117 More Guns, Less Crime

Gun-control advocates generally assume the intuitive “certainty” that guns per se encourage crime–so reducing the availability of guns would certainly reduce crime. However, in More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c. 1998), John R. Lott, Jr., demonstrates the converse. As a careful scholar, determined to demonstrate his conclusions with empirical data, Lott is distressed by the sensationalism surrounding this subject. When uninformed emotionalism (such as Rosy O’Donnell’s) gains a hearing in the nation, a citizenry needing the truth suffers. What we need is the facts! And Lott gives us facts. He has made his data available to other scholars, and academics at 24 of the nation’s finest universities have validated his conclusions. Lott lays out precise statistics and documentation–both time-series (1977-1992) and cross-sectional (all 3,054 counties in the U.S.)–noting all the variables and taking into account important regressions. He asserts that “This book is the first to study the questions of deterrence using these data” (p. 25), and it is, many analysts believe, the finest scientific study available.

When he first dared publish his research, in refereed journals, Lott was surprised by the antipathy his evidence aroused. Personal attacks, false accusations, lies and propaganda, rather than reasonable discussion, were the modus operandi of the gun-control forces. He discovered, to his dismay, “how much effort goes into deliberately ignoring certain findings in order to deny them news coverage” (p. 128) and then to discredit someone like himself who perseveres to make his findings public. He was also shocked by how virtually all the media promoted the gun-control advocates and misrepresented the facts he marshaled.

For the truth is simple: armed citizens deter crime. “The difference [between states] is quite striking: violent crimes are 81 percent higher in states without nondiscretionary laws. For murder, states that ban the concealed carrying of guns have murder rates 127 percent higher than states with the most liberal concealed-carry laws” (p. 47). Whereas the media dash to cover an accidental shooting or gun-related crime, they rarely report the frequency with which guns are used defensively to deter crime, to protect lives. “If national surveys are correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively [estimates range from 1,000,000 to 3,000,000 times a year], they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack” (p. 3). States or counties which grant permits for concealed firearms have enjoyed reduced incidences of crime. “Allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns reduces violent crimes, and the reductions coincide very closely with the number of concealed-handgun permits issued. Mass shootings in public places are reduced when law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed handguns” (p. 19). Indeed, were concealed-carry laws enacted nation-wide, “murders in the United States would have declined by about 1,400” (p. 54).

Consequently, “Preventing law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns does not end violence; it merely makes victims more vulnerable to attack” (pp. 164-65). “In the final analysis, one concern unites us all: Will allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns save lives? The answer is yes, it will” (p. 165). While written for a scholarly audience and packed with statistics and learned qualifications, this book is the finest–and most widely-cited–treatise on this subject.

Relying largely upon Lott’s study, Richard Poe makes the same case, for a more popular audience, in The Seven Myths of Gun Control: Reclaiming the Truth About Guns, Crime, and the Second Amendment (Roseville, CA: Forum, c. 2001). He confesses that is “not a hunter, a gun hobbyist, or a gun enthusiast” (p. xii). As a journalist, however, he writes with the conviction that the Constitution needs defending, and the Second Amendment is a critical lynchpin, essential to that document.

Myth One, alleges that “guns increase violent crime.” Poe reminds us that America is hardly a “violent” nation. Currently the United States doesn’t even appear in the top ten of industrialized nations. It’s totalitarian nations such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, nations with strict gun-bans, that ruthlessly slaughtered their own citizens. Rather than fear guns in the hands of free people, we should fear governments intent on controlling them. Professor Rudolph Rummel, in Death by Government, estimated that governments killed 170 million in the 20th century. Cuba and China, with their strict gun-bans, are the truly violent nations! In fact, “gun control” laws preceded genocide in most of these nations. Short of genocide, nations with strict gun-control laws are, in fact, riddled with violence. Criminals with guns fear little when citizens are disarmed. Among industrialized nations, Australia (having recently abolished the right to own guns) is now the world’s most violent, with some 30 percent of its residents having suffered violent crime. England (which, under Tony Blair, has made gun ownership and use virtually impossible) now ranks second. Amazingly, a crime victims survey (made public in February 2001) indicates that “Twenty-six percent of English citizens–roughly one quarter of the population–have been victimized by violent crime” (p. 101).

Certainly there are nations (such as Japan, where it’s illegal to own firearms) with strict gun-control laws that do not suffer much violence. But Japan is a “police state” whose citizens enjoy few of the civil liberties Americans take for granted. On the other hand, there are nations (such as Switzerland, where guns are everywhere) which have little violence and grant extensive civil liberties. Switzerland has fewer murders and robberies than England, which bans guns. Over the centuries, the Swiss learned that a free people must be armed, ever ready to defend their freedoms. Machiavelli, in 1532, observed that “the Swiss are most armed and most free.” All Swiss men are militiamen, trained to fight. Hitler planned to conquer Switzerland but thought otherwise when he calculated the cost of invading a nation where every man was armed and ready die defending his home. America’s Founding Fathers found Switzerland a suitable model for the new nation. John Adams, in his A Defense of the Constitution, praised the Swiss militia. George Mason thought the citizen soldier in Switzerland “preserves the Freedom and Independence of the Swiss Cantons, in the midst of the most powerful Nations” (p. 76). The Second Amendment, reserving to the people the right to bear arms, reflected an early confidence that an armed, independent citizenry would keep the nation free.

The second “myth” is that “pulling a gun on a criminal endangers you more than the criminal.” Ordinary citizens, in fact, routinely protect themselves with firearms. Criminals, generally cowards, avoid “victims” who may be armed. When a confrontation occurs, in 98 percent of the incidents no shots are fired. In only one percent of the cases does the criminal disarm the gun owner. Only 30 innocent people, mistaken for intruders, are killed in a given year. “Indeed, the data show conclusively that police are far more likely to shoot the wrong person than private citizens are” (p. 106).

Myth number three declares that “guns pose a special threat to children,” a mantra routinely chanted by Rosy O’Donnell and her cohorts in the Million Moms’ March. It’s endlessly lamented that 4,000 “children” are killed each year–but those “children” include gang-bangers who are 18 or 19 years old! In fact, fatal gun accidents involving children is at an all-time low. Only 200 children under the age of 15 die of gunshot wounds. Far more are killed on bicycles or drown in swimming pools.

The fourth myth insists that “the second amendment applies only to militiamen.” This stance, recently repudiated by the formidable Lawrence Tribe of Harvard Law School–probably the most respected constitutional scholar in the nation–still pervades the anti-gun argument. The Second Amendment, in fact, means what it says: citizens have a right to bear arms. Dictatorships, of course, grant soldiers the right to bear arms! Aristotle recognized that “those who possess and can wield arms are in a position to decide whether the constitution is to continue or not.” To pretend that America’s Constitution only grants the right to bear arms to soldiers seems ludicrous. The Constitution’s Framers, as is amply evident in the documents available to us, intended to protect everyone’s right to be armed! “The great object is that every man be armed,” said Patrick Henry. “To preserve liberty,” Richard Henry Lee declared, “it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them” (p. 148).

Myth five claims “the second amendment is an obsolete relic of the frontier era.” Rather, Poe argues, it’s as relevant as any part of the Constitution. For one thing, police cannot protect people. There are far too few of them to deter crime. Their real task is to apprehend criminals after crimes have been committed. Rarely do police, responding to a 911 call, arrive before the criminal has departed. So if you want to be defended, prepare to defend yourself! Policemen, by a significant majority, support the right to citizens to own guns and defend themselves. Equally important, especially in the light of what happened in Germany and Russia, armed citizens resist dictatorial governments. Hubert Humphrey, the Democrats’ 1968 presidential candidate, said, “The right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible” (p. 163).

“We should treat guns the same way we treat cars, requiring licenses for all users,” is the sixth myth needing deconstruction. Granting government the right to license guns would easily lead (as it has in some cities) to arbitrary and corrupt licensing procedures. Too often the rich and powerful (such as Rosy O’Donnell and Senator Diane Feinstein) easily obtain gun permits for themselves or their bodyguards, while ordinary citizens find themselves swamped in bureaucratic minutia and endless delays. Licensing and registration never help apprehend criminals, who naturally find their guns from other sources.

Finally, it’s just not true that “reasonable gun-control measures are no threat to law-abiding gun owners.” The Journal of American the Medical Association, in its August 2000 issue, acknowledged that there is “‘no evidence that implementation of the Brady Act was associated with a reduction in homicide rates.’ On the contrary, many women have been raped and killed, because the Brady Law and other mandated waiting periods prevented them from obtaining guns when they needed them'” (p. 199). Publicly, Sarah Brady and gun-control advocates calmly assure the public they simply want to keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible people. Behind the scenes, however, groups such as Handgun Control Inc. seek to ban all guns. Their deliberately Fabian strategy seeks to slowly, through mounting pressure, diminish the right to bear arms until it disappears.

Having dealt with the seven myths, Poe concludes his treatise with an epilogue entitled “the end of manhood.” Underlying the gun-control controversy, “the real question” is “whether or not we wish to remain a warrior society” (p. 205). A confluence of cultural currents threatens the very notion of manhood. Leftists of all sorts celebrate the “soft male,” kindly but spineless. Radical feminists, especially, seek to emasculate men, ever attacking anything smelling of “patriarchy.” Gun control, to such women, is a way to control male sexuality as well as violence. Many feminists, inspired by Betty Frieden, implicitly embrace her hard-line (Stalinist) communism which condemned “male chauvinism” decades before it became a feminist byword. Carol Gilligan, one of the most influential feminists, has established a gender studies program at Harvard University, one purpose of which is to undermine capitalism! “‘Raise boys like we raise girls,’ advises Gloria Steinem'” (p. 243).

Poet Robert Bly, a leftist who awakened to the male predicament and wrote Iron John declared, “‘The fading of the warrior contributes to the collapse of civilized society. A man who cannot defend his own space cannot defend women and children'” (p. 210). Lest we become such, Poe urges us to resist the “seven myths of gun control” and preserve our rights as a people to bear arms.

Lifting a title from Patrick Henry’s words: “The great object is, that every man be armed,” Stephen P. Halbrook, a law professor who has specialized in Second Amendment law, wrote That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right (Oakland: The Independent Institute, c. 1994) providing us with a detailed examination of the Second Amendment. As one might anticipate, this is an erudite treatise, filled with historical data, legal citations and exacting discussions of court decisions.

He first explains that the Founders of this Republic understood what they were doing. They wanted to avoid the aristocratic, autocratic kind of government espoused by Plato. They followed the “libertarian tradition” of Aristotle and Cicero, establishing a constitutional government. To Aristotle, “‘The whole constitutional set-up in intended to neither democracy nor oligarchy but mid-way between the two–what is sometimes called “polity,” the members of which are those who bear arms'” (p. 11). To Cicero, the great defender of Rome’s Republic, the armed citizen the best (and probably last) hope for its resurgence.

This “libertarian tradition” found its English advocates in thinkers such as James Harrington and John Locke, who regarded self-defense as a natural right! Montesquieu shared his view, upholding “the natural right to self-defense.” For “‘Who does not see that self-defense is a duty superior to every precept?'” (p. 34). England’s common-law, as evident in the classic works of Coke and Blackstone, also yoked the right to bear arms and personal freedom. From the Common-law, Locke, and Montesquieu, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Patrick Henry absorbed many of the ideas which proved formative as the United States was established.

During the War for Independence, “undisciplined” colonial militias, filled with armed citizens, ultimately out-fought the British infantry. A Pennsylvanian, Tench Coxe, praised the militia, happy that “‘THE POWERS OF THE SWORD ARE IN THE HANDS OF THE YEOMANRY OF AMERICA FROM SIXTEEN TO SIXTY. The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible‘” (p. 68). Patriots such as Coxe and Richard Henry Lee, in fact, vigorously argued against any standing army. In Lee’s judgment, “‘to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them‘” (p. 72). When the Constitution was submitted to the various states, New Hampshire first ratified it, recommending “that it include a bill of rights, including a provision that ‘Congress shall never disarm any citizen, unless such are or have been in actual rebellion'” (p. 75). Following such recommendations, the House of Representatives added the Bill of Rights in its first session. Elbridge Gerry, ever vigilant for liberty, insisted the Second Amendment was included primarily to protect people from dictatorial government.

Jurists in the antebellum era sustained this view. As William Rawle indicated, “‘No clause in the Constitution could be any rule of construction be conceived to give top congress a power to disarm the people'” (p. 91). Joseph Storey agreed: “‘The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of the republic; since it offers a strong moral check against usurpation and arbitrary power of the rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them'” (p. 93). Since the Civil War, the Supreme Court has generally followed Storey’s precept and upheld right to bear arms as existing “from time immemorial.” “Militia” has been understood to be the “whole people armed, and not a select group” (i.e. the National Guard). State and federal court decisions, however, have taken a variety of positions, many times curtailing the right to bear arms. Only time will tell how the Second Amendment will fare in the hands of the Supreme Court, which provides final guidance for this nation’s judicial system.

Replete with extensive documentation, restrained and cautious in its assertions, That Every Man Be Armed is an extraordinarily valuable compendium of information.

For anyone interested in primary sources, there’s a handy collection of documents, The Second Amendment Primer: A Citizen’s Guidebook to the History, Sources and Authorities for the Constitutional Guarantee of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (Birmingham: Palladium Press, c. 1996) by Les Adams, a lawyer and publisher. In his “Foreword,” Utah’s Senator Orrin Hatch notes that “in February 1982, few could have foreseen the wholesale political attacks on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms which have occurred in the years since” (p. 1). But the attacks have come, and those concerned with defending their liberties, including the right to bear arms need the knowledge to do so.

Thus Adams provides quotations, from history, ancient and modern. The historical evidence, the 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria noted, reveals that laws forbidding the carrying arms “disarm those only who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes” (p. 34). (Criminals, as is evident in Australia, England, and Washington, D.C., easily obtain guns.) Then nearly half of the book presents “appendices,” recent articles from legal scholars discussing the Second Amendment. They generally argue, with Jeffrey Snyder, that “Laws disarming honest citizens proclaim that the government is the master, not the servant of the people” (p. 244). Reduced to a bumper sticker, “If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns” (p. 204). And this, of course, was not the intent of the Constitution‘s Founders! Meticulous notes and extensive bibliography provide readers every opportunity to investigate the book’s selections.