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In politicizing mass murders, gun control advocates, such as President Obama, insist that more laws against firearms can enhance public safety. Over and over again, there are calls for common sense gun controls, such as a system of universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and a ban on assault weapons. And yet such proposals are not likely to stop a deranged person bent on murder.
The ostensible purpose of gun control legislation is to reduce firearm deaths and injuries. The restriction of access to irearms will make criminals unable to use guns to shoot people. Gun control laws will also reduce the number of accidental shootings. Those are the desired effects, at least in theory. It is important, however, for conscientious policymakers to consider not only the stated goals of gun control regulations, but the actual results that they produce. What would be the effect of depriving ordinary, law-abiding citizens from keeping arms for self-defense? One result seems certain: the law-abiding would be at a distinct disadvantage should criminals acquire guns from underground markets. After all, it is simply not possible for police officers to get to every scene where they are urgently needed.Outside of criminology circles, relatively few people can reasonably estimate how often people use guns to fend off criminal attacks. If policymakers are truly interested in harm reduction, they should pause to consider how many crimes -- murders, rapes, assaults, robberies -- are thwarted each year by ordinary persons with guns. The estimates of defensive gun use range between the tens of thousands to as high as two million each year.This paper uses a collection of news reports of self-defense with guns over an eight-year period to survey the ircumstances and outcomes of defensive gun uses in America. Federal and state lawmakers often oppose repealing or amending laws governing the ownership or carrying of guns. That opposition is typically based on assumptions that the average citizen is incapable of successfully employing a gun in self-defense or that possession of a gun in public will tempt people to violence in "road rage" or other contentious situations. Those assumptions are false. The vast majority of gun owners are ethical and competent. That means tens of thousands of crimes are prevented each year by ordinary citizens with guns.
Gun violence is a chronic problem in the United States. Nationally in 2012, 11,622 people were killed by assault with a firearm. Many more people are injured by guns each year: in 2011, 693,000 individuals were treated in emergency rooms for injuries due to assaults by firearms and similar mechanisms. Gun violence takes a particularly large toll on young people: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), homicide accounted for 18 percent of deaths for males aged 15-19 and 20-24 — more than for any other age group. For black males, homicide is the leading cause of death for those age groups, explaining 48 percent and 50 percent of deaths, respectively. The vast majority of these are gun-related homicides.
Ten years ago this month, a controversial "concealed- carry" law went into effect in the state of Florida. In a sharp break from the conventional wisdom of the time, that law allowed adult citizens to carry concealed firearms in public. Many people feared the law would quickly lead to disaster: blood would literally be running in the streets. Now, 10 years later, it is safe to say that those dire predictions were completely unfounded. Indeed, the debate today over concealed-carry laws centers on the extent to which such laws can actually reduce the crime rate. To the shock and dismay of gun control proponents, concealed-carry reform has proven to be wildly popular among state lawmakers. Since Florida launched its experiment with concealed-carry in October 1987, 23 states have enacted similar laws, with positive results. Prior to 1987, almost every state in America either prohibited the carrying of concealed handguns or permitted concealed-carry under a licensing system that granted government officials broad discretionary power over the decision to grant a permit. The key feature of the new concealed-carry laws is that the government must grant the permit as soon as any citizen can satisfy objective licensing criteria. Concealed-carry reform reaffirms the basic idea that citizens have the right to defend themselves against criminal attack. And since criminals can strike almost anywhere at any time, the last thing government ought to be doing is stripping citizens of the most effective means of defending themselves. Carrying a handgun in public may not be for everyone, but it is a right that government ought to respect.
Few public policy debates have been as dominated by emotion and misinformation as the one on gun control. Perhaps this debate is so highly charged because it involves such fundamental issues. The calls for more gun restrictions or for bans on some or all guns are calls for significant change in our social and constitutional systems. Gun control is based on the faulty notion that ordinary American citizens are too clumsy and ill-tempered to be trusted with weapons. Only through the blatant abrogation of explicit constitutional rights is gun control even possible. It must be enforced with such violations of individual rights as intrusive search and seizure. It most severely victimizes those who most need weapons for self-defense, such as blacks and women. The various gun control proposals on today's agenda--including licensing, waiting periods, and bans on so-called Saturday night specials--are of little, if any, value as crime-fighting measures. Banning guns to reduce crime makes as much sense as banning alcohol to reduce drunk driving. Indeed, persuasive evidence shows that civilian gun ownership can be a powerful deterrent to crime. The gun control debate poses the basic question: Who is more trustworthy, the government or the people?