|One of many guns carried at a gun rights rally where not one person was shot.|
During his presentation “Why Is The United States The Most Homicidal Nation In The Affluent World?” Professor Randy Roth of Ohio State University speaks for an hour about the causes of murder and why the murder rate fluctuates. What are most conspicuous for their absence is that he doesn't mention guns. They only come up during the question and answer period because of an audience question. Below is a transcript of the question and Professor Roth's answer with the most relevant parts in bold:
CARRIE MULFORD: I’m Carrie Mulford at the National Institute of Justice. I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t mention gun availability, gun laws, anything like that, so I was curious —
ROTH: Because I don’t like being abused and having my life threatened. [audience laughter] Because I’ve had both. I’ve been, you know, my scholarly credentials have been, you know, when I — because guns aren’t the problem. I mean, I say this, and as I say, I went to graduate school, many of us went to graduate school. We had very expensive and rigorous educations to learn that the answer to every important question is yes, no and maybe, right? And the answer to the question, “Are guns responsible for our homicide rate?” Yes, no and maybe. And that’s the truth.
And you try to tell that truth, and you get — I mean from the left and from the right. I mean it’s been more vicious from the right because they’re more vicious, but I’m sure if I said that in the 1960s when the left was more violent than the right, I would have gotten the death threats from them. So, you know, it’s a hard thing to really deal with, but I do talk about it in the book and I think about it extensively. Do you want me to talk about this? Because I know that people will watch this video, and they’ll doctor it. You can look at YouTube at how they’ve chopped things I’ve said to make me look — like one of their favorites was to chop what I said about Democrats and Republicans with what I said about chimpanzees. So they chopped it so I called Republicans chimpanzees, so they started a campaign to get me fired in Ohio. This is the kind of stuff that people will do, and I don’t want to be a coward about it, so I’ll answer your question, but this won’t go well for me if this gets on the Web. They will make sure that I get punished for saying what I’m going to say.
We’ve had, we’ve always had, a high level of gun ownership from, say, the colonial period right down into the 1940s. And at times we’ve been the most violent society in the affluent world, and at times we’ve been the least homicidal, haven’t we? So is it just guns?
When you take a look at the muzzle-loading era, and this is in the book, when it takes you time to load that gun? You know, “I’m mad now, but you’ve got three minutes to run, I suggest you do that.” Did you see, you know, the movie “Lincoln,” did you see that wonderful scene where he shoots and misses, and the guy’s trying to reason with him while he’s trying to reload his derringer, because you only got one shot? And he’s waiting, you know, he gives him about 20 seconds, and then he decides, “Uh oh, it’s time to run.” And he does. That’s how it goes. So when you look at that, what’s interesting is that gun use, the percentage of homicides committed with guns, goes up and down with the murder rate.
When that murder rate is high as it is in the mid- and early 17th century, the majority of homicides among unrelated adults are committed with guns. You look at this low period from the 1690s to the 1760s, only 10 percent of all homicides among unrelated adults are committed with guns. You go back up to the Revolution, it goes up to over half. Up and down in the Embargo crisis, up and down going into the crisis of the 1840s. So what it means is when people are feeling hostile or defensive, they will go to that dispute with their neighbor with their gun loaded. When they’re not feeling hostile or defensive, they go and cuss them out when their cattle come across the line and destroy their crop. They’ll go to the law.
So you’ll see that, you know, they’ll go to property disputes, they’ll go to political disputes with the guns loaded, and they kill each other. And so you have to kind of plan that out. And so what you see is that it goes up and down like that. And one of the experiments I would love to do, I’d love to run American history back to 1857 and dis-invent modern firearms. What do I mean by modern firearms? Those, the great invention of Smith and Wesson when they put everything together in 1857 and the first rimfire handgun that the black powder was totally enclosed within the cartridge, so you could keep your gun loaded all the time. Because if you know, black powder’s hygroscopic, it absorbs water, it corrodes your barrel, you can’t keep it loaded. Why do they always show the gun over the fireplace? Because that’s the warmest, driest place in the house. You’re trying to keep that gun going. So the thing is is when you see that firearm’s gunstock change between 1857 and 1910, it took that long for us to move to the breech-loading guns with self-contained ammunition, reliable manufactured ammunition. You will see the percentage of homicides committed with guns go up and up and up regardless of whether the homicide rate was going up or down.
And what you see, the dramatic thing is all through the colonial period, when you look at intimate partner homicides, family homicides, only 10 percent were committed with guns whether the homicide rate was high or low among unrelated adults. But when you see that modern firearm come in, you’ll see the rate at which intimate partner violence was committed goes up to be the same level as with unrelated violence. And you’ll see who’s most likely to be killed with a handgun in the late 19th century is not an unrelated adult. It’s a woman who rejected her lover. Because now I can take this gun around and I can stalk her. I can go with this gun — concealed if I am suicidal, I can conceal it, I can go talk to her. And very often she wants to be friends, she want to — rejected me, but the family wants to be friends. You go over to her house, he’ll say, “Will you take me back?” She gives the wrong answer, she says, “No, I can’t come back, but I’d like to be friends.” Shoots her, shoots himself, done. Seventy percent of those homicides are being committed with a handgun in the 1850s, ’60s and ’70s because that’s the perfect murder weapon. And because they love you, of course, the guys love you, so they don’t want to shoot you in the face, they don’t want to disfigure you. They love you, they shoot you in the back of the head or through the heart. They want it to be quick, they want it to be relatively painless, and they want to go too.
So in other words, what I would you say is that when you have this gender problem coming up, you can see that throwing guns into that is deadly. And when that homicide rate goes up, having guns there means the completion rate of an assault goes up. So, yeah, I think that when you have that homicide rate go up, having this many guns in the society makes it worse than it would otherwise be. And I say one of the reasons why we probably had a tough time during the 1950s getting down to 1 or 2 per 100,000, why were we stuck at 4 to 5, part of that is the fact that we were so heavily armed, and because we’ll engage in this kind of impulsive violence.
So in other words, what I told you was that guns aren’t the fundamental problem, we’d be killing each other with rolling pins because we hate each other, we hate our country. Europeans have a tough time understanding why Americans hate their government so much. So I say there’s a very elaborate form of self-hatred in a democratic society, isn’t it? But I think that that’s there. So in other words, you can see why everybody hates me by what I say, okay. It’s not an ideological response, and, you know, it’s based on years of research, it’s based on hard work that they don’t respect. I’ll be blunt. [emphasis added]
The entire transcript can be downloaded here.
I don't agree with everything Professor Roth says in his presentation but he does knock down the gun rights haters argument that the problem is guns and that eliminating them will make everything great. In fairness, his words don't completely favor gun rights either but they do support the view that guns aren't the cause of the problem. Thank you, Professor Roth.
It makes me sick to have to say I'm grateful to the government but I must cover myself so here is the required citation:
The International Libertarian gratefully acknowledges the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, for allowing us to reproduce, in part or in whole, the video Why Is The United States The Most Homicidal Nation In The Affluent World?. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this video are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.