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How Governments Can Manipulate Murder Rates by Excluding "Terrorist" Killings

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Tags Legal SystemThe Police StateWar and Foreign Policy

12/03/2015

Days after the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs, President Obama had the chutzpah to stand up in Paris of all places and declare that mass shootings don't occur "in other countries." As one blogger noted, this would be like Ariel Sharon visiting Manhattan in October 2001 and casually observing that terrorism just doesn’t happen outside Israel."

It truly is fascinating how a mere two weeks after Parisians fall victim to one of the worst mass shootings in recent memory, that a politician can say — in the very city where the shootings took place — that mass shootings are unique to the United States.

The only way that such behavior can be viewed as anything other than bizarre or ridiculous would be to buy into the assertion that there is a meaningful difference between mass shooters that are deemed to be terrorists, and those that are not.

"Terrorism" Is Excluded from Mass Shooting Stats, But Only in Europe

This is a totally arbitrary and manufactured distinction, of course. Whether or not Anders Brevik (the Norwegian mass murderer) was a "terrorist" does not make his victims any less murdered. A mass shooting is a mass shooting, and they occur frequently outside the United States.

But, whether or not something is "terrorism" depends on who's manipulating the narrative. It's clear that Obama believes that "terrorist" acts should not be counted as mass shooting when they occur in Europe. But he's fine with counting them if they occur in the US.

For example, many on the left want any violence against Planned Parenthood to be labeled "terrorism." But you can bet those killings will all be counted up as "mass shootings" unlike the far deadlier Paris/Hebdo/Jewish Superette killings. Moreover, the Chattanooga killings, which may have been motivated by an extremist religious ideology, and which targeting military and police personnel, are magically not terrorism, apparently, since they are including in mass shooting statistics.

And of course, you can be sure that yesterday's San Bernardino killings, which employed an MO remarkably similar to that used in Paris (albeit on a smaller scale) will be counted as just another mass shooting.

Intellectual honesty demands, however, that "terrorist" mass shootings be counted in Europe as everywhere else. As Justin Murray has shown, if we do include mass shootings such as the Paris Attacks, Europe's victim totals are comparable to that of the US.

Other Ways of Statistically Ignoring Violence

Whether or not to include terrorist violence among murders and shootings is a problem in calculating even the official data, and is not applied consistently. For example, in the UNODC data that is generally employed in international murder comparisons, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which claimed 191 lives, are not included in the murder rate statistics for Spain. However, the 52 victims of the 2005 bombings in London are included. Given that 191 murders could indeed skew the murder rate in a country with only 50 million people (like Spain) this is a meaningful issue. (The 9/11 bombings in the US are not included in the official murder stats either.)

Historically speaking, where this is the biggest problem is in countries outside Europe and North America where inter-ethnic violence or murder that can be attributed to being byproducts of wars and rebellions are simply not counted as murder. In other words, a country that frequently experiences violence that is officially labeled "terrorist" or guerrilla" violence may skew its murder rate down significantly if those killings are left out of the official murder statistics.

Moreover, unlawful killings by law enforcement officers are also not included. The French, for example, who blunderingly refer to the most recent Paris attacks as the "worst" killings since WWII, conveniently ignore the massacre of 200 civilians that occurred in the streets of Paris in 1961. Why? Because it was perpetrated by agents of the state. And today, countries that suffer violence at the hands of corrupt and violent police and military officials appear safer than they are because much of this violence is ignored in the official statistics.

AK-47s Are Already Illegal In France 

It remains unclear as to whether or not the recent shootings will be included in France's official murder rate,  but something we do know is that gun control in France is draconian, and that the guns used by perpetrate this year's more than 100 mass shooting deaths in France are illegal to own, including the "Kalishnikovs" carried by the Paris attackers.

So, if France makes AK-47s extra special illegal, will then they be off the streets? It appears not, since western European officials admit that there is a thriving — and growing — black market in guns in Europe.

But we can be sure that the states of Europe will be careful to make sure that ordinary people have no access to guns, and that self-defense remains highly centralized and safely within the hands of government officials who — the next time terrorists strike — will surely see to it that only a few dozen people are mowed down before intervening.

Europe's method of dealing with violent crime is to centralize and bureaucratize self-defense. It relies on centralized dispatch and response of official state agents while the victims hope and pray that one of the "good guys" arrives soon. Naturally, decentralizing defense (by providing the means of self-defense to ordinary citizens) is not acceptable to European states, so the French state's response to the Paris attacks has been to severely curtail civil rights, imprison protesters, and raid mosques.

Worldwide, of course, this is the usual response of states. Countries with highly restrictive gun control laws and high murder rates are common. Gun-control advocates like to pretend that the US has an anomalously high murder rate among "developed countries," but in fact, according to the UN, Russia, the Baltic States, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, (and many other countries) are countries that have high development, restrictive gun laws, and murder rates higher than the US. For more on this, see here.

If France's gun laws don't keep AK-47-wielding gunmen from operating freely on the streets of Paris, what will stop them? The French state will double down on its preferred method of destroying civil rights. Meanwhile, residents of Brussels, who endure similar gun restrictions, sit at home and abandon the streets as the Belgian government shuts down Brussels and government troops take over public spaces.

Are the "Good" Times Over for Western Europe? 

Europe is no stranger to mass murder, of course. After two world wars and centuries of brutal colonialism (with neo-colonialism continued today by the French and others) the total number of Europeans (and their victims) who have perished in homicidal acts committed by governments over the past century is rather astounding.

Nevertheless, when Europeans aren't mowing down and bombing Europeans in an official capacity, European civilians have demonstrated a remarkably low tendency toward murder. (They're historically fine with murdering people in Africa and Southeast Asia, of course.)

It is has never been entirely clear why this is so, although one theory credits to the so-called civilizing process. In any case, it has long been clear that the low murder rates in western Europe (excluding wartime) have not correlated with gun control

According to this theory, murder rates were very high in medieval Europe (an assertion that is supported by the data) and came down to today's very low murder rates in response to the rise of new social rules of behavior and new institutions. In Europe, as social norms turned away from "honor" killings and blood feuds, and toward what we would consider to be more "rational" means of settling disputes, the murder rate plummeted in Europe.
In many areas, this clearly had nothing to do with the availability of guns, since the high murder rates preceded that widespread availability of firearms. Moreover, the later declines in murder rates continued well into the period when Europeans had increasingly easy access to unregulated revolvers and similar weapons.In Britain, for example, "By the mid-nineteenth century armed crime was almost non- existent." according to historian Joyce Lee Malcolm. Gun controls were virtually non-existent in Britain until 1920, when fears about Bolsheviks and other threats to the state were used to justify new prohibitions. Violent crime is higher now in Britain than before 1920.

And more increases in violent crime may be on the menu. As the world outside Europe becomes wealthier and more mobile, it becomes easier for potential criminals in those places to obtain firearms. As has been observed by the authors of the Small Arms Survey, there has long been a connection between wealth and firearms ownership. (Part of the reason the US has so many guns, for example, is because it is so wealthy.) 

It was one thing to keep well-armed and and aggrieved foreigners at bay in 1918. Today, it's an altogether different matter. 

Clinging to Europe's 20th-century experiment in gun control may prove to be a significant challenge in a newly globalized world. The centralized and bureaucratic "defense" forces of Western Europe simply can't be everywhere, as was made so abundantly clear in Norway in 2011 and in France in 2015. 

American politicians would have us believe that European style gun control is the answer to gun violence in America. By their standards, gun control hasn't "worked" in Latin America or Eastern Europe either, although this fact is steadfastly ignored. Moreover, low murder rates in western Europe pre-date gun control in that region.  

On the other hand, as Europe faces new reality in demographics, globalization, and the relentless reality of how government prohibitions (whether of guns or drugs) fail, the true opportunity cost of having a disarmed population in Europe may not yet be fully apparent. 

Further Reading:

The Complexity of Violent Crime and the Role of State-Sanctioned Killing  by Ryan McMaken
The Mistake of Only Comparing US Murder Rates to "Developed" Countries by Ryan McMaken
There's No Correlation Between Gun Ownership, Mass Shootings, and Murder Rates by Ryan McMaken
Pew: Homicide Rates Cut in Half Over Past 20 Years (While New Gun Ownership Soared)  by Ryan McMaken
With Mass Shootings, the State Makes Us Less Safe by  Justin Murray

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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