I think gun control legislation is important and I think there is evidence to suggest that fewer people would die if we restricted and limited access to guns. Bad guys would still get their hands on them, but making that process harder should help prevent some of the mass shootings we see. People could still use cars, axes, and other weapons to go on violent sprees, but if guns were harder to come by it is likely that fewer people would be harmed and killed in any single killing spree.
With that in mind, it is also interesting to consider that as human weaponry has increased in deadly power throughout our history, actual levels of violence have generally declined. Steven Pinker writes about the decline of violence in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature and he specifically considers the implications of the fact that as our weapons have become more deadly we have become more peaceful, not more deadly alongside our weapons. Pinker writes, “over the millennia weapons, just like every technology, got better and better, yet rates of violence have not gone steadily up but rather have lurched up and down the slope of an inclined sawtooth.”
Pinker continues, “weaponry, in other words, appears to be largely endogenous to the historical dynamics that result in large declines in violence. When people are rapacious or terrified, they develop the weapons they need; when cooler heads prevail, the weapons rust in peace.”
Our weapons don’t really make us any more or any less violent. I argue that we should remove the most deadly weapons so that when violence erupts it can inflict fewer people. At this point, we don’t have to make arguments about the level or frequency of violence, we can instead make an argument against the most deadly weapons available when violence does occur. “Evolutionary psychologists tell us that no matter how rich or poor men are, they can always fight over women, status, and dominance.” I would rather that they fight with stones and fists as opposed to automatic rifles.
“Human behavior is goal-directed,” writes Pinker, “not stimulus-driven, and what matters most to the incidence of violence is whether one person wants another one dead.” To reduce violence we should focus the most on institutions and relationships between people. However, that is hard and long work. In the mean time, we should reduce the access to the most deadly weapons so that when violence occurs it is harder and slower to kill someone and less likely to involve the collateral of many people in the process.