Packing the Peace

Don't underestimate the deterrent effect of an armed population.

By Dave Kopel & Linda Gorman of the Independence Institute

6/14/00 10:05 a.m., National Review Online. More: Kopel's amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Heller summarizes the public safety benefits of gun ownership.

People who hate guns see more gun laws as a no-lose proposition: either the law works (so we're better off) or it doesn't (so things are unchanged). But this viewpoint is fundamentally flawed, because it ignores the tremendous harm caused by unreasonable laws. Gun laws which deprive law-abiding citizens of firearms are laws which lead directly to murder, rape, and robbery. A gun is the safest, most effective, form of self-defense ever invented. Sixteen different scholarly studies — by liberal professors, conservative professors, and others — have found that firearms are used for defense in United States at least several hundred thousand times each year, or perhaps as many as three million times. Of course the vast majority of these incidents never lead to a shot being fired; the criminal runs away when he sees the victim's gun.

Brit-tle Gun Policy

Advocates of more gun control laws often find their dream scenario in Britain. But for crime victims, repressive anti-gun laws are making ordinary life a crime-filled nightmare. The total British violent crime rate (murder, rape, robbery, assault) is now significantly higher than the U.S. rate.

Back in the early 1900s, Britain had no gun controls, and almost no gun crime. But starting with handgun and rifle registration in 1921, Britain has slid down a slippery slope that resulted in outright handgun confiscation in 1997. This hasn't satisfied the insatiable appetite of the prohibition movement, which is now pushing to ban rifles and shotguns.

The British government works hard to ensure that British criminals face unarmed victims; "safe storage" laws like those pushed by the American anti-gun lobbies make it illegal to have a firearm ready for home protection in an emergency. So about half of British burglaries occur when criminals bash their way into homes and terrorize their occupants. In the U.S., burglars fear getting shot by armed homeowners. Only 13% of U.S. burglaries take place when someone is home.

The magnitude of the deterrent effect of an armed population was estimated by Yale Law Professor John Lott's meticulous comparison of crime rates in U.S. counties with and without right-to-carry concealed-handgun laws. The data show that allowing concealed carry would prevent about 1,500 murders and 4,000 rapes each year. It would also reduce deaths from mass public shootings by 90%. Other than suicide by the killers, armed citizens are the only thing that has ever stopped a school shooting in progress — as in the 1998 incidents in Pearl, Mississippi, and Edinboro, Pennsylvania. Fortunately, Pennsylvania and Mississippi, like 29 other states, adopted this sensible law years ago; and none of the Chicken Little warnings of the anti-gun lobby have come true in any of the states with handgun carry laws.

Rosie-Colored Glasses

Before the 75,000 person "Million" Mom March, Rosie O'Donnell met with Suzanna Hupp, at a White House event. Mrs. Hupp had helped lead the fight for Texas to enact a concealed handgun permit law like the Pennsylvania law. In 1991, at a Luby's Cafeteria in Texas, Mrs. Hupp had seen her parents and two dozen other people murdered before her eyes by a mass killer. Rosie "The Queen of Nice" O'Donnell listened to Mrs. Hupp's story, and then intoned that it was a good idea that Texas law at the time made it impossible for law-abiding citizens to carry guns, because things in the Luby's Cafeteria would have gotten too dangerous if people had tried shooting back at the killer.

Then, Ms. O'Donnell emceed a rally which denounced anyone who would own a gun for protection. A few days later, her bodyguard applied for a permit to carry a handgun — to be used when taking O'Donnell's child to preschool in Connecticut.

People like Ms. O'Donnell claim that additional anti-gun laws will "keep guns out of the hands of criminals." So even though the 20,000 gun laws already on the books haven't worked, laws 20,001 and 20,002 will finally do the trick. If you believe that, then you also probably think that drug laws make illegal drugs unavailable, that Prohibition cut off the supply of booze, and that a real tooth fairy places money under pillows. In England, guns are very tough to get legally, but are so pervasive on the black market that Manchester is now called "Gunchester" by the police.

All those people who advocate more restrictive laws — as stepping-stones to British-style prohibition — never tell you the destructive consequences of these laws. For example, waiting periods mean that people can't protect themselves from stalkers and other predators. In Wisconsin, Bonnie Elmasri wanted a gun to protect herself from a man who had repeatedly threatened to kill her. Her state government required that she wait 48 hours before it would allow her the means to defend herself. The very next day, she and her two sons were murdered. Fortunately, Wisconsin repealed its waiting period a few years ago.

Trigger locks are fine for some people, but dangerous if mandated. They actually make a loaded firearm more likely to discharge if the it is dropped. And relying on government-mandated safety devices may encourage some parents to leave loaded guns lying around unsupervised children. In 1998, a girl in Nova Scotia shot a friend while playing with a loaded gun that had a trigger lock on it.

So instead of following Rosie O'Donnell's rhetoric, it would be safer to follow her example: guns in the right hands — ready for defense and with no trigger lock — help make everyone safer.  

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