Gun Control

Free Men and Arms

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms..."

Thomas Jefferson

(Note - This appeared in a Gun Control Thread on Mother Jones. When I saw it, I made a copy just in case it disappeared (for whatever reason). And that's just what happened. My Bookmark for it stopped working.).

Here you go!

On 1 December 1996, Tod DeBie wrote:

You want some facts to backup my assertation that firearms save more lives than they cost? Okay! I am glad you asked.

First, we need to do a little background on the firearm issue. There are currently over 230,000,000 million firearms owned by about 80,000,000 private American Citizens (for an average of 2 or 3 firearms per firearm owner). According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report, we have about 15,000 firearm homicides per year. From this point alone, we see that less than 0.01875% of firearm owners commit a homicide with a firearm (I say less than, because that number assumes that no firearm owner commits multiple murders, in a given year). So, what does this say? To me, it says that the vast majority of firearm owners do not misuse their firearms. Lets look at another example of this:

In Florida, since 1987, they have issued over 300,000 permits to carry concealed weapons. About 20 have been revoked for a violation with a firearm. So, we have about 0.0066% of concealed carry permit holders committing any type of violation with their firearm (these are not necessarily violent). The other 31 states that issue concealed carry permits have similar results.

What is the point of all of this? It is that firearm owners are quite responsible with their firearms. They do not abuse them at any significant rate. Furthermore, I suggest that, of those that do commit homicides with firearms, most probably already have criminal records that would warrent them being locked up instead of out of the street (if we had a reasonable criminal justice system). More on this later.

What about firearms saving lives? The data I have presented so far only shows that firearm owners are generally responsible people. It does not show that firearms save more lives than they cost. I wanted to be clear on the above points before I proceeded, I would appreciate it if you would indicate if you agree or disagree with the above, and give your reasons/data for disagreeing (if you do indeed disagree).

Now, what do we need to show? Two things, I think. 1) More people are saved with firearms than are unjustly killed. 2) This is true even compared to having no firearms at all. Pretty tall order, eh? Well, read on....

The first item to look at here is a very comprehensive study, done by Dr. Gary Kleck, has found that firearms are used 2 to 2.5 million times annually by law abiding citizens to defend themselves from violent crime. This study has been peer reviewed by some very, highly, anti-gun scholars, who were unable to refute it. One such scholar is Dr. Marvin Wolfgang, one of the top criminologists in the nation. On the Kleck study, he wrote:

[opening paragraph]
I am as strong a gun control advocate as can be found among the criminologists in this country. If I were Mustapha Mond of Brave New World, I would eliminate all guns from the civilian population, and maybe even from the police. I hate guns-ugly nasty instruments designed to kill people. ...
[from the body of the review]
Can it be true that about two million instances occur each year in which a gun is used as a defensive measure against crime? It is hard to believe. Yet, it is hard to challenge the data collected. We do not have contrary evidence. ...
[closing paragraph]
The Kleck and Gertz study impresses me for the caution the authors exercise and the elaborate nuances they examine methodologically. I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I can not fault their methodology. They have tried earnestly to meet all objections in advance and have done exceedingly well.

You can get the entire Kleck study by calling 708.503.8467, the Northwestern University School of Law, and ordering The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Volume 86 Number 1. A summary of an earlier version of the Kleck study (which finds "only" 800,000 or so defensive uses of firearms per year) can be found at http://weber.u.washington.edu/~tourette/point-bl.htm

At this point in the debate, people often like to say that the 2,000,000 number is either flat out untrue, is not really lives saved or that the use of the firearm was not justified in those instances or other similar arguments. If you are considering such a rebuttal, please do rememeber our earlier data that firearm owners are quite responsible. These are all lawful acts of self-defense.

So, lets see, we have more than 2,000,000 people saving their life every year with firearms versus about 15,000 firearm homicides. This gives well over 100 lives saved for every life lost.

I could stop right here, as I have presented conclusive data to show my original statement to be true, but, I will give you a bit more.

The next thing to look at in researching this issue is the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). They are large, two inch thick books, with a mind numbing array of crime stats. They are printed yearly, in November (so the 1996 UCR will be available in November 1997, and the current issue is 1995). Back (paper) copies are free. Current paper copies (1995) are $25.00. No sales tax, shipping is covered by purchase price. You can get copies by calling FBI Program Support, Washington DC (202) 324-5015. Ask for the "Uniform Crime Reports" aka "Crime in the United States".

Now, what do the FBI Uniform Crime reports show about firearm issues? Well, when looking at the issue of allowing people to carry concealed firearms (31 states currently allow any law abiding citizen to be able to get a permit to carry a concealed firearm, no "need" is required, which allows them to carry a firearm concealed just about anywhere they go), the FBI Uniform Crime Reports show that allow concealed carry by the general public have a 28% lower homicide rate, and 33% lower firearm homicide rate and a 38% lower handgun homicide rate.

To look at a specific state, Florida started allowing concealed carry by the general public in 1987. In that time, their homicide rate has dropped 27%, its firearm homicide rate has dropped 34% and their handgun homicide rate has dropped 38%. In the same period, the national rates rose 8%, 28% and 43% respectively.

Another good study from the UCR is Washington DC. Up until 1976, they had average crime rates and little gun control. In 1976, they enacted very stiff gun controls and after those gun controls went into effect, their crime rates skyrocketed. Right now, according to the FBI UCR, their homicide rate is about 70 per 100,000 people, while, right across the bridge in Arlington, the rate is about 2 per 100,000 people (the current national average is about 9 per 100,000 people).

This brings up the point that it is claimed by many that gun controls are enacted in response to high crime rates, and that is why they correlate with high crime rates. However, such is not the case. DC did not have very high crime before their gun controls, after the passed the controls, their homicide rate has shot up (not before). I will give more examples of this a bit later.

There has been a major study, done at the University of Chicago by Prof. John Lott, which has very closely investigated this issue. This study looked at every county in the US, over the time period of 1977 to 1992, in an attempt to determine the impact of allowing the general public to carry concealed firearms. This study found that allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons deters violent crimes and it appears to produce no increase in accidental deaths. If those states which did not have right-to-carry concealed gun provisions had adopted them in 1992, approximately 1,570 murders; 4,177 rapes; and over 60,000 aggravate assaults would have been avoided yearly.

You can read this study for yourself at http://law.lib.uchicago.edu/faculty/lott/guns.html. Also, you can listen to Prof. Lott himself discuss the study, and listen to a few of his critics give their positions at http://www.cato.org/realaudio/audiopages/gunlaws.html

Another point regarding defensive uses of firearms, we have found that in the vast majority of those cases, the citizen is successful in defending themselves and stopping the attack. The National Center of Statistics has said that in less than 1% of the defensive uses of firearms is the gun taken away by the criminal. In most cases, merely displaying the firearm causes the criminal to stop the attack, it is very rare when the citizen has to fire the weapon to stop the attack.

What about other places?

In the UK, they have tight gun controls, and have less crime than the US. However, prior to 1921, they had very (VERY) low crime rates, and no gun controls. When they passed their very strict gun controls in 1921, their crime rate began to rise. From 1921 to today, their crime rate has risen 400%, which is greater than the US for the same period.

In Switzerland, there is a state supplied full auto rifle in every home. People can carry a concealed firearm in many places without a permit. Their gun control is very weak, and their homicide rates around 1 per 100,000 people.

In Israel, they have even weaker gun controls, and have about the same homicide rate.

Similarly, in the US, Vermont also allows everyone to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, and their homicide rate is around 1 per 100,000 people as well.

Now, you may be saying that, gee, this is all interesting, but what will the anti-gun forces say in response to all of this? Well, there are two countries and two studies they like to focus on: Japan and Canada; and a U of Maryland paper on concealed carry and another study by a Dr. Kellerman which supposedly shows that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member or friend than a criminal.

What do I say in response to those....

Regarding Japan, it is true that they have very strict gun controls (all weapons, really) and they have very low crime rates (about 1 per 100,000 homicide rate). However, one must realize that Japan is a virtual police state: the police can search you or your house on a whim, if they beat a confession out of you, it will stand up in court, you have no right to not testify against yourself, you have no right to a trial by jury and you have no right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Clearly, it is not their gun controls that keep crime low in Japan, it is their lack of personal freedom.

Regarding Canada, they implemented some moderate gun controls in the late 70s. Their crime rates are not really any different than they were before the controls were in place. It is hard to use Canada to argue for either side.

Regarding the University of Maryland paper on concealed carry, which supposedly shows that allowing concealed carry increases crime, and has been used to refute the study by Lott, there are many problems. First, the study was very small, only five cities. Second, it was not a peer reviewed study, it was a discussion paper which was never published. Third, it counts police shootings and lawful self-defense in their supposed increases in the homicide rates. Fourth, in the paper itself, the authors say that they can not yet draw a conclusion, and more study is needed. Fifth, the authors made several errors in looking at when concealed carry permits were stated to be issued, which greatly skewed the results of the study.

Regarding the Kellerman study, which supposedly shows that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member or friend than a criminal, there are again many problems. First, allow me to quote the study itself: Protection or Peril? An analysis of Firearm-Related Deaths in the Home, page 243; Mortality studies like our do not include cases in which burglars or intruders are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm. Cases in which would-be intruders may have purposely avoided a house known to be armed are also not identified. We did not report the total number or extent of nonlethal firearm injuries involving guns kept in the home. A complete determination of firearm risks versus benefits would require that these figures be known. Please note the last sentence, the authors did not look at the times a gun was used for defense, but did not actually kill anyone. Since we know that in most cases when a firearm is used for self-defense, it is not even fired (and also realizing that few of the cases where it is fired actually result in death), it is clear that the Kellerman study is off by a wide margin.

Given all of this, I assert that:

1) No place has ever implemented gun controls and seen crime go from high to low.

2) Many places have implemented gun controls and seen crime go from low to high.

3) Many places have removed gun controls and seen crime go from high to low.

4) Every place that has weak gun controls has low crime.

Therefore, gun control generally increases violent crime. This gets back to the issue of crime. I am very concerned about crime, and if it could be shown to me that all of this was untrue, and that gun control was crime control and that guns caused crime, I would instantly become a champion of gun control. We need to control crime, but, gun control is not crime control. We need stronger punishments and better education.


(Note - I left the following in for identification purposes)

General responses:
Good night Jim Brady.
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From: The Web Page For the Armed Liberal

Perhaps our Bill (Clinton) should listen to the voice of one of the party's greatest classical liberal leaders.

"Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government,no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.... The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America but which historically has proven to be always possible."

Senator Hubert H. Humphrey

Another view on gun control and self respect.

An Australian viewpoint