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Comments on Clinton Gun Ban Expansion
Comments on Clinton Gun Ban Expansion

John R. Lott Jr., a fellow at the University of Chicago School of Law, is the author of the new book "More Guns, Less Crime."

THE CLINTON administration has claimed a lot for the "assault gun" ban that passed Congress in late 1994. While asserting that the original ban had reduced violent crime and murder, President Bill Clinton last week banned 58 more foreign-made guns from sale in the United States.

There is no reason to believe banning these guns has reduced crime. On the contrary, taking defensive weapons out of the hands of the law-abiding urban poor may actually encourage crime. More important, except for cosmetic differences or provocative names, all these guns are essentially the same as other legal rifles used by hunters.

The drop in murder rates began in 1991, before Clinton's presidency and several years before the law was even passed. No evidence of the ban's effectiveness is offered, other than to point out that after the law passed crime rates continued declining - but these declines apparently resulted from such causes as increases in arrests and decreases in drug prices that reduced gang conflicts.

In any case, the ban applied to guns that accounted for fewer than half of 1 percent of the murders in the United States, and criminals were still able to commit these crimes with other identical guns.

Clinton sees no contradiction in claiming credit for this ban, reducing crime and simultaneously complaining that the law was easily evaded by gun manufacturers, which in some cases merely had to change the names of their guns to meet compliance standards. An Israeli company that makes several of the now-banned guns is simply moving its production to the United States. The irony is further compounded because the ability to evade the law was dismissed by Clinton as ridiculous when the National Rifle Association predicted this very outcome during the 1994 legislative debate.

In spite of all the rhetoric, these so-called "assault weapons" are no different from other semiautomatic rifles sold in the United States.

They are not more powerful, they don't shoot any faster and they don't shoot any more rounds. Indeed, the particular guns that were banned use smaller cartridges - and thus possess less killing power - than standard hunting rifles.

Television news frequently incorrectly shows pictures of rapid-fire machine guns when discussing the ban, but semiautomatic weapons are not the same as automatic weapons. Semiautomatic weapons fire one bullet each time the trigger is pulled.

The federal government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms notes that the banned guns are "difficult to convert to automatic fire" and that this can be done only by a highly skilled gunsmith using precision lathes. It requires him to completely replace the existing firing mechanism. Converting any gun into an automatic is a major felony, and it would probably be just as easy for a gunsmith intent on building such a weapon to do so from scratch.

Yet, banning the sales of foreign semiautomatic rifles and pistols that are identical to domestically made guns does have a couple of obvious effects: It raises gun prices and lets domestic gun manufacturers make more money. Research indicates that higher prices primarily hurt the law-abiding poor who buy guns for protection. Increased gun ownership by poor, law-abiding citizens in high-crime, urban areas is particularly effective at reducing crime because people in such neighborhoods must frequently depend upon themselves for protection.

Research reflects that criminals tend to prey on powerless victims. Urban poor people with guns are more able to defend themselves than those without weapons.

Clinton's bashing of guns also gives the false impression that the solution to crime is further gun control. But guns are not used merely to commit crime or to go hunting. People use guns defensively an estimated 2.5 million times each year, and states that have let law-abiding citizens carry concealed handguns have experienced large drops in crime that correspond closely to the number of permits issued.

Furthermore, the Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey reports that the probability of serious injury from an attack is 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than for women resisting with a gun.

Like much else about this administration, its gun-control policy is show rather than substance. Demonizing guns may provide Clinton a chance to show that he cares. Yet, the real question should be: Why does he limit the competition that domestic gun manufacturers face at the expense of the law-abiding poor?

Copyright 1998, Newsday Inc.

To Purchase: More Guns, Less Crime By: John Lott, Jr.

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The whole of the Bill of Rights is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals. It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of. Albert Gallatin of the New York Historical Society, October 7, 1789.

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