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Hawaiian Gun control proposals will produce more violent crime
Gun control proposals will end up producing more violent crime

Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday, February 27, 2000.>

By John R. Lott Jr, a senior research scholar at Yale University Law School. He is author of " More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws" (University of Chicago Press, 1998).


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 more crime.

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 violent.

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.



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



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