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Weighing US Homicide Rates vs European Genocide Rates
The "Bulwark Against Tyranny" argument, expressed mathematically.
Lots of people across the social media landscape in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting are talking about banning semi-auto firearms in the United States. No serious policy maker has brought this up, because they mostly realize how incredibly impossible and stupid it would be, but the base level proles on Facebook and Twitter are throwing this around quite a lot, and the gun people are responding in the least productive way possible. This article will cover two topics. First, why the gun people are arguing this improperly and what they should be arguing instead. And second, providing a framework for making that improper argument in the most robust way possible.
Firearms as a Bulwark Against Tyranny, Part 1
This argument doesn’t work. I find that gun people in the USA far too often argue from a position of values or ideology when all they need is math. Different people naturally lie on different regions of the (liberty-security) spectrum, and when the argument becomes distilled into that format it becomes unresolvable. A random Australian arguing for gun control on Facebook probably also believes in the insane Zero Covid strategy Australia tried to implement a full year after Covid-19 was already in the deer population. He's somewhere different on that (liberty-security) spectrum, and while genocide arguments resonate with me, they're not going to resonate with him. But nobody can argue with math.
Banning semi-auto weapons in the USA would mean magically evaporating around 10% of the firearms in the solar system. The outlay to buy them back would cost more than it takes to run the entire Australian military for two continuous years. And despite it being completely impossible, even if the government were somehow able to make it happen, the child killing psychos would just use a bomb or run them over with a truck. Even Australia's famous buyback only collected something like 30% of their banned guns. New Zealand’s recent post-Christchurch buyback saw the same numbers. The remaining 70% of banned guns in both countries are now permanently affixed within a black market.
Demanding that someone do impossible things and pitching a fit when they refuse to do the impossible thing is often viewed as childish behavior. Charitably, I don’t believe the anti-gun liberals are universally childish. I think they simply don't understand the impossibility of the thing they’re demanding.
The first lesson is this. Be charitable to the person you’re speaking to, and presume that they’re not childish. Presume they just don’t understand how impossible the thing they’re demanding is, and explain patiently that they’re asking for something impossible. Hopefully that works.
Firearms as a Bulwark Against Tyranny, Part 2
The genocide argument is one I buy intuitively but is difficult to express mathematically. This prior article was my most robust stab at it to date:
But I do think there may be another argument that could be made, and well supported if we frame the data properly. A widely held belief among the gun community states that proliferation of semi-auto firearms among the citizens of a country reduces the chances of genocide within that country. It may not completely eliminate it, but it certainly moves the needle some. It’s hard to say how much, but if we frame the analysis properly we can back our way into how much would be worth it. Let’s walk through it.
We like to compare ourselves to Europe, and the gun control crowd definitely likes to compare us to Europe, so let’s stick with that as a starting point. As a country descended from Europeans and populated quite a bit with European genes and values, the comparison seems reasonably apt. But instead of comparing the USA to an individual European country, compare it to the European region itself. If we do that, we've got zero genocides in the USA since the invention of semi-automatic firearms, and we get quite a few more in Europe.
I didn’t include everything in the official Wikipedia genocide list, but I grabbed most of them in the qualifying area over the qualifying period. I took average, or median, or thumb in the air middle of the road estimates of kill count for this table for the estimate. I also excluded a lot of the stuff Russia did within its own borders, excluding it from the European zone. The first thing that stands out is that Europe is a shithole when it comes to genocide. They’re awful. They have no place to even begin to be critical of other countries when it comes to stacking dead people. The second thing that stands out is that it’s not just Nazis. Genocide is something that keeps happening over and over out there.
Is the Europe – USA comparison correct from a population standpoint? Reasonably so. Europe has a current population of around 447 million people to the USA’s 330 million. In 1913 Europe had about 380 million to the USA’s 151 million. It’s not an exact map, but it’s close enough to discuss without getting too bogged down in the weeds by throwing a 1.7x correction factor into whatever comparisons we draw.
Let’s draw the line for semi-auto firearm invention and the beginning of proliferation at the year 1911, for reasons that the gun community will smile about. That sets the European genocide kill count at approximately 159,000 people per year since semi-auto firearm proliferation began. If we adjust this figure downward to account for population differences between Europe and the USA, we might expect to see 93,000 people per year die of genocide in the USA if we were as big of a genocide shithole as Europe has been in recent memory. Now we reach the end of the thought experiment.
The murder rate in Europe averages out to be around 3.0 per 100,000 in 2019, as compared to the USA’s murder rate of around 5.0 for the same year. It is explicitly untrue that firearm proliferation is the leading, or even the second leading factor in this delta, but let’s pretend it is because the anti-gun crowd likes to think it is. Even if their presumption was true, then the delta in murder rate would be responsible for 6,600 dead people, and when genocide is included in the analysis European style gun laws are still 86,400 dead people per year in the loss column. Phrased another way, if United States style gun proliferation causes at least a 7% reduction in the chance of a Eurostyle shithole genocide, then the US system comes out on top. Here’s a graph.
Let’s walk through this. The bar on the left is the number of dead people due to European shithole genocide on a per year basis, across the time span where semi-auto weapons started to become widely available. The bar in the middle is what it would look like, downwardly corrected to approximately match the difference in population between the USA and Europe. The bar on the right is the difference between Europe’s and the USA’s homicide rates at the 2019 snapshot where we have the best comparison data. The bar in the middle is 14 times taller than the bar on the right. As long as ubiquitous semi-auto firearm proliferation reduces our chances of having a European style genocide by at least one fourteenth, then semi-auto firearm proliferation is a net good. And that presumes that the difference in homicide rates between the USA and Europe is entirely due to ubiquitous firearm proliferation, which is an assumption that’s explicitly wrong. In fact, most of this delta is due to wealth inequality and black population rate, when you dig into verifiable multivariate analyses.
The “Firearms as a Bulwark Against Tyranny” argument is going to play very easily within gun positive communities because gun positive communities already have a good instinctual understanding of the analysis in Part 2 above. It’s not going to play in gun negative communities because they are often still stuck in the “Tyranny Can Never Happen Here” mindset. But the fact that they kept continually calling Trump a tyrant for four years may have cracked this wall, and this argument may find some purchase in gun negative communities who truly adopted that belief during the Trump presidency. Try it with them. Especially try it with minorities who have experienced legitimate oppression, such as the black and Jewish communities. But if you do try it, do it with numbers instead of rhetoric.
If you don’t think the person you’re talking to actually believed Trump was a tyrant, and you also don’t think the person you’re talking to has any fear whatsoever of a Eurostyle shithole genocide happening here, then stick with the Part 1 argument. Explain to them why demanding confiscation of semi-auto firearms is a childish position when faced with the impossibilities in play.