For as far back as the data is available, Hawaii's violent crime rate has been below the national average. Yet, people mistakenly attribute the current low rate to the recent gun control laws. In fact, before Hawaii passed its various
gun control laws, its violent crime rates were even lower compared to figures
for the mainland.
The new spate of proposed laws, added
on top of the already restrictive rules, propose reregistering guns every five
years, regulating the sale of ammunition, and requiring gun not in active use
stored in steel safes. These proposals, if passed, will not only cost Hawaii
millions of dollars each year in administrative costs, but -- more importantly
-- will also further increase violent crime.
As for the proposed reregistration,
let us first consider the possible benefits of the current current
registration. It is often assumed that
registration helps to identify a criminal, because if a gun is left at the
scene of the crime, it can be traced back to its owner. But at the Hawaii state senate hearings last
week, the police administrator who testified was not able to point to even a
single case where registration had indeed been instrumental in identifying
someone who had committed a crime.
This is by no means just a problem
for Hawaii police investigations, it is the experience from other places with
licensing rules, including big urban areas such as Chicago and Washington,
DC. The reason is simple. First, criminals very rarely leave their
guns at the scene of the crime, and would be criminals very rarely register
their weapons. In the couple cases where
the criminals are this clumsy, there exists other evidence -- e.g., eye witnesses
-- that makes tracing redundant.
So what does reregistration add? As registration has no impact tracking down
criminals, reregistration would of course not help. But another supposed benefit is removing guns from people who no
longer qualify to own them. However, this is not the case, for registration,
without any reregistration, accomplishes this already. The state can take guns away from those
convicted of a crime or those with mental illness through simply checking the
existing records of registered guns. They can do so immediately, and there is no point in waiting for up five years for the person to come in to reregister.
Another claim is that reregistration
ensures that legal owners are still in possession of their firearms. The cost/benefit trade-off here seems very dubious, and this system of registration could even reduce the number of people willing to register their guns. Even though people who register their guns are extremely law-abiding, some may decide that the hassles and costs of reregistering their guns every five years are just too great and therefore will not to register at all.
With 21 percent of Hawaiia's citizens
admitting to owning at least one gun (according to Hawaii's annual crime
victimization survey), the costs of this registration process could be quite
high. With a population of 1.2 million,
that implies that there are a quarter of a million gun owners. The proposed law
would require that about fifty thousand people bring all their guns to police
stations each year.
At the hearings this week, the police
offered to make reregistration easier by at least initially not requiring that
gun owners bring their weapons to police stations. Instead the police would travel to people's houses to reregister
the guns. But even if the average trip took just a hour for travel and
paperwork, that would equal 50,000 police hours, time that could have been
spent stopping crime.
The main effect of reregistration, if
passed, is probably to discourage gun ownership. If the costs or inconviences are raised high enough, some already
registered gunowners will decide not to continue owning guns. Since criminals
do not tend to register their guns to begin with, it is the law-abiding
citizens who bear the greatest burden of reregistration. This causes
law-abiding citizens to be disarmed relative to criminals, which will result in
Increased gun ownership is associated
with less crime. Not only do the states
with the highest gun ownership rates have the lowest violent crime rates, but
the states in the United States that have had the biggest increases in gun
ownership have also experienced the biggest relative drops in violent
crime. Each one percentage point
increase in gun ownership has been associated with a 4 percent reduction in
The recent experience from Australia
and Britain (both protected by the sea, like Hawaii) has affirmed the dangers
of disarming the citizenry. Gun ownership has been outlawed or severely
restricted; the law-abiding citizens have obeyed the law but not the
criminals. Both countries have
experienced soaring violent crime rates, and the British government is deeply
concerned about the huge number of illegal guns now flowing into the country.
Before passing yet more new laws, it
is time to ask whether the existing laws have produced the desired
benefits. For example, why did violent crime rates rise so quickly when Hawaii passed its safe storage law in 1992? Laws frequently have unintended
consequences. Sometimes even the best intentioned ones cost lives.