We have a few peripheral questions about gun control.

But the major one is:

Despite having 20 upvotes, 4 upvoted answers and 1000 views, I think this question is sub-par, and needs some work.

The main problem is that the question is too broad. There is no simple, single definitive answer.

One measure of being too broad is that books have been written on the topic. This is worse. For example, this book was written on this subject, and Wikipedia lists a large number of subsequent studies that supported and rejected the arguments made.

There are also a vast number of gun control legislations, different gun cultures in different countries and US States, different outcomes (homicode, suicide, violent crime, accidental shootings), issues of substitution (will knives be used instead?), death versus injury, illegal ownership, etc.

I see the existing answers suffering from this problem: any studies they reference are necessarily cherry-picking, because there is insufficient space to include all of the conflicting studies. We're not seeing meta-analyses published. None of the answers is particularly compelling.

Basically, we have a very, very large question that is impossible to properly answer.

A recent question was closed as a duplicate of this bigger question: Are lax gun laws responsible for the high rate of handgun violence in the United States?

Closing other questions because they overlap with this overly-broad unanswerable question seems to be perpetuating the problem.

I would like to see the large question closed as unanswerable or reduced in scope (although this will invalidate existing answers). I would like to (eventually) see instead a pool of smaller questions addressing individual claims people have made.

It would be terrific if we could give a definitive answer to the over-all question about whether gun-control is a good thing in a 250-word post, but that's not practical.

  • 1
    People, please put your close votes on the question if you agree with Oddthinking.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 11:43
  • If it's closed, perhaps someone needs to post more narrow set of questions that are of higher quality, to prevent the reoccurence of broad question's repost? (BTW, you sold me - I just VTCed, surprisingly I was the only one)
    – user5341
    Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


I agree with you.

I also personally think the answers we have are of either of very poor quality and fundamentally wrong or not answers at all, or very incomplete.

One says

In summary, their conclusion was that the single greatest impact on crime comes from police on the street and that gun control accomplished nothing much

which is simply not true. In fact, Lewitt concluded (in Freakonomics) that:

It would therefore seem likely that our homicide rate is so high in part because guns are so easily available. Research indeed shows this to be true.


Most damaging to the claim that New York’s police innovations radically lowered crime is one simple and often overlooked fact: crime went down everywhere during the 1990s, not only in New York. [...] But even in Los Angeles, a city notorious for bad policing, crime fell at about the same rate as it did in New York once the growth in New York’s police force is accounted for.


abortion was one of the greatest crime-lowering factors in American history [...] The crime drop was, in the language of economists, an “unintended benefit” of legalized abortion.

To top that up, the link the answer points to is not by Lewitt, so it's also unreferenced.

The second says

The effects of gun control in Australia have been widely studied, but this meta-analysis shows no significant outcome on murder or suicide rates

but the study they cite says that "there is no consensus" means there is no clear evidence. However there are many more studies in existence regarding other countries which come to very different conclusions. Showing a particular study is has the effect of introducing selection bias.

I think this is a side effect of the broadness of the question.

The third says

The conclusion I draw is that there are situations where gun control appears to directly save lives, but in other situations gun control has almost no effect.

Which is an amazing spin! Where there is gun control there is less or equal crime, but the answer says it "appears" to save lives but "has" almost no effect?

Also, the evidence it presents seem to come from a site somehow connected with the NRA?



The fourth one is not an answer tout court and I am deleting it:

It would be difficult to compare between states of one country, becuase it would reasonably easy for people in states with gun control to get guns from states without it.

Probably the best you could do would be to look at murder rates between countries which do/dont have gun control.

I don't think we should keep such poor content on our site.

If anyone wants to add an answer, here's a few studies confirming that gun control is effective:

  • I have to disagree with your assessment of my answer. Their statement about different conclusions drawn from the same data is what prompted their study in the first place. From the conclusion: "Using a battery of structural break tests, there is little evidence to suggest that it had any significant effects on firearm homicides and suicides. In addition, there also does not appear to be any substitution effects" I agree that this question is unanswerable in its current form, is far too broad, and that my answer isn't very good in terms of answering the question, though.
    – John Lyon
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 6:50
  • @jozz fair enough, I'll edit my answer, however my main beef is that one study doesn't paint the whole picture. I present 4 studies which come to very different picture. It's probably a side effect of the question being too broad.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 7:28

I agree that we have a problem but I disagree with a particular point that you are making:

The main problem is that the question is too broad. There is no simple, single definitive answer.

Tough luck. The question is broad but we cannot simply artificially narrow it down because, well, the discussion is broad. Making the focus of the question narrower will by necessity leave out some aspects and will not present the whole debate.

Note, I’m not saying that we can’t have smaller questions about specific aspects. But those will not provide answers to the bigger question that is on everybody’s mind, and that is being debated. If the question is indeed too broad to admit a comprehensive answer then this in itself is an answer, and there should be some kind of meta-analysis published somewhere that shows this, and that could be referenced here.

As a consequence, I disagree that this is an appropriate response:

I would like to see the large question closed as unanswerable or reduced in scope

  • If the question is broad and cannot be reduced, then it is not an appropriate question. It's not a good reason to keep it open.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 11:10
  • @Sklivvz I disagree. This is the relevant question. And there is an answer, even if that answer turns out to be “the current evidence is insufficient to give a complete picture of this complex situation”. In fact, I would argue that the question isn’t broad enough: what we want to know isn’t simply whether or not gun control is effective but on the contrary whether the absence of gun control might actually help – enough people claim that absence of gun control makes the US more safe. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 11:31
  • @Sklivvz However, from the same FAQ entry, the question should also be “based on actual problems that you face”. I posit that any scope-restricted question about this topic is going to be irrelevant in practice. We cannot just quote the FAQ at each other without applying some common sense. Furthermore, I disagree that it’s unreasonably scoped: the scope is broad but not unreasonably so (because, as I said, it cannot be narrowed down). And no, the answer doesn’t need to be a book. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 11:44
  • I can see both sides here. I wonder if we should spin off another Meta question just on this issue, or continue to debate in the comments here?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 12:07
  • Konrad, I agree with applying common sense. I take that the poor quality of the answers is a tell-tale sign that the question is too broad. I must correct my own original comment as "If the question is too broad..." (which is what I meant!)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 12:10
  • @Oddthinking, I don't think we should debate at all at this point. We seem to be simply disagreeing on this specific question and not in general :-) So there's little to generalize or spin off
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 12:12
  • @Sklivvz: Ok. Konrad: If we do retain this question as being the real, broad question that people want answered, is it sufficient for me to show that there are multiple scholarly books addressing the issue, and drawing different conclusions, so therefore it is not simple enough to answer here? It feels like a bit of a cop-out. I'm genuinely trying to get a good answer to the question, without devoting the next six months of my life to it.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 12:57
  • 1
    @Oddthinking I read an article a while back which addressed that. From what I remember, the evidence is apparently split pretty much 50/50 and that proponents of either side of the debate consistently consider their side to be more convincing, and finding arguments to dismiss evidence to the contrary. I can’t find the article any more but in my opinion it answers the question quite well and if I remember correctly it cited the relevant meta-studies. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 13:00

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