Obviously guns enable bad things to happen, but
they also allow would-be victims to defend themselves. The crucial
question becomes: What is the net effect? Do guns deter crime
or encourage it? Are more lives saved than lost?
To gun-control proponents, the issue is straightforward:
Murders result from unintentional fits of anger that are quickly
Simply keeping a gun out of someone's reach will
save a life. There is the concern that more guns will lead to
more accidental deaths.
To those on the other side of the debate, the issue
is one of deterrence. Citizens use guns to prevent crimes about
five times more frequently than criminals use guns to commit crimes.
Police play an extremely important role in reducing
crime, though they almost always arrive at the crime scene after
the crime has been committed. When confronted by a criminal, passive
behavior, particularly for women, is not the wisest course of
action. Indeed, the probability of serious injury from a criminal
confrontation is 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance
than for women resisting with a gun.
Despite its ready availability, anecdotal evidence
alone cannot resolve this debate. To provide a more systematic
answer. I recently analyzed the FBI's crime statistics for all
U.S. counties by year from 1977 to 1996 as well as extensive cross-county
information on accidental gun deaths and suicides.
The study examined states that adopted so-called
"objective" or shall-issue concealed handgun laws, such
as the proposed law on which Missourians will soon vote, Proposition
B. Thirty-one states now have shall-issue laws, while another
12 permit citizens to carry guns if they can demonstrate a need
to public officials.
The findings of the study were dramatic. The more
people obtain permits over time, the more violent crime rates
decline. For each additional year that these laws are in effect,
murders declined by another 3 percent, rapes by 2 percent and
robberies by 2 percent.
These are the drops over and above the recent national
declines in violent crime - and after the impacts of such things
as changing arrest and conviction rates, demographics and other
gun control laws have been accounted for.
The reductions in violent crime are greatest in the
most crime prone, most urban areas. Women, the elderly and blacks
gained by far the most from this ability to protect themselves.
The benefits of concealed handguns are not limited
only to those who carry them or use them in self-defense. The
fact that these weapons are concealed keeps criminals uncertain
as to whether potential victims will be able to defend themselves
with lethal force.
With one of the longest training requirements and
its high fees, Missouri's proposed law will be among the most
restrictive in the nation. The evidence in other states with more
lenient requirements indicates that those who go through the permitting
process are extremely law-abiding.
Permits are revoked for any reason at only hundredths
or thousandths of one percent and most of these revocations have
nothing to do with improper use of a firearm. The typical experience
mirrors Virginia, where not a single Virginia permit-holder has
been involved in violent crime. Indeed, despite millions of people
currently holding permits and some states having issued permits
for as long as 60 years, not one permit holder has to date been
convicted of manslaughter or murder.
Concerns that permit holders would shoot others after
traffic accidents or angry-drivers-cut-off-in-traffic shootings
have proven to be completely unfounded. Only one single permit
holder has ever used a concealed handgun after a traffic accident
and that case involved self-defense.
No permit holder has ever killed a police officer.
Instead, permit holders have on occasion saved the lives of police
officers who were being attacked by criminals. My research has
found no evidence that concealed handgun laws caused accidental
gun deaths or suicides to increase. To date, I have made my data
available to academics at 37 universities.
Everyone who has tried has been able to replicate
my findings, and only three have written pieces critical of my
Although the vast majority of researchers concur
that concealed handgun laws significantly deter crime, not even
these three critics have argued that the laws increases crime.
Both sides in the gun control debate have their own
anecdotal stories, and surely many hypothetical horror stories
will be raised before this campaign is through. Fortunately these
fears are easily disproved once one looks at the experience in
other states. It is the criminals and not law-abiding citizens
who should fear a law that allows citizens to defend themselves.
To Purchase: More Guns, Less Crime By: John Lott, Jr.
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