Ryan McMaken | January 2, 2020 – This article has been republished from the Mises Institute.
On December 29, an armed gunman entered the West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas and shot two members of the congregation. Within six seconds, a third member of the congregation drew a weapon and shot the gunman dead.
The events were captured on live-streamed video, with the dramatic events – in the minds of many observers – highlighting the benefits of privately owned firearms as a defense against armed criminals. Moreover, the gunman, who had a criminal history, obtained his gun illegally, and demonstrated one of the central pitfalls of the gun-control narrative: namely, that those with criminal intent are not easily restrained by laws controlling access to firearms.
Nonetheless, many media outlets were unable to bring themselves to admit that privately owned firearms in this case were the key to preventing a wider massacre. After all, had the congregation waited around for the police to arrive, it is unknown how effective a police response could have been. Nor is it clear that had the police arrived quickly, they would have immediately engaged the shooter or even engaged the right person.
These considerations were not sufficient to divert many media observers from their insistence that private gun ownership is helpful in situations like these. Both government agents and their media boosters continue to insist that even well-meaning ordinary citizens ought not be trusted with firearms and that what is really needed are “experts” with government-approved police training.
Elvia Diaz at the Arizona Republic demonstrated this premise well when she wrote:
The reality of Wilson’s heroism is a lot more complex. He wasn’t just an ordinary parishioner, as gun advocates may want you to believe. The church’s volunteer security team member is a firearms instructor, gun range owner and former reserve deputy with a local sheriff’s department, according to a New York Times detailed account.
In other words, he’s exactly the kind of man you want around with a firearm. But we know nothing about the at least six other parishioners who also appeared to draw their handguns at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas.
And that’s terrifying.
To many people who aren’t left-leaning journalists, it is hardly “terrifying” that some other private citizens of unknown expertise were armed in the congregation. After all, these people never fired a shot once they saw the shooter had been incapacitated. None of them provided any reason to suspect they pose any risk to anyone else.
On the other hand, 2019 has provided plenty of reminders of what sort of “expertise” and heroism government-provided security forces offer.
In the spring of 2019, the parents of victims of the Parkland school shooting sued the Broward County school board and the sheriff’s office for failing to take timely action against the school shooter who killed seventeen people at the school in February 2018. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, police officers repeatedly sought to protect themselves rather than the victims in the school. An analysis of communications among law enforcement officers at the site of the massacre confirmed there were “at least two times a Broward deputy urges another officer to protect themselves, not confront the killer.”
Meanwhile, 2019 provided reminders that police officers will shoot citizens dead in their own homes for no justifiable reason, as was the case with Atatiana Jefferson on October 12. According to multiple accounts the shooter – a now former cop named Aaron Dean – entered Jefferson’s private property unannounced in the middle of the night. He peered into Jefferson’s windows, and within seconds, the officer had shot Jefferson dead. Jefferson had been playing video games with her nephew.
Also, in October, former police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to ten years in prison for unlawfully shooting Botham Jean in his own apartment. At the time, Guyger was a police officer returning home from work. She illegally entered the wrong apartment and promptly shot Jean – the unit’s lawful resident – dead.
If there is anything that ought to be “terrifying” to ordinary Americans, it is not the idea that some law-abiding citizens might be carrying firearms. The far more terrifying thought is the knowledge that some police officers are so eager to murder residents in their own living rooms.
More Guns, More Crime?
These facts will no doubt fail to derail the usual media narrative that there are too many guns and that the police – the same people who shoot residents in their homes or cower behind cars when faced with real danger – will ensure public safety through weapons prohibitions and by generally “keeping us safe.”
Fortunately, the facts certainly offer little to support the idea that more legal gun ownership is a problem in terms of homicides.
According to 2019’s gun manufacturing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF), total gun production and importation in the U.S. has increased significantly over the past twenty years. If we look at total guns produced in the U.S. (not counting those exported), added to total guns imported, we find that new gun production increased from around 4.5 million in 1998 to more than twelve million in 2017.1 Over that same period, homicide rates decreased from 6.3 per 100,000 to 5.3. In fact, after years of rising gun production, the U.S. homicide rate fell to a fifty-year low in 2014. This correlation doesn’t prove more guns reduce crime, of course. But this relationship strongly suggests that the benefits of increased gun ownership – namely greater self-defense capability on the part of private citizens – are greater than the potential costs.
Moreover, new data on homicides released in September 2019 shows the homicide rate in the U.S. has fallen two years in a row since 2016, and is nearly down to half of the national homicide rates reported during the early 1990s.
Many states with weak gun-control laws are also among the states with the lowest homicide rates. For instance, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine – all of which have few gun restrictions – report remarkably low homicide rates. Other gun-permissive states like Utah, Iowa, and South Dakota all have homicide rates comparable to Canadian provinces, although we’re told Canada only has low homicide rates because of gun restrictions. Clearly there’s more behind the reality of violent crime than is suggested by the usual “more gun control means less crime” claims.
Many anti-private gun ownership activists continue to insist that only police officers and other government personnel ought to be carrying firearms, and that the police will protect the people from violence criminals. Yet, it’s unclear why the public ought to accept this rather strained claim. In 2019, police were repeatedly shown to endanger the public while pursuing their own safety. Meanwhile, the end of the year brought another case of private gun owners stopping a murderous gunman far more effectively than police ever could have. Nor was the Texas church case the only notable example we can recall this year. It is entirely possible, of course, that cases like these are not typical or representative examples of police behavior or what happens when armed criminals attack innocents. But there’s no denying the optics this year were bad for the pro-gun-control side. Faced with the choice of owning a gun for protection or trusting in police for protection, many apparently continue to choose the former.
Ryan McMaken is a senior editor at the Mises Institute and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014