Think the world might be a kinder, gentler place if firearms did not exist? I’ve never believed that and now there is some pretty good evidence that a gun-free society is not a polite society.
The following is from an article that Carlyle Moody and Don Kates are writing that refutes the theory that more guns in a society will cause more crime. Here is part of the article that was written by Prof. Moody, an economist at William & Mary College:
If more guns cause murder, and more guns cause more murder, it would seem societies with no guns at all should be the safest possible states. There are few gun free societies in the world today. However, if we look back in history to the time before the invention of firearms, we can judge for ourselves whether those societies were tranquil and safe. Remarkably good homicide data is available for England, beginning in the 1200’s. Those data indicate a pre-gun homicide rate in England of roughly 20 per 100,000 [roughly four times greater than the U.S. today]
Firearms were introduced into England in the 1400’s and were in wide use by the 1500’s, coincident with a decline in the homicide rate to 15 per 100K. However these early guns were predominately of the matchlock design. This design featured a slow burning fuse held in a clamp at the end of a serpentine lever. When the trigger was pulled the clamp dropped down so that the end of the lit fuse touched the powder in the flash pan, firing the weapon. The design was simple and the weapons relatively inexpensive. The major problem with the design from the point of view of personal defense was that, because of the need for a lit fuse, the weapon could not be kept and carried loaded and primed for quick use against a sudden attack.
The first firearm that could be carried loaded and primed was the flintlock, introduced into England around 1630. In this design the fuse is replaced by a piece of flint. When the trigger is pulled the flint strikes a piece of steel producing a shower of sparks that ignite the powder in the flash pan. This technology persisted through the early 1800’s. While matchlocks were almost exclusively long guns, flintlock technology was readily adapted to produce handguns, which were particularly useful for self defense. The flintlock pistol was relatively inexpensive, could be comfortably carried, was ready for action in an instant, and did not require a great deal of physical strength or expertise to operate. The flintlock could be fired in an instant, making it the ideal self- defense weapon. Armed with a flintlock, the physically weak found themselves on an equal footing with the physically strong in a confrontation.
The introduction of the flintlock coincided with the largest decline in homicide in English history. The homicide rate plunged to 6 per 100K in the 1600’s. The English homicide rate continued to decline slowly and steadily until well into the 20th century. For example, in 1900 the homicide rate was 0.96 per 100K.
The last hundred years of English history tells the reverse story.
Continue reading Kates and Moody here.
Kates and Moody add something significant to John Lotts’ book More Guns, Less Crime, now in its 3rd edition. Perhaps it’s not just more guns, but more and better guns that lead to less crime.
I think it was Hamilton Felix in Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein who said “A well armed society is a polite society.” He was right.
Read the rest of Kates and Moody’s excellent article at More and Better Guns = Less Crime, European History