Guns Kill People, and Tyrants with Gun Monopolies Kill the Most

Gonzaga Journal of International Law, Vol. 25, 2021

U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper

29 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2021 Last revised: 22 Nov 2022

See all articles by David B. Kopel

David B. Kopel

University of Wyoming College of Law - Firearms Research Center; Independence Institute; Cato Institute; Denver University - Sturm College of Law

Date Written: November 6, 2022


This Article compares the relative dangers of excessive gun ownership and of excessive gun control based on the historical record of the twentieth century. Part I describes tensions in some treaties, declarations, and other legal documents from the United Nations and the European Union. On the one hand, they recognize the legitimacy of resistance to tyranny and genocide; on the other hand, the UN and EU gun control programs seem to make armed resistance nearly impossible.

Part II contrasts homicide data for the United States and Europe during the twentieth century. First, data about homicides from ordinary crimes are examined. Based on certain assumptions that bias the figure upward, if the U.S. had the same gun homicide rate as Europe’s, there might have been three-quarters of a million fewer deaths in America during the twentieth century. The figure is a data point for the dangers of insufficient gun control.

Next, Part II looks more broadly at homicide, to include homicides perpetrated by governments, such as the Hitler or Stalin regimes. In Europe in the twentieth century, states murdered about 87.1 million people. Globally, governments murdered well over 200 million people. The figure does not include combat deaths from wars.

As Part III explains, totalitarian governments are the most likely to perpetrate mass murder. The Part argues against the complacent belief that any nation, including the United States, is immune from the dangers of being taken over by a murderous government. The historical record shows that risks are very broad.

Part IV shows that governments intent on mass murder prioritize victim disarmament because they consider it to a serious impediment to mass murder and tyrannical rule.

Finally, Part V examines the efficacy of citizen arms against mass murdering governments. Citizen arms are most effective as deterrents. However, even without changing the regime, the twentieth century shows that armed resistance can accomplish a great deal and save many lives. The Conclusion suggests that the UN and EU adopt a more balanced gun control policy, recognizing the value of citizen arms in protecting the public from tyranny and mass murder.

Keywords: genocide, gun control, mass murder, tyranny

JEL Classification: K42

Suggested Citation

Kopel, David B., Guns Kill People, and Tyrants with Gun Monopolies Kill the Most (November 6, 2022). Gonzaga Journal of International Law, Vol. 25, 2021, U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: or

David B. Kopel (Contact Author)

University of Wyoming College of Law - Firearms Research Center ( email )

United States


Independence Institute ( email )

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Cato Institute ( email )

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Denver University - Sturm College of Law ( email )

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Denver, CO 80208
United States


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