Whenever the topic of gun control comes up (most heavily in the wake of a far too common mass shooting) a familiar response from the anti-gun control side is some version of “you can’t legislate evil.” The assumption here is no amount of gun control is going to stop an evil person from committing an evil act. When someone makes this argument they are also implicitly stating that America has a greater amount of evil people per capita than other countries. Its well know that gun violence in the U.S. is much higher than in other advanced democracies. Following the “can’t legislate evil” logic the reason for that is because there are more “evil” people in the U.S. (per capita) than other countries with fewer mass shootings. Is there anything to this claim?
Measuring the amount of “evil” in a nation is difficult primarily because the concept is so ill-defined but perhaps we can get a proxy measure, or at least a measure of attitudes towards criminality, abuse, and violence (three possible elements of “evil”), from survey data. Using The World Values Survey we can get a good comparative measure of American attitudes towards criminality, abuse, and violence compared to people in other advanced democracies. For the following series of questions the response can range from 1 – never justifiable to 10 – always justifiable. I have chosen to compare the U.S. to Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden as that gives a good mix of advanced democratic nations. The first few questions deal with issues of (petty?) criminality
The lowest mean response for the U.S. was 1.73 (“is it ever justifiable to steal property”) and the highest mean response was 2.59 (“is it ever justifiable to avoid a fare on public transport”). None of these results suggest American’s are prone to condoning petty criminality. Also the results for the U.S. align with the results from the four other countries sampled indicating that in a comparative context the U.S. is not more condoning of criminality that people in other advanced democracies. On the question of condoning abuse there are two relevant question in the WVS database – “is it justifiable for a man to beat his wife”, and “is it justifiable for parents to beat their children”
No one in any of the five countries sampled condones a man beating his wife or parents beating their children. Based on this measure people in the U.S. are no more “evil” than people in other advanced democracies. Finally, there is question asking people to what extent they think violence against others is justified.
For this question the mean response in the U.S. is slightly higher than it is in Japan and South Korea but actually lower than the mean response in Sweden. Overall people in the U.S. are no more likely to condone petty criminality, abuse, or violence against others than people in other advanced democracies. I think we can conclude that American’s are no more evil than people in other countries so there must be another reason there are so many more mass shootings here . . .