Gun control became a defining issue in several of last week's
elections. Those candidates opposing new regulations were painted
as uncaring thugs indifferent to people's deaths. Meanwhile, New
Orleans Mayor Marc Morial last month filed suit against 15 gun
makers, demanding that the reimburse the city and pay punitive
damages for all the city's health care expenses and police salaries
that arise from gun violence. Other cities seem certain to follow,
and that is only part of the litigation threatening to engulf
gun makers. To these plaintiffs, the solution to crime is simple
and obvious: eliminate guns.
America may be obsessed with guns, but much of what passes
as fact simply isn't true. The news media focus on tragic outcomes,
while ignoring tragic events that were avoided. Rarely do we hear
about the more than two million times each year that people use
guns defensively--including cases in which public shootings are
stopped before they happen. Dramatic stories of mothers using
guns to prevent their children from being kidnapped by car-jackers
seldom even make the local news.
Myths about guns can threaten people's safety, by frightening
them and preventing them from using the most effective means to
defend themselves. Here are five of the most prevalent myths:
>When one is attacked, passive behavior is the safest approach.
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. Men also benefit from using a gun,
but the benefits are smaller: Offering no resistance is 1.4 times
more likely to result in serious injury than resisting with a
gun. Resistance with a gun is the safest course of action for
victims to take.
Friends or relatives are the most likely killers.
This myth is usually based on two claims: that 53% of murder victims
are killed by either relatives or acquaintances and that anyone
could be a murderer. With the broad definition of "acquaintances"
used in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, most victims are indeed
classified as knowing their killer. But what's not made clear
is that acquaintance murder primarily includes drug buyers killing
pushers, cabdrivers killed by first-time customers, gang members
killing other gang members, prostitutes killed by their clients,
and so on. Only one U.S. city, Chicago, reports a precise breakdown
on the nature of acquaintance killings, and the statistic gives
a very different impression: between 1990 and 1995, just 17% of
murder victims were either family members, friends, neighbors
or roommates of their killers.
Murderers are also not average citizens. About
90% of adult murderers already have an adult criminal record.
Murderers are overwhelmingly young males with low IQs who have
long histories of difficulty getting along with others.
The U.S. has a high murder rate because Americans own so
many guns. There is no international evidence backing
this up. The Swiss, New Zealanders and Finns all own guns as frequently
as Americans, yet in 1995 Switzerland had a murder rate 40% lower
than Germany's, and New Zealand had one lower than Australia's.
Finland and Sweden have very different gun ownership rates, but
very similar murder rates. Israel, with a higher gun ownership
rate than the U.S., has a murder rate 40% below Canada's. When
one studies all countries rather than just a select few, there
is no relationship between gun ownership and murder. U.S. data
indicates that those states that have had the largest increases
in gun ownership have had the greatest drops in violent crime
If law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed handguns,
people will end up shooting each other after traffic accidents
as well as accidentally shooting police officers. Millions
of people currently hold concealed handgun permits, and some states
have issued them for as long as 60 years. Yet only one permit
holder has ever used a concealed handgun after a traffic accident,
and that case was ruled as self-defense.
The type of person willing to go through the permitting process
is extremely law-abiding. In Florida, almost 444,000 licenses
were granted from 1987 to 1997, but only 84 people have lost their
licenses for any violations involving firearms. Most violations
that lead to permits being revoked involve accidentally carrying
a gun into restricted areas, like airports or schools. In Virginia,
not a single permit holder has committed a violent crime. Similar
encouraging results have been reported in Kentucky, Nevada, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, the only other
states where information is available.
The family gun is more likely to kill you or someone you
know than to kill in self-defense. The 1993 study yielding
such numbers, published in the New England Journal of Medicine,
never actually inquired as to whose gun was used in the killing.
Instead, if a household owned a gun and if a person in that household
or someone he knew was shot to death while in the home, the gun
in the household was blamed. In fact, virtually all the killings
in the study were committed with guns brought in by an intruder.
No more than 4% of the gun deaths in the study can be attributed
to the homeowner's gun.
Also ignored is that 98% of the time when people use a gun
defensively, merely brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop
an attack. In less than 1% of the cases is a gun even fired directly
at the attacker.
How many attacks have been deterred from ever occurring by
the potential victims owning a gun? My own research finds that
more concealed handguns, and increased gun ownership generally,
unambiguously deters murder, robbery and aggravated assaults.
This is also in line with the well-known fact that criminals prefer
attacking victims that they consider weak.
These are only some of the myths about guns and crime that
drive the public policy debate. We must not lose sight of the
ultimate question: Does allowing citizens to own guns on net save
lives? The evidence strongly indicates that it does.
To Purchase: More Guns, Less Crime By: John Lott, Jr.
Hard Cover:Click Here