I’m from California. I’m not an NRA member. I don’t own a gun, nor do any of my family members. I’ve never been hunting. I’ve only gone shooting once in my life (at a Daily Caller office retreat, incidentally). I’m not against gun-control laws on principle. And, frankly, I kind of like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
All of these factors make me an unlikely opponent of gun control. But I’ve grown into a pretty staunch one.
The main problem with gun-control laws is that they don’t work. Florida State University criminology professor Gary Kleck, a political liberal and one-time supporter of gun-control laws, has been studying guns and their effect on violence and crime since 1976. What he’s found is that gun-control laws have no net effect on violence or crime rates, because the benefits of widespread gun ownership cancel out the costs.
And there are benefits of widespread gun ownership. For one, guns deter criminals. Burglars are less likely to target occupied homes or businesses in countries with high rates of gun ownership than they are in countries with low rates of gun ownership, probably because they don’t want to get shot. Guns also level the playing field between victims and their attackers, who tend to be young men. According to Kleck, “There are perhaps 600,000-1 million defensive uses of guns each year, about the same as the number of crimes committed with guns.” And contrary to popular belief, gun-wielding victims of assault or robbery are less likely than unarmed victims of assault or robbery to be injured.
Kleck’s theory that gun-control laws don’t reduce crime — which has been corroborated by other scholars — is consistent with the fact that America’s violent crime rate has been steadily falling since 1990 even as gun-control laws like the Assault Weapons Ban and Chicago’s handgun ban have either expired or been repealed. Today, crime is more widespread in Western Europe than it is in the U.S.
Gun-control laws might be worth pursuing if they stood a chance of taking guns out of criminals’ hands, or at least forcing them to use less lethal types of guns. But they don’t, for two reasons.
First, criminals rarely obey laws. Studies show that most criminals acquire guns through friends or through theft, which means they’re able to bypass background checks and other well-meaning restrictions. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, stole the guns he used from his mother.
Second, there are close to 300 million privately owned firearms in the U.S. Even if Congress passed a law banning the sale of firearms tomorrow — which would violate the Second Amendment — it would be decades before the supply of guns decreased significantly, especially considering that many guns are operational 100 years or more after they’re manufactured. The government wouldn’t be able to eliminate this enormous stock of guns — buy-back programs would only go so far and straight-up confiscation would violate the Fourth Amendment. Meanwhile, illegal guns would flood into the U.S. from other countries.
Gun-control advocates in this country like to cite Australia’s 1996 gun-control law as proof that gun control works. Actually, it’s unclear whether gun control has worked for Australia. Studies show mixed results, and while Australia’s homicide rate has fallen since the late 1990s, so has America’s. In any case, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison: the personal gun ownership rate in Australia in 1996 was 7%; the personal gun ownership rate in America today is 34%.
I don’t oppose all gun-control legislation. I think there are some gun-control measures that make sense. Drum-style magazines probably do more harm than good. But in general, gun control doesn’t make people safer. What it does do is needlessly send people to jail and rob law-abiding citizens of the dignity and peace of mind that gun ownership provides.
Peter Tucci is an editor at The Daily Caller.