Will banning toy guns reduce gun violence?
Do stricter gun laws lead to less violence?
At regular intervals we observe the same spectacle: A rampage shakes the USA, the whole country debates about tougher gun laws, and ... nothing happens. However, debates about the need to regulate private gun ownership are not a purely American phenomenon. And elsewhere the legislature did not remain idle either. For example, the gun law in Germany was tightened after the rampage in Erfurt in 2002 and Winnenden in 2009. But can this really contain the violence?
Most of the studies that addressed this question answered with a yes. States in which legal access to firearms is difficult have significantly lower murder and suicide rates than those in which citizens can arm themselves more easily. In Japan, for example, firearms in private hands are de facto banned, and the number of murders carried out with them each year hardly ever reaches double digits there. In the USA, however, exactly 14 542 people were killed by bullets in 2017. As clear as the correlation between the availability of firearms and gun violence is, it does not necessarily demonstrate the effectiveness of gun laws. Finally, the differences can also be based on culture. Only a closer look at some exemplary countries will help.
This article is contained in Spectrum Psychology, 6/2020 (November / December)
In Australia, gun law was tightened after the Port Arthur rampage in 1996, supplemented by a buyback program for guns in circulation. As a result, both the murder and suicide rates dropped dramatically. The aggravation seems to have been effective even with regard to rampage: In the 18 years before the rampage in Port Arthur, there had been 13 comparable acts in the country, and not a single one in the 23 years since then.
Criminologists have shown comparable effects for the tightening of gun laws in Austria. And figures from individual US states also provided clear indications that stricter gun laws are effective. In view of these findings, the loosening of the gun law that is currently being promoted in Brazil is considered extremely dangerous by many, especially since the level of violence in this country is already high.
The argument that is often put forward that people simply resort to other means of violence when firearms are difficult to find falls short for two reasons: Firstly, most people's inhibitions about using a firearm are much lower than, for example, stabbing with a knife . To shoot someone is far more impersonal than an attack with physical contact. Second, firearms are simply far more lethal than other weapons. It is hard to imagine that a killing spree with a knife could claim as many victims as a bloody act with an assault rifle. In addition, it must be taken into account that affective offenses are made much easier by good access to firearms. Last but not least, this also applies to suicides. Their likelihood can be reduced above all by mandatory safety devices for storing rifles and pistols.
The inhibition threshold to shoot is lower than that of stabbing
With all these research findings, one thing should not be forgotten: the decisive factor for whether laws in general and gun laws in particular are effective is the quality of their implementation. The harshest weapons law is useless if its observance is not consistently pursued and violations are not punished. That is why the increasing spread of the illegal arms trade in the »Darknet« poses great challenges for many states and their law enforcement authorities.
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