But to become like Japan, banning gun sales wouldn't be enough. We'd have to actually confiscate all the guns that Americans now have. This is because guns are very durable; they last many, many years. The United States has far more guns per 100 people than any other country (88.8 in 2007, compared to 58.2 for second-place Serbia). It would take many decades for a gun sale ban to reduce that number to rich-country averages.
Nor is there any certainty that marginal reductions in gun ownership would bring matching reductions in the murder rate. Brazil, for example, has a murder rate more than four times as high as the U.S., with less than 10% of the gun ownership that we have. In other words, it's possible that appreciably reducing gun murders might require a truly huge (and unrealistic) reduction in gun ownership.
Now, if the U.S. banned gun ownership, and confiscated all the guns that people currently own, it would probably be very effective. But this is almost certainly politically infeasible, and if somehow the 14th Amendment were repealed and this law were passed, it would cause violent civil unrest. Additionally, lots of people could hide their guns. The effort required to confiscate them would be likely to turn our country into a police state.
So universal gun confiscation is out.
THE GUN NUMBERS TO FOCUS ON
Any gun control we enact will have a limited effect. But this should not be cause for despair. Much of the recent hysteria over gun deaths is misplaced.
A lot of people have been citing a recent report, "American Gun Deaths to Exceed Traffic Fatalities by 2015." The article shows that gun deaths in America are slowly rising, and now stand at 32,000 per year -- a staggering toll. Now, 32,000 deaths per year is a lot of death, and I'd never minimize that. But what the article's authors fail to mention is that gun murders comprise less than a third of that total -- about 9,000 per year in recent years. With accidental gun deaths steady at around 500-600 per year, the bulk of those 32,000 "gun deaths" are suicides.
In fact, murder by gun has been falling steadily since the early 1990s. Some of that is due to improvements in emergency medicine, but most is a result of the overall decline in violent crime that America has enjoyed over the last two decades. The fact that overall gun deaths has risen since 2000, despite the fall in murders, suggests that increased gun suicide has accounted for more than 100% of the increase in gun deaths. Obviously, suicide is a tragedy, and I don't want to minimize it. But people aren't panicking over suicide, they're panicking over murder, and gun-related murder is on the way down.
Of course, 9,000 gun deaths a year is still a lot. Still more than other rich countries, still a disgrace, still far too many! But people who have been watching the round-the-clock coverage of the Newtown massacre need to understand that "mass killings" of the Newtown type account for a very small percent of that 9,000. Most of those 9,000 gun murders are of the more mundane, but no less deadly variety -- drive-by shootings, gang wars, personal quarrels, and other easily comprehensible crimes.