Will You Be Safer If Guns are Banned?

By David Kopel and Jarret Wollstein

Pamphlet for the Individual Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL), 1993.More articles by Kopel on gun prohibition are available here.

"Violence is out of control. Guns are a major cause. They all should be banned -- the sooner the better."That's what many Americans seem to believe. As a result, a nationwide movement to ban all guns is growing.

Legislation is now pending in Congress to confiscate all handguns, register all guns, and tax ammunition up to 500%. Others want to go much farther. Within a few years it could be illegal for you to buy any guns or ammunition.

If you already own guns, you may be required to turn them in to the government -- under penalty of fine and imprisonment.

On February 28, 1994, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen announced the reclassification of several 12-gauge revolver-action shotguns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) announced they would trace the owners, and order them to be fingerprinted and register with the BATF within 30 days or face a $250,000 fine and 10 years imprisonment.

In some cities -- like Chicago -- police have already begun warrantless, door-to-door searches of public housing projects for guns.

Will gun prohibition make you and your family safer? The evidence from cities in the US where guns have already been virtually banned is not reassuring.


If banning guns worked, Washington, D.C. and New York would be the safest cities in the country. Since 1976, it's been illegal in Washington, D.C. to own any handguns or to keep any type of gun in your home unlocked and fully assembled. However, Washington D.C. is the "murder capital of the United States."

New York City has had severe gun control laws since 1911, yet it also ranks among the most dangerous places in the country. In both cities, violent criminals can easily obtain the most deadly weapons on the streets within minutes.

A national gun ban won't help. With an estimated 220+ million guns now in the U.S., an un-policeable 12,000 miles of borders and coastlines, and the world's largest stock of precision machine tools, criminals will always be able to buy, steal, or make guns and ammunition.

A competent backyard mechanic can build a rifle or handgun. Even Afghan peasants, using tools considerably inferior to those in the Sears catalog, have built machine guns capable of firing Soviet AK-47 cartridges.

Illegal home production of handguns is already a fact of life; a BATF study found that one-fifth of the guns seized by police in Washington, D.C. were homemade.


If a criminal attacks you on the street or in your home, you cannot afford to wait 30 minutes, 20 minutes, or even 10 minutes for the police to arrive -- assuming that you even get the chance to call police and they respond. Ten minutes is more than enough time for a thug to rob, rape, murder, or cripple you for life.

Making guns illegal will primarily disarm peaceful citizens. That gives a green light for violent criminals to attack everyone -- both gun owners and non-owners alike.

In Los Angeles, during the 1992 "Rodney King Riots," police abandoned entire neighborhoods. Live TV broadcasts showed hoodlums burning homes and businesses, and dragging innocent motorists from their cars -- beating and killing them. The police did nothing to protect them. The only thing that prevented entire communities from being burned to the ground were community residents barricading their streets and using their guns to protect their homes and families.

In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that you as an individual have no right to protection by the police. Their only obligation is to protect "society" -- whatever that means. So if you want to protect your home and family, you have to rely upon yourself. And self defense does work, for example.

"Her family taken hostage by her daughter's ex-boyfriend, Barbara Holt of Kearns, Utah and her husband were threatened with death, then forced into the bathroom of their home. When the man, armed with a rifle, went into the kitchen with her daughter, Holt slipped into the bedroom and got her .22 pistol. Holt fired a single shot, hitting the assailant in the head, stopping the attack." [From the Salt Lake City Tribune.] "Thomas Terry of Anniston, Alabama was eating in a local restaurant late one evening when several armed men came in and announced a robbery. As the robbers tried to herd everyone into a walk-in cooler, Terry tried to escape through a locked door but alerted the crooks to his presence. When one approached the table where he was hiding, Terry pulled his .45, killed that man in an exchange of shots, and wounded his accomplice. A third criminal fled." (The Star, Anniston. Ala.)

Every day, thousands of peaceful Americans successfully use guns to defend themselves. A recent study by Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck found that Americans use guns defensively 2.5 million times a year.


Statistics are often quoted to argue that if you own a gun it's more likely to be used to harm you -- by a family member or by an intruder -- than to be used by you to protect yourself. For example, a widely quoted study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that gun owners were 2.7 times at risk of being murdered as those without guns. But even the study's author admitted that this doesn't prove that guns cause their owners to be murdered. After all, people who are already at risk of being murdered are more likely to get guns for self-protection. The New England study also ignored all of the cases in which a gun in the house was used defensively without causing a fatality. Such cases account for 99% of all defensive uses of a gun. When this data is taken into account, you find you are safer with a gun in the house. Other data supports this finding. Between 1965 and 1985, the stock of privately-owned handguns has increased rapidly -- by over 1 million a year. But the rates of spousal homicide fell during the same period.

What about gun accidents? As nationally-syndicated columnist Samuel Francis explained in a Washington Times article, there are 220 million guns in the country. Your chance of dying from accidental discharge of any one of these is extremely remote (one chance in 200,000). In fact, you are 29 times more likely to die from an automobile accident than from the accidental discharge of a gun.

As long as you are a law-abiding, responsible person, owning a gun does not endanger you and could save your life in an emergency.


While a few Western democracies -- like Britain -- have successfully disarmed their citizens, that would be impossible in the U.S. Our traditions of independence and individual self-defense are simply not conducive to the peaceful disarmament of America's estimated 80 million gun owners. As one Congressman commented, "In Germany, if parliament passed a 45 mile-per-hour speed limit, people would obey it -- then kick out their representatives in the next election. In the U.S. no one would pay any attention to it. Americans wake up every morning thinking 'What's the angle? How can I get around the law?' "

Disarming otherwise law-abiding citizens would simply put us at the mercy of well-armed criminals. Given a choice between obeying the law and being able to continue to defend our homes, our families, and our lives -- millions of Americans will gladly break the law. Many already do.

Only 1% of residents of Denver and Boston have voluntarily complied with laws requiring them to register their semi-automatic weapons. In New York City there are an estimated 700,000 to 3 million unregistered firearms. In California, less than 2% of the 2 million owners of semi-automatic rifles have registered their guns in compliance with state law -- even though failure to register is a felony!

It may not even be possible to enforce a gun ban. The New York State commissioner of prisons testified that if 1% of illegal gun owners in New York City were caught, tried, and sent to prison for a year, the state prison system would collapse.


America was born as an armed society. Guns are an integral part of our traditions and remain essential for the preservation of our safety and our liberty.

Today more than ever we need our guns to protect ourselves from rampaging criminals and to deter would-be tyrants. The mere presence of many guns in many American households is enough to deter many would-be aggressors.

Gun prohibition won't keep guns out of the hands of criminals or make us safe. But the attempt to ban guns could destroy this nation. The image of paramilitary SWAT-teams invading our homes to confiscate our guns is abhorrent to everything America stands for. Yet that is precisely where gun prohibition is taking us.

Regardless of the penalties for disobedience, millions of Americans will not peacefully surrender their guns. Many normally honest and law-abiding citizens will lie, evade, and perhaps kill to defend their rights. There are perhaps millions who share the sentiments of George Mason University professor and nationally syndicated columnist Walter Williams who recently editorialized, "You'll know Williams is disarmed when Williams is dead."

The bitter irony of gun prohibition is that laws intended to make America safe could spark the bloodiest violence in our history. Gun prohibition is not good for you, your family, or America.

DAVID KOPEL is Research Director of the Independence Institute.

JARRET WOLLSTEIN is a member of the Board of Directors of ISIL.

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