if you read on, I can address some of these mis-conceptions. [1]

Since I entered into the discussion, several individuals have misunderstood my reasoning and responses. Hopefully, this post will help clarify these thoughts in a forum where more than 280 characters may be said at a time.

If you are looking for FPGA related material, please accept my apologies for this digression. You might wish to keep your eyes on github, however, as I am likely to post (work-in-progress) ZipCPU designs there shortly for both Arrow’s MAX1000 and the TinyFPGA BX. I’m also hoping to build a low-logic SPI flash controller to be used in both repositories.

I first started examining the issue of “gun control” following the murders that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If you recall, there was a large push for new laws at the time in order to prevent this from ever happening again. New laws were then passed in the middle of the night, with little or no debate, that were supposed to “solve” this problem.

That was when I first started examining both sides of the debate. At that time, I came to the debate with no preconceived solutions, and no biases (that I was aware of) towards one side or the other. I owned no firearms, primarily because I wished to avoid the hassles associated with keeping personally owned firearms on military installations. At the time, I examined both sides on their evidence, and in light of the facts available to me. I listened to hearing testimony, read US Supreme Court opinions, examined the wording of proposed legislation and more. I even found several videos replaying particular scenarios, and examining how various laws might have affected them.

Here are just a small portion of the resources I found: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

The result of my own personal examination was that I could not find a single gun control proposal that would have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy. Instead the proposals I read of would have only made the tragedy worse.

Now that a new tragedy has reared its ugly head, the same old ineffective arguments are being rolled out to push the same ineffective solutions. It seems as though nothing has changed, save that nothing has been done to mitigate the carnage.

To explain how I came to this conclusion, let’s start all the way back at the beginning, and then reason forward from first principles. I’ll keep the logic as simple as I can, so that you can see what I am arguing.

The Logic Made Simple

Let’s lay out the logic carefully for what is happening in the US and around the world today with respect to mass murder. To do this, we’ll have to go all the way back to the beginning to get our logic properly oriented.

The problem is not limited to the very public mass shootings, and the logic above applies to individual self-protection as well. Sadly, there are many stories of honest citizens, intent upon keeping the law, who have been disarmed by the law, and so suffer at the hands of criminals as a result.

John Lott makes the strong argument, based upon comprehensive review of the statistics, that all it takes is arming a fraction of the citizenry to have a significant impact on crime. He further argues that an unseen yet armed subset of the citizenry creates a deterrent effect upon crime–since a would-be criminal must then consider the possibility of encountering armed resistance.

By this logic, it is the duty of every willing citizen to be both armed and prepared to keep this peace. Arming yourself is not immoral, but rather following the teachings of Christ himself. (Luke 22:36)

Further, by this logic it only takes one armed individual already present at and within the school, whether teacher, veteran volunteer, or other school resource officer, to limit the carnage.

What law(s) can be passed to keep this from happening?

The first problem with this question is its flawed basis. Underlying this question is the fallacious belief that good laws will make good people. As the logic goes, if only the right law were passed, we could somehow therefore make mass murder illegal and so it would no longer happen.

The fallacy of this argument is laid bare when you consider that murder is already illegal, and yet murder still happens. Guns are already illegal on school grounds, and yet this well-intentioned law has not stopped school shootings.

Biblically, the purpose of the law was never to make people good. Rather, the purpose of the law is to reveal sin–sin that would be present even without the law. (Rom 2:13)

Therefore, the only reasonable implication that can be held is not that laws will somehow make people good, but rather that good people will pass good laws that can then be used to reveal the wickedness of mankind, and therefore judge the wicked. A law that turns an innocent man into a law-breaker does not judge the wicked, but is rather a corrupt law made. (Yes, this does mean that an innocent man may break a corrupt law and remain innocent.)

Humanity is corrupt

The Holocaust was the result of a fascist government. They had guns too, just like all other governments today do as well. But gun deaths happen far more often in the US than in other countries. Maybe the US citizens owning around 310 mil. guns plays some role in that?

If only the Holocaust was the only example of mass murder carried out by a government we might argue that humanity would no longer suffer from mass murder at the hands of a government. If only it was because of an unusual government structure, fascism, that we now know to avoid we might never see mass murder on this scale again.

Sadly, the holocaust is only one government sanctioned massacre among many. I will cite here Stalin, Fidel Castro and the Killing Fields of Cambodia. These are only modern examples of the wickedness of a mankind that has been corrupt for many millenia. (Rom 3:10-15)

So? How is this an argument for or against gun control? If anything, it is an argument for gun control because at the time of the Holocaust Germany had much loser gun control laws then now and back then there was a Holocaust and now there is not. But of course, that’s not a reasonable argument. In fact I don’t think there is a reasonable argument to be made with regard to gun control legislation by citing Nazi Germany. But you brought it up. That’s why I’m asking you to explain to me your argument.

What this statement misses is the fact that in order to commit their genocide of the Jews, the Nazi’s first needed to disarm them. Without this first “gun control step”, the holocaust would not have happened. [1]

Maybe there is no problem. Maybe that is just the “price of freedom.” (Like car accidents are often referred to as the “price for mobility”.) But it’s naive to think that there is no connection between lack of gun legislation and gun deaths. Your country, not mine. You guys can set your priorities as you want. But I think it would be wise not to ignore the obvious connection between gun legislation and gun deaths. Look at the data, then decide if it’s worth it. But don’t be afraid to look at the data! I mean foolish stuff like preventing the CDC from researching gun violence. If you feel like you have to “protect yourself” from scientific data then you are probably trying to defend a weak position.

Well, okay, since you would like to put forward the argument that fewer firearms will result in fewer homicides, let’s look at the data.

At the right is a chart showing the Gun Ownership and Homicide Rates for several countries who responded to a Small Arms survey. It’s shown as a scatter plot, to allow you to draw conclusions of any correlation involved. As you can see just by examining the chart, there’s several problems with drawing a conclusion from this data set. First, there are lots of outliers in this data rendering the conclusion not nearly as clear-cut as the quote above makes it out to be. Indeed, within this chart, the US is a very unusual outlier compared to the other nations within it. Second, were you to ignore the outliers and attempt to fit a linear regression anyway, you would still come to the conclusion that more firearms results in fewer homicides. So, go ahead, look at the data. What correlation do you see within it? (1)

And my point is that the availability of guns is making things worse. We seldom hear of mass murder of children using hand grenades or rocket launchers (which I believe are illegal.)

Judging from the actual available data (shown above), I would draw the opposite conclusion: the availability of guns is not making things worse, but better.

Why an assault weapons ban won’t help

Following the US assault weapons ban, the CDC evaluated its effectiveness. From this, the “found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence.”

This should silence those critics who believe an assault weapons band would render this problem solved. It didn’t. While there are those who would argue the effect of this ban, in reality there was no clear evidence that it was either effective or ineffective.

“Note that insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness.” But putting that aside, if guns don’t play a role, that would then suggest that Americans are somehow more violent than other people. Aren’t you guys human too? [@BitlogIT]

There are those who would argue that the problem is that the weapons used by mass murderers were developed and intended for war. They should never, therefore, be in the hands of honest (or dishonest) citizens. If we could just keep these extra-deadly weapons from the hands of citizens, according to this argument, then we’d at least limit the number of murders a would be mass murderer can accomplish.

This logic is ill-posed for the simple fact that most weapons were designed for war. This includes not only the century old Colt .45, but also common pistols in use today such as the 1911. Likewise, it includes not only the M1 rifle used in WWII, but also the AR-15 which led to the development of the M16. As you can imagine, these firearms are drastically different in capability, yet they are all technically “weapons of war”–even though this argument is never applied to the full list but typically to the AR-15 alone.

It doesn’t help that there is no standard as to what constitutes an “assault weapon”. This lack of definition makes the conversation more difficult. For example, many people believe that an “assault weapon” is one capable of automatic fire–i.e. one that fires multiple bullets for each trigger pull. Such fully automatic weapons, however, have been so heavily regulated for years that they have not been used in any recent crimes–yet the politicians still call for their ban, confusing their constituents in the process regarding the underlying facts of matter.

The result of this lack of definition is that most “assault weapon” bans limit the sale of weapons based upon their cosmetic features (flash suppressor, pistol grip, etc), rather than by their capacity to either harm or do good. Laws of this type are primarily political candy–they look good in the press, but in reality they are not very effective even in their stated goal. [1] [2]

As an example of the ineffectiveness of such a ban, the Columbine massacre in 1999 took place during the “1997 Federal assault weapons” ban with weapons that were not covered by the ban. The ban simply had no effect, but yet it made politicians feel good.

Incidentally, there was “insufficient evidence” that the assault weapons ban had any impact in preventing violence. What it did do, however, was create a sudden demand for AR-15 type rifles. Indeed, today they are some of the most popular rifles within the US. [1]

The other problem with this reason is that the tool of choice to end a massacre is an AR-15 type of rifle. As an example of this point, a recent church massacre was ended by a good citizen with an Ruger AR style rifle.

Won’t reducing the availability of guns solve the problem of murder?

While this argument sounds good on its face, it fails in practice for the reasons listed above. If you make firearms illegal (and they already are on school grounds), then only murderers and criminals will have them. Murders then continue unimpeded until those allowed to have firearms, whether they be police or other, arrive to end the situation.

As for drastically reducing gun availability, you can see how it affected the murder rate in Australia after they made rifles illegal: not much. [1]

In the end, this “solution” tends to only magnify the problem.

What if we made gun ownership illegal?

While many politicians have discussed this possibility, in practice it cannot be done within the US. There are just too many firearms here, and it’s not likely that the entire population would turn them in.

As one commentator pointed out, the next mass murderer is likely to already have the firearm(s) and ammunition he needs to create the next tragedy. If the current laws against murder will not stop him, making guns illegal won’t stop him therefore. [1]

That’s from a practical standpoint. From a moral standpoint, the command against stealing applies to governments as well. (Ex 20:15).

What about the “no-fly” list?

This argument suggests that only terrorists are on the US “no-fly” list, and therefore if we prevented these individuals from getting firearms we would limit the problem. While this has also been proposed as a “common sense” solution, it also fails on its face.

Indeed, the US constitution declares that,

… nor shall any person … be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; … (Ammendment #4)

As a result, the last time this proposal was discussed in congress, those proposing this solution left complaining that we would need to change our constitution to enact this “reform”.

Didn’t congress just recently remove the mental health exception from the background check law?

Sadly, this argument is uninformed and stems instead from a lack of understanding US politics.

What actually happened started within the Veterans administration. If a veteran wanted his wife or family to handle the legal aspects of his benefits for him, he could file some paperwork to state that he wasn’t capable of handling his own benefits. This had become a common practice and bore little reflection on the veteran’s mental capacity for good or evil.

This was a common practice for many years. Then the Obama administration decided that these individuals were somehow more prone to murder than all other individuals–despite having no evidence to back up this claim. They then declared these innocent men and women to be so incompetent that they should be prevented from owning firearms. This process was done contrary to the US constitution, which clearly states that

… no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

Due process references an adversarial court hearing or trial where those accused of being mentally incompetent can present evidence to the contrary. This was not taking place, and hence it was an offense to the firearm-owning citizenry.

If it saves one child …

This emotional appeal is fairly common. It is used as a justification for knee-jerk reactions to children being killed by firearms. However, if you think this argument through, it can be applied in both directions.

On the one hand, some argue that making firearms illegal might just save one child, and therefore the innocent should suffer (i.e., not be allowed access to particular firearms) so that this one child might live.

This is a hypocritical argument. By this logic, we should get rid of planes, trains, automobiles, hammers, and more, yet those making this argument are only willing to apply it to firearms. (Yes, it is true that more individuals are murdered with blunt objects than those that are murdered with rifles. [1]

On the other hand, if by getting rid of firearms we magnify the problems associated with school shootings because no one is available to provide a rapid armed response, then the argument could be applied in the opposite direction: if it saves just one child, then we should allow armed staff within our schools!

Why does Europe have fewer firearms deaths than the US?

This question cannot be answered on its face–there are just too many variables involved–something John Lott addressed in his book when comparing one part of the US to another. Were the murder rate uniform within both the US and (pick your favorite European country), then it might be possible that some one variable within the US was the cause for this difference. However, this is not the case.

If you look at a map of murders rate by county, you’ll discover that some US counties have fewer murders per capita than some countries in Europe, while other counties have many more. Further, the researchers noted that the correlation is roughly inverse in firearms ownership–the more guns owned within a given county, the fewer murders per capita that take place there. [1]

Looking over the chart, it is noteworthy that California, Chicago, DC, New Jersey, and New York City have some of the highest murder rates. These counties (and states) are also known for having the strictest gun laws. Hence, it cannot be the gun laws that solve the problem, but rather it may instead be that the gun laws are magnifying the problem. Indeed, the article cited above suggests the inverse correlation from the data: areas with more guns have less crime.

Further, even the supposed correlation between US gun ownership and its crime rate doesn’t hold across Europe. In other words, not only is the US diverse in its population, but Europe is as well. [1]

“In 2012, Germany’s murder rate stood at 0.8, compared to 4.7 in the United States.” How do you explain this? I’m genuinely curious, this isn’t a rhetorical question to try to prove a point.

I think the problem is that you look at the data locally: you start from a high gun availability/ownership, lower it a bit and crime rate/intensity rises > (normal, too difficult for “good” ppl to get a gun for self-defense, not difficult enough that “bad” ppl can still access. Unfortunately, you stop there in the logic and don’t see that by drastically reducing gun availability and making it truly hard to EVERYONE to get a gun you actually massively reduce the crime rate and their intensity (e.g. how many deaths in mass stabbings vs mass shootings?) [@PetitsChameaux]

After writing the above, I was surprised to look into this further and discover that firearms reporting is not uniform between the US and other nations. This would also help to explain some of the supposed difference. (1)

Misconceptions regarding the NRA

Many of those proposing new firearms legislation have openly argued that the NRA has kept the US from enacting “common sense” legislation. This reflects a misunderstanding of the nature and character of the NRA

The NRA is not owned by or controlled by the firearms industry. It is composed of individuals within the US who have chosen to join and/or donate to this organization. The result is that the NRA, as a lobbying organization, represents a large voting block within the US. Because the NRA represents large numbers of constituents, politicians listen.

More than that, the reason why the NRA has kept so many “common sense” gun reforms from taking place is that … they were never “common sense” in the first place. As we’ve discussed above, either these proposed “common sense” ideas would have no effect, or worse they would further magnify the problem. In many cases, they would also punish the innocent.

As a result, the reason “gun control” legislation has not passed within the US in recent years is not because of the NRA. Rather it has been because the proposed legislation hasn’t been worth the paper it was written on.


  1. Murder is not unique to the US

  2. Gun control laws appear to only make this problem worse

  3. Murders can be and have been stopped with an armed response, whether by the police or some other good and willing citizen

  4. Turning public schools into Gun Free Zones) has so far only delayed such an armed response, and therefore has only magnified the problem.

If “gun control” laws won’t help this problem, what will? What will stop our children from acquiring firearms and attempting mass murders in the first place?

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2Ch 7:14)

If this is an issue you care about, then please join me in prayer, in seeking His face, in turning from our own wicked ways. Why? Because this is one of those things that only God Almighty can truly solve.

Further references

Harvard University Study Reveals Astonishing Link between Firearms, Crime, and Gun Control