Of guns, crime and terror

The recent terrorist attack in Orlando has prompted some people to call for Americans to surrender their right to bear arms. It’s understandable that they would try to exploit the tragedy. But it is not a rational response. We see that particularly by comparing the Pulse nightclub massacre to the November 15 terrorist attack in Paris, where firearms and explosives were used to kill over 100 people including 89 at the Bataclan theatre. France has strict gun control laws. They didn’t keep the bad guys from getting guns. But they did keep the victims from fighting back. And at the Pulse nightclub, for whatever reason, no patrons seem to have been armed.

Then there’s the June 28 attack at Istanbul airport, using explosives and, again, firearms that Turkish citizens and residents are emphatically not allowed to own. And a correspondent has also noted that the murder, apparently an act of insanity rather than terrorism, of British MP Jo Cox, involved a firearm in a nation that in recent years has brought in very strict gun control.

Cox was shot using a weapon that was by various reports either an antique or improvised. But she was also stabbed. And the knife wounds alone would very probably have proved fatal; London has seen a gruesome jihadi killing using a car, knives and a cleaver. In any case there are also millions of illegal guns in Britain readily available to criminals and maniacs. But no law-abiding citizen present when she was attacked was armed and able to shoot the attacker before he could stab Cox repeatedly and fatally.

The notion that stricter gun control will prevent or reduce terrorist incidents, or acts of insane murder, simply doesn’t fit the facts. Terrorists can use explosives, as in the 7/7 attacks in London. And both they and thugs can easily get firearms even when ordinary citizens cannot, because of the by now familiar point, at least it should be familiar, that criminals don’t obey the law.

When trying to explain similar events, it is important to focus on the elements they have in common especially if we are the sort who boasts of “evidence-based decision-making”. And what we find in these attacks is jihadist motivations and the ability of bad guys to get weapons including firearms regardless of local laws. Yet people were also quick to attribute the Pulse nightclub shooting to Western homophobia, very curious given that the assailants were adherents of an austere, nihilistic and ferociously anti-Western brand of Islam. Oddly, there was little attempt to link the Bataclan attack to dislike of cosmopolitan or hedonistic lifestyles, even though that was an important aspect of the Paris terrorists’ choice of target. And it’s hard to see how homophobia could have motivated the Istanbul attack.

To exploit such incidents to push arguments against gun control or social conservatism is understandable, even predictable. But it’s not rational. And it’s not very nice either.