Obama’s recently declared plan on gun control in response to mass shootings like that in Sandy Hook aims at reducing this sort of violence by stricter legislation. Some of the main points are better background checks, a ban of assault rifles, and limiting magazines to 10 rounds.
This sounds pretty reasonable but will it really have an effect? To get this problem in proportion we need to look at some basic stats. According to FBI, homicides involving three or more victims are very rare. They account for less than one percent of all homicides, and they have done so since 1980, which is as long as they’ve kept records on this type of crime. In 2008 homicide with four victims were at 0.2 percent and five or more victims at 0.1 percent. It’s not that I want to diminish the fact that children in elementary school were gunned down but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics some 500-700 children under the age of five have been killed annually since 1975 in America, hardly anyone of them were victims of mass shootings. Are they somehow less dead?
Also, does less guns mean less gun violence? There was a ban on assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 with no discernable impact on gun violence. Another way to look at it by comparing how armed a state is in comparison to its firearm deaths. The Daily Beast made ranking based on background checks. If we compare that to death by firearm (provided by Statemaster) there is not much of a connection either. Using a calculator from easycalculation.com, I typed in every state (except Kentucky which has a different policy making their numbers completely different from the other states). It turns out, Washington DC, the least armed state, had the most number of deaths by firearm. And heavily armed states, like Utah and the Dakotas, were under the average in deaths by firearm. The overall correlation was a meagre 0.246. So the old argument that guns don’t kill people makes sense.
As for background checks, well that actually also makes sense. It’s not a controversial claim that the prisons are full of boys and men with personality disorders. Banning them from owning guns might actually accomplish something. But all in all, Obama is handling this pretty much like any politician: he focuses on problems that make headlines and that make him look good. Around 600 children under the age of five will be killed in America this year. They will not be making any headlines or creating photo-ops, so they won’t be a priority for the president,