Firearms & School
Students Expelled For Firearms,
U.S. Education Department Reports
Quoting Edward Walsh writing in the Washington Post.
"Despite a handful of high-profile shootings at American schools in recent years,
there has actually been a dramatic decline in the number of students expelled from school
for carrying firearms, according to an Education Department report released yesterday. The
department said that during the 1997-98 academic year, 3,930 students were expelled for
carrying a firearm in school, a 31 percent drop from the 5,724 who were expelled for that
reason the previous school year."
Controls? They haven't worked in the Past.
By John R. Lott
Everyone from President Clinton to the hosts of the Today
Show attributes the recent wave of school violence to the greater accessibility of guns.
Gun-control groups claim that today "guns are less regulated than toasters or
teddy-bears." Proposed solutions range from banning those under 21 from owning guns
to imprisoning adults whose guns are misused by minors. Today the House will consider yet
another measure, this one requiring a waiting period and back- ground check for anyone
wishing to make a purchase at a gun show.
Such legislation might make sense if guns had indeed become easier to obtain in recent
years. Yet the truth is precisely the opposite. Gun availability has never before been as
restricted as it is now. As late as 1967, it was possible for a 13-year-old virtually
anywhere in the U.S. to walk into a hardware store and buy a rifle. Few states even had
age restrictions for buying handguns from a store. Buying a rifle through the mail was
easy. Private transfers of guns to juveniles were also unrestricted.
But nowhere were guns more common than at schools. Until 1969, virtually every public
high school in New York City had a shooting club. High-school students carried their guns
to school on the subways in the morning, turned them over to their homeroom teacher or the
gym coach and retrieved them after school for target practice. The federal government even
gave students rifles and paid for their ammunition. Students regularly competed in
city-wide shooting contests, with the winners being awarded university scholarships.
Since the 1960s, however, the growth of federal gun control has been dramatic. Federal
gun laws, which contained 19,907 words in 1960, have more than quadrupled to 88,413 words
today. By contrast, in 1930 all federal gun-control laws amounted to only 3,571 words.
The growth in state laws has kept pace. By 1997 California's gun-control statutes
contained an incredible 158,643 words -- nearly as many as the King James version of the
New Testament -- and still another 12 statutes are being considered in this legislative
session. Even "gun friendly" states like Texas have lengthy gun-control
provisions. None of this even begins to include the burgeoning local regulations on
everything from licensing to mandatory gun locks.
The fatuity of gun-control laws is nowhere better illustrated than in Virginia, where
high-school students in rural areas have a long tradition of going hunting in the morning.
The state legislature tried but failed to enact an exemption to a federal law banning guns
within 1,000 feet of a school, as prosecutors find it crazy to send good kids to jail
simply because they had a rifle locked in the trunk of their car while it was parked in
the school parking lot. Yet the current attempts by Congress to "put teeth" into
the laws by mandating prosecutions will take away this prosecutorial discretion and
produce harmful and unintended results.
But would stricter laws at least reduce crime by taking guns out of the hands of
criminals? Not one academic study has shown that waiting periods and background checks
have reduced crime or youth violence. The Brady bill, widely touted by its supporters as a
landmark in gun control, has produced virtually no convictions in five years. And no
wonder: Disarming potential victims (those likely to obey the gun laws) relative to
criminals (those who almost by definition will not obey such laws) makes crime more
attractive and more likely.
This commonsense observation is backed by the available statistical evidence.
Gun-control laws have noticeably reduced gun ownership in some states, with the result
that for each 1% reduction in gun ownership there was a 3% increase in violent crime.
Nationally, gun-ownership rates throughout the 1960s and '70s remained fairly constant,
while the rates of violent crime skyrocketed. In the 1990s gun ownership has grown at the
same time as we have witnessed dramatic reductions in crime.
Yet with no academic evidence that gun regulations prevent crime, and plenty of
indications that they actually encourage it, we nonetheless are now debating which new gun
control laws to pass. With that in mind, 290 scholars from institutions as diverse as
Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, and UCLA released an open letter to Congress yesterday
[Wednesday June 16] stating that the proposed new gun laws are ill-advised: "With the
20,000 gun laws already on the books, we advise Congress, before enacting yet more new
laws, to investigate whether many of the existing laws may have contributed to the problem
we currently face."
It thus would appear that at the very least gun-control advocates face something of a
dilemma. If guns are the problem, why was it that when guns were really accessible, even
inside schools by students, we didn't have the problems that plague us now?
Mr. Lott, a fellow in law and economics at the University of Chicago Law School, is
author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 1998).