2. Historical Ignorance and the Anti-Gun Crusade
Likewise, historical evidence refutes attributing differential international violence rates to differences in gun laws rather than to socio-institutional and cultural differences. People who attribute low violence rates in Europe to banning guns are apparently unaware that low rates long preceded the gun bans. In fact, stringent gun laws first appeared in the United States, not Europe--despite which, high American crime rates persisted and grew. Ever-growing violence in various American states from the 1810s on led those states to pioneer ever-more-severe gun controls. But in Europe, where violence was falling, or was not even deemed an important problem, gun controls varied from lax to non-existent. During the 19th century in England, for instance, crime fell from its high in the late 1700s to its idyllic low in the early 1900s--yet the only gun control was that police could not carry guns.
In considering reasons for the historical differences between United States and British homicide, Prof. Monckkonen rejects conventional explanations including gun ownership, remarking
Virtually every analysis put forward to explain the [comparatively] very high United States homicide rate has been ahistorical ... Had they been proposed as historical, they would have floundered quickly for the explanatory inadequacy of these "pet" theories becomes immediately apparent in a historical context.(p.39)
When most European countries finally began enacting gun laws in the post-World War I period, the motivation was not crime (with which those countries had been little afflicted) but terrorism and political violence from which they have continued to suffer until today far more than the United States. This difference is reflected in a practice that helps to keep official English murder rates so admirably low: English statistics do not include "political" murders (e.g., those by the IRA), whereas American statistics include every kind of murder and manslaughter. The different purposes of European versus American laws are evidenced by their diametrically opposite patterns: many of the "Saturday Night Special" laws that American states enacted to deal with 19th-century crime have banned all but standard military-issue revolvers (i.e., the very expensive large, heavy Colt). In stark contrast, such military caliber arms were the first guns banned in post-World War I Europe, the purpose being to disarm restive former soldiers and the para-military groups they formed.
Moreover, the claim that greater gun availability causes higher United States crime rates can only explain the rates of violence with guns. If gun availability were the explanation for higher crime rates, rather than socio-cultural and institutional differences, gun banning countries would have less gun crime than the United States, but roughly the same rates of non-violence. But, in fact, the rate of United States violence without guns is so great it exceeds the rate of violence in other comparable nations, both with and without guns (combined). That comparison applies not just among the United States and gun banning countries, but also among the United States and countries where guns are even more available (such as New Zealand, Switzerland, and Israel). These facts utterly refute the notion that greater gun availability is the major factor in violence differences among the United States and other nations.
England's leading gun control analyst sardonically disposes of the issues with two rhetorical questions. First, how do those who blame "lax American gun laws" for the far higher U.S. rate of gun crime explain the country's also having far more knife crimes? Do they think that Englishmen must get a permit to own a butcher knife? Second, how do those who attribute U.S. gun murders to greater gun availability explain the far higher U.S. rate of stranglings and of victims being kicked to death? Do they think that Americans "have more hands and feet than" Britons? Flatly asserting that, no matter how stringent the gun laws, there will always be enough guns (p.40)in any society to arm those desiring to obtain and use them illegally, the analyst attributes grossly higher American violence rates "not to the availability of any particular class of weapon" but to socio-cultural and institutional factors that dictate
that American criminals are more willing to use extreme violence; [quoting a report of the British Office of Health Economics]: "One reason often given for the high numbers of murders and manslaughters in the United States is the easy availability of firearms ... But the strong correlation with racial and linked socio-economic variables suggests that the underlying determinants of the homicide rate relate to particular cultural factors."