Time to Stop Restricting Abortion and Start Restricting Assault Weapons

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, calls for restrictions on the manufacture and sale of a variety of guns, especially assault rifles such as the Bushmaster .223 used by the shooter in his rampage against women and children, have grown stronger. Of course, this creates a strange situation for pro-choicers, who are usually on the end of arguing that restrictions on abortion don't do much to reduce abortion rates, allowing gun nut anti-choicers (the two tend to go together because gun nuttery, like anti-choice nuttery, is based in a weird mix of misogyny and psychosexual issues) to squee "gotchas" at us. So, I figured I'd go ahead and shoot that nonsense down and explain here why restrictions on the sales of guns and restrictions on access to abortion are very, very different things.

1) Access to safe abortion care makes the world a better place, whereas the proliferation of guns does not. This isn't a matter of personal opinion, but a demonstrable fact. A Harvard-based review of a multitude of studies has shown that places where there are more guns have higher homicide rates. Researchers concluded, "We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides," and also, "After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide."

Meanwhile, researchers from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health compared two groups of women who sought abortions, those who got the abortions and those who didn't. They found that, despite anti-choicer claims that forcing childbirth on women is good for them, women who were denied abortion were much more likely to be on public assistance, to be living under the poverty line, and to be suffering domestic violence.

The conclusion is clear: If you want a society with fewer homicides, less domestic violence, and less poverty, you would restrict gun sales while liberalizing abortion laws. That our country has done the opposite in recent decades demonstrates our priorities are completely screwed up.

2) Gun control works, but restricting abortion does not seem to reduce the abortion rate. Not all bans are created equal. Citing research from economist Richard Florida, Ezra Klein argued in the Washington Post that gun control does, in fact, work.

Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths.

A map of the results:

Correlation doesn't equal causation, of course, but these results hold up across countries, as demonstrated by the Harvard study. Some times simple restrictions can dramatically reduce gun violence, further suggesting a causal relationship.

In contrast, countries that ban abortion have a higher abortion rate. Why there is a difference isn't so hard to figure out. Guns are manufactured products, mostly made by wealthy corporations and using expensive materials with processes that are hard to replicate. Abortion is a simple procedure that requires very few and inexpensive materials. Plus, people who don't know what they're doing attempt abortions all the time, which is why illegal abortions are so unsafe. Someone who doesn't know what they're doing is unlikely to attempt setting up an illegal gun factory in their house.

Plus, there's the need gap: Women who need abortions will often do anything to get them. But people don't need guns. Which leads me to point #3.

3) Abortion is a necessary medical procedure, whereas guns are mostly toys. Women seek abortion because they feel they cannot give birth right now, and they are right to believe as they do. Research into why women have abortions shows that women need access to abortion in part to meet their financial and familial responsibilities or have greater control over their futures. Most of them have children and need to be able to prevent future births in order to take care of the ones they have.

Pro-gun advocates claim that they "need" to be able to buy guns, but their claims are iffy at best. First of all, few proposed laws restricting gun sales are aimed at ending all gun ownership in the country, but are more based on restricting some guns, such as those that can be used to murder a bunch of people at once or the semi-automatic handguns that are used in your more day-to-day murders.

More importantly, the claim that guns are necessary for self-defense is simply not demonstrated by the facts. Despite having nearly as many guns in this country as people, use of guns in self-defense is incredibly rare. And even more rare is the image that gun lovers have, where a totally law-abiding citizen is attacked by a criminal and successfully uses the gun to defend themselves. Most of the time, what the person who claims "self-defense" was doing was what judges and criminologists would call "escalation." From the Harvard researchers:

Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal, even assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and to carry a gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly from his own perspective.

In addition, they found that emergency room records demonstrate that criminals who are treated for gunshot wounds are almost never shot by law-abiding citizens, but by other criminals. When a gun is in the house, it's far more likely to be used to intimidate intimates--mostly men trying to control wives and girlfriends--than it is to be used against a legitimate attacker.

The reality, and I say this as someone who grew up in Texas and has been related to and friends with gun owners all my life, is that responsible gun owners use them for two purposes: As toys and for hunting. Gun control advocates are mostly focused on the ones people buy primarily for shooting off and feeling tough. Finding other hobbies besides shooting is not too high a price to pay so that schoolchildren can learn their ABCs without getting shot in the head by a maniac.

When crafting legislation, it's important to avoid being simple-minded and assume that a ban is a ban is a ban. The evidence is clear that abortion restrictions and gun restrictions couldn't be more different in how they play out in the real world. It's time to stop restricting abortion and turn our attention to guns.

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