Why regulating gun ownership can make sense even when regulating ownership of almost anything else might not

Let’s start here:

The data clearly show that as gun ownership in the United States fell by 33% between 1980 and 2014, the gun death rate fell by 30%.

That’s a nearly perfect 1-to-1 relationship.

Logically–like completely logically–when there are more gun owners per capita, the odds of getting killed by a gun are higher; and when there are fewer gun owners per capita in the US, there are fewer Americans per capita killed by guns.

And then comes the pro-gun-at-any-cost crowd…

They see the same chart showing how the change in magnitude in the share of the gun owner rate matches almost perfectly the change in magnitude in the firearm death rate over a three decade-plus-long period and–when they don’t spend time attacking polls, blaming suicide victims, data and the scientific method itself–they say:

And more swimming equals more drowning. So what?

Well, first off that’s not the right comparison.

My data show it’s not about how many guns are owned or how many hours someone spends shooting or swimming or race car driving.

The chart above shows how changes in the share of American homes with at least one gun corresponds, or relates, with the changing odds of getting shot and killed by a gun (aka the change in the firearm death rate).

So the appropriate way to even criticize what’s going on here in the chart above (and the essential inference emerging from it) is by saying:

And more pool owners means more drowning. So what?

Well, here’s what:

First off, I’d bet right now that if there’s a rise in the number of pool owners per capita in the US, there will be more drowning.

And guess what: Gun control advocates don’t have a problem with pool ownership.

At which point, the pro-gun-at-any-cost folks will say:

Gun control nuts only care about gun deaths but not deaths in pools!  What a bunch of hypocrites!

Ok, now let’s get back to reality and explain why gun control and pool control are very different things–and should remain so!

In fact, there’s zero hypocrisy in being in favor of gun control but not in favor of controlling ownership of a lot of other potentially deadly tools or products, like cars or asbestos or fireworks or snowboards or skiis or even parachutes!

Zero. Nada. None.

One can be against regulating almost anything else and yet be in favor of regulating gun ownership.


The pro-gun-at-any-cost crowd will retort, their minds swirling, completely lost 800 words ago (FYI: the piece is less than that) and now ready to blow.

The Rebuttal (aka time to snap back to reality)

Let’s start with some questions:

What’s the primary purpose of owning a parachute?

  • to get you from the sky to the ground without dying or getting injured


What’s the primary purpose of lead in paint?

  • to make paint more durable


What’s the primary purpose of owning skis?

  • to get you safely down a mountain on snow


Or what about owning a car?

  • to get you from one place to another


So now let’s ask:

What’s the primary purpose of owning a firearm?

  • to protect yourself from physical harm


By the way, that’s not what I say. That’s what Americans themselves say.

As Pew Research Center’s 2013 report concluded:

“The vast majority of gun owners say that having a gun makes them feel safer. And far more today than in 1999 cite protection – rather than hunting or other activities – as the main reason they own guns.”

Notice that word feel? (Note: feelings aren’t facts.)

So then what makes controlling gun ownership vs ownership of a lot a lot of often deadly objects and tools (eg like lead paint, hammers, knives and parachutes, etc. really different?

Let’s go poolside to understand.

The primary point of pool ownership is to swim.

But as we mentioned above, we should expect that as pool ownership rises per capita pool-related deaths per capita will rise.

That sucks.

So why isn’t the gun control movement advocating for controlling pool ownership?

Well, besides the fact that, per the CDC, a lot more Americans are killed by and murdered with guns than drown in pools, there’s another much more important logic at work in the cost-benefits equation:

The primary purpose of a pool is swimming.

The primary purpose of a pool is not protecting yourself from the risk of drowning.

BUT if the purpose of pool ownership was to protect yourself from drowning, then I’d say increasing pool ownership was irrational–assuming your goal is to actually to reduce the loss of preventable life.

See the difference?

Unlike ownership of cars or knives or hammers or nails or lead paint or parachutes or almost any other sometimes-deadly object or tool, the primary purpose of more gun ownership is more safety and yet the primary effect of more gun ownership is less safety.

Gun ownership creates the problems it’s created to solve.