In Response to Your Queries About Gun Violence…

We’ve gotten a lot of requests to comment on the massacre in Newtown, Ct., especially regarding the issue of guns. I haven’t done so because I don’t feel I have anything meaningful to contribute at this time, especially to the victims’ families, except for my deepest sympathy.

I will point to some things we’ve already written on the topic: Chapter 4 of Freakonomics, pp. 130-133; a quorum on how to reduce gun deaths; and a Q&A with the photographer-author of Armed America. And we are starting to produce a podcast about gun violence, to be released sometime in the spring.

Wishing everyone a more peaceful holiday season than the tragic events in recent months have prepared us for…

Andreas Moser

Don't worry, the NRA has all the solutions.


That response is typical of liberal sarcasm. To have a discussion, one has to engage the merits of the subject.

Eric M. Jones.

Now a crazy gunman would think twice when facing a school room filled with little kids each equipped with body armor and a single shot weapon.

Don’t ya’ think?!


I would like to see us tax ammunition sales and use the money to fund mental health programs identifying and helping people at risk for these types of crimes. That addresses the core issue of these shootings - understanding why someone would do this and taking steps to prevent it - while also not affecting the availability of arms to responsible owners. As with any tax, there will be some reduction in demand of ammunition, but placing that burden onto the consumers and manufacturers of ammunition seems to me more palatable and effective than further restrictions on arms, or greater proliferation of arms as a deterrent. The drug war has shown bans do not work to limit availability, and like drug addiction, mental health needs to be de-stigmatized, and addressed proactively instead of through law-and-order.

Adriel Michaud

Anyone who's tried to look up info on this topic has probably found the extraordinary bias and lack of facts present in both sides of the story. It seems as if every position or study of stats is either from a pro-gun source or an anti-gun source and bias is atrocious. I know there were some stats cited in conjunction with the abortion research in the movie/book and I'd love if you could share those stats in a post or podcast. Please keep the distinction or address in some way the non-gun murders and whether those go up or stay the same in relation to gun-related murders. It's always a nagging suspicion that if people don't kill each other/themselves with guns, they'll turn to other methods (with varying degrees of success).


So far, the discussion on this has not done anything to reinforce my (pretty shaky, alas) belief in humanity as an intelligent species. Seems that everyone (or at least, everyone whose voice manages to reach places like Google News) is rushing to blame the tool, rather than the user of the tool. No one seems to want to inquire into why some individuals decide to go out and kill a large number of people, or to reflect on whether, if guns weren't available, those individuals would not use some other means, such as for instance a few glass bottles of gasoline. It's also interesting to note how little coverage the nearly-simultaneous knife attack on 22 Chinese school children has gotten.

Just for myself, I can't help but wonder if a good part of the cause won't be found in video games of the first-person-shooter type. If a person spends perhaps 10,000 hours vicariously shooting & blowing up imaginary enemies, would that not tend to bias their reactions to their real-life situations?


A concerned parent

I wish I had more "like" point to give James. While I very rarely post in online chat forums, I feel like I should share a post I wrote on my own Facebook page a few days after the event occurred.

As a father, I've been trying to process the events of Friday. Judging from my Facebook feed, I am not alone. For some reason, this particular incident has torn me up more than other recent tragedies, probably because my own daughter is in the same age range of the child victims. Maybe that shouldn't make a difference, but it does.

What follows is some stream-of-conscious thinking, brought about by those events as well as several FB posts that I've seen since then. I am sure that none of this is original thought and it is absolutely not meant to offend or call out anyone. Perhaps it is only meant to be therapeutic for me but I feel like it should be shared.

Earlier today I read a post by one of my friends that contrasted Japan's extremely tight gun control laws with those of the US, further contrasting Japan's extremely low count of children killed by guns to a much larger number in the US.

The point being, of course, that tighter gun control laws are needed here.

I've lived long enough to know that things are not always that simple, and statistical correlations can be drawn where none exist. The post had me asking myself if something else could be at least partially responsible for the apparent disparity, and it called to mind a mission's trip that my wife and I took to the Philippines several years ago.

On our way there, we had a layover of a few hours in Nagoya, Japan. Those few hours were one of the highlights of the trip, because I was able to witness a culture that positively stunned me for their efficiency, civility, and selflessness. I cannot help but be struck by the contrast to what I see in the US today: laziness, rudeness, and selfishness.

We expect others to handle our problems for us - frequently government bodies who can't even solve their own issues (Cf. fiscal cliff). We delight in incivility, especially in a semi-anonymous online setting (Ex. another FB post from a friend of mine urging tighter gun laws quickly degenerated into one of the most disgusting exchanges I've ever seen on FB). And arguably, we have a strong focus on ourselves rather than those around us.

(That may offend someone. Hopefully you'll continue to indulge me. And note that I use the word "we", as I include myself in those failings.)

Could it be that the reason behind Japan's low gun-related child death rate has little or nothing to do with their tight gun laws and more to do with their culture of respect for others? That respect, in my opinion, is born out of a sense of loving others more than self. And that cultural trait is something that has steadily eroded in Western society.

We glorify violence in our media. In our movies. Our video games. And we scream "censorship!" or "government meddling!" when others dare to suggest that children should be protected from such material via ratings systems or other measures.

Understand that this is coming from someone who grew up with The Terminator, Rambo, James Bond, The Matrix, etc. Not to mention Castle Wolfenstein, Doom, Duke Nukem, Quake, etc. I am not immune. I am not innocent. Heck, I've recently enjoyed seeing the entire Marvel universe movies all the way through the Avengers. I am no better. (Full disclosure: my daughter has not seen any of those).

That's what our culture has been feeding our children for decades. What do we expect the result to be now? Think about the violence and graphic nature of tv today: NCIS, Bones, CSI. Even their commercials are graphic! We can't get away from it. And I can tell you from experience that it takes a LOT of purposeful effort to protect my daughter from it.

We have a saying in my line of work: GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out. It is highly unlikely that you will get clean data out of a system if you put dirty data into it. The same is true for human beings: if we saturate ourselves and our culture with violence and retribution, that is what we will endure. We reap what we sow. To expect otherwise is, quite frankly, illogical and irrational.

This is not a new concept. While many of my FB circle are Christians, some are not but may still respect His teachings. Regardless of your beliefs, I urge all of you to read this:

The witnessing of killing and death, even in fictional form, should probably disgust us. Instead, we are mostly numb to it. Those children and adults that survived Newtown will be forever scarred by what they've seen. As will those in law enforcement that have to document the crime scene (let's not forget to pray for them, too)! Exposure to those kinds of images and themes should be a rare event, not commonplace and readily available, especially to children.

Let's hug our kids more.

Let's hug each other more.

Let's be civil to one another instead of demonizing those who do not look, feel, or believe as we do.

Let's choose empathy over enmity.

Let's tell the media that we want entertainment that is uplifting by voting with our wallets.

Let's tell our leaders that we expect them to model civility and integrity for us and our children.

Let's look in the mirror and ask: "how can I make a difference"?

Let's love as Jesus calls us to love.



Thanks for the kind words. I would, however, question your idea that Japan doesn't have mass killings because it's a more respectful society, because the sad fact is that it does have mass killings. Of course, since guns are tightly regulated, the killers use other tools to do their work, such as knives and nerve gas:


Just replace the word "guns" with the word "drugs" and see how ridiculous the solution suddenly sounds. We are going to task the government to control "drugs" and who has them and how they used them in this country. The Federal government will interdict all the illegal "drugs" in this country and control what circumstances people have access to them.

Brilliant solution right? Because the government has been attempting to do exactly that for almost 50 years in this country and they have miserably failed. You can find and purchase drugs in virtually every high school and community in America including most likely Newton, Connecticut. Why do people suddenly have such incredible faith that the government will control guns any better? What basis do they use to make such an assertion? It is a serious question.

Principles always win. A universal principle is that what people want, they get, no matter how many words are written down on pieces of paper by legislators and we call them laws. If there is a demand for something there will be a supply. If we want to reduce violence with guns then the emphasis should be on the behavior, the demand, not the guns, the supply. That is the only solution that will work.



Actually ,drug use has gone down tremendously.and gun control can work. Bans on assault weapons did coincide with decreases in murder rates. And the expiration of the ban coincided with increases in crimes.

Still, I doubt the sincerity of your question since it is easy to find these results.


Drug use may have gone down but is it due to interdiction efforts by the government? Not likely. I would be interested to see your finding where the ban assault weapons ( a very misguided term since no real assault weapons are legally available in the US without a federal permit) caused (not in correlation with) a decrease in murder rates. Every study I've seen, and most are done by people who do not like guns, concluded it had no effect at all on crime, murder, or mass murder


To non-Americans such as myself, this debate over guns is utterly baffling. Whilst the propensity to commit violent mass killings seems to vary across societies and communities for complex reasons, the (by global standards) exceptional prevalence of firearms in the US, including automatic ones, self-evidentially increases the ability of perpetrators to commit spree killings. Why is this so hard to accept? One other point... To the contributor who compared prohibition of guns to drugs, please for once look for evidence from other countries - where tight gun control is quite clearly effective.


First, there is no legal prevalence of automatic weapons in the US. Such are strictly controlled by federal permit. The people who have them and use them are...criminals! They do not obey the law in the first place so why would laws passed to try and control guns effect them in the slightest?

The simple comparing of murders by guns in one society with another society, barely tells one much of anything. Sweden for example, which had roughly 21 murders by gun at the latest count, is a nation of around 9 million people. About the size of a big city in the US. It is also a homogeneous society. Most people there are of the same ethnic and economic background. Does it also have a large drug related violent culture? No it does not. Does it have a massive influx of illegal immigrants with a host of crime and societal problems associated with that? No, it does not.

It is difficult to get the proper breakdown in numbers, or even the proper number for that matter when it comes to murder by gun in the US. The CDC says the overall number is around 11,000, the FBI says its around 8500. Both agree the number is decreasing. Sounds awful to sure but can the numbers tell us something more? It is hard to quantify but most reports I read say around 75% of those murders are deaths directly related to drugs, gangs and therefore criminal behavior. So if we just split the difference in the murder estimates and say there are 10,000 murders in the US by gun, that leaves around 2500 murders that are not criminal behavior related. Meaning the murder was not committed in connection with another crime, ie, robbery drug deals and so forth. This number would indicate that the US has a much bigger problem with drugs and crime associated with them than just the weapons.

The US is a nation of 310 million people. In the conversation about guns, if it can be called that, this elephant in the living room is almost always ignored. Sweden's murders would have to increased by a multiple of 30, to 630 to correlate with just the size of the US alone. And the US is anything but a homogeneous society. Throw in large ethnic minorities, generational poverty, lack of cohesive family units in these enclaves and guess what? Any society will have huge increases in murder rates.

If the 2500 number can be believed, and I admit is a rough estimate, the actual number is very hard to deduce, well in a sample of 310 million ( again an estimate, I don't think anyone really knows how big the US is) that number is a statistical anomaly. The overwhelming majority of neighborhoods, towns and cities in the US are frankly quite safe, even with all those nasty guns out there. Want to stay safe in the US? Don't get involved in the drug culture at any level. Stay out of the large ethnic ghettos of crime and poverty and the chance of you being shot is .00000806%



I don't envision an armed guard standing at the door staring down 10 year olds, although I did read a story about a Marine volunteering to stand at a school door this past week and how the children and parents were comforted by it. What I envision, perhaps, is a few faculty or adminstration people being trained, and having secured weapons at hand, perhaps tasers, pepper spray, or a biometric gun. Maybe rubber bullets. Whatever. Someone who runs toward trouble rather than away. And that person can receive an extra stipend, as many sports coaches do, for instance. If there is nobody adequate you deal with that in your hiring or hire outside. It should be at least as hard to get any weapons into a school as it is onto an airplane, into a courthouse, or into any tech corporation.

Let's not blame the nurse, but she points up the need for someone in the school who won't lock themselves in a closet for fours hours while some sicko calmly executes seven year old kids one at a time. In the words of Neil Young "an ambulance can only go so fast...." It would have been ironic if all the hundreds of kids there died of small .223 bullet wounds, some simply bleeding out, while the one person definitely trained for medical intervention and in possession of medical equipment survived.

The cops now feel that the motive for the Sandy Hook shooting was that the mother was about to institutionalize the kid, whose behavior had been very erratic for a long time, blamed for the divorce, his removal from school, and the estrangement from his brother. As Chris Rock wondered, "Whatever happened to crazy?" As soon as you put a label on mental illness, Aspergers, autism, bio-polar, whatever, the families of those so diagnosed and their (dependent) therapists rush to scream "politically incorrect"!

The other issue is that students are lumped into mental illness buckets that may or may not be a certain condition, churning and changing through growth and puberty, may only be borderline that condition, may be in combination with other conditions. They are then pumped full of a cocktail of meds.

Columbine and Sandy Hook:

-- At Columbine, Dylan Klebold, the dominant of the two students, was seeing a pychiatrist and had confesed of anger, depression and suicidal thoughts. He had first been put on Zoloft, then been put on Luxor. In 2001, two years later, the FDA subsequently added a "black box warning label" their strongest move short of removal of a drug from the market. The warning to Luxor stated that suicidal and violent actions and thoughts are a possible/common side effect.

The warning signs were screaming:

From the most impeachable source on the internet, Wikipedia:


(re: a threat blog by Harris) Klebold gave the web address to Brooks Brown, a former friend of Harris. Brown's mother had filed numerous complaints with the Jefferson County Sheriff's office concerning Harris, as she thought he was dangerous. The website contained numerous death threats directed against Brown: Klebold knew that if Brooks accessed the address, he would discover the content and inform his parents, and likely the authorities would be notified. After Brown's parents viewed the site, they contacted the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. The investigator Michael Guerra was told about the website.[4] When he accessed it, Guerra discovered numerous violent threats directed against the students and teachers of Columbine High School. Other material included blurbs which Harris had written about his general hatred of society, and his desire to kill those who annoyed him. Harris had noted on his site that he had made pipe bombs. In addition, he mentioned a gun count and compiled a hit list of individuals (he did not post any plan on how he intended to attack targets).[5] As Harris had posted on his website that he possessed explosives, Guerra wrote a draft affidavit, requesting a search warrant of the Harris household. He never filed it.

The Columine kids didn't envision shooting people. they put two 20 lbs propane boms in the cafeteria and waited outside. They malfunctioned. They had made over 100 bombs and brought them to the school, pipebombs and Molotov cocktails and seven knives. It is a miracle only 12 people were killed and not hundreds.

And notice I haven't even mentioned the "Trenchcoat Mafia"....


(.....and I treasure my "hidden due to negative comments" so bring it. I always read those first from others. I'm guessing Freakonmics would have died from unpopularity on an economst's site in its infancy.)