Gun Control: Does it Work?
by Greg Booth
June 10, 2008
U.S. District Court of Appeals has ruled that the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns in the
city of Washington D.C. was in violation of our second amendment rights, and the
U.S. Supreme Court currently has the matter under consideration. (Burchfiel).
This could be the first Supreme Court ruling to favor an individual rights
interpretation and will no doubt be vital in the outcome of other existing laws,
as well as proposed legislation, but it is not a final resolution.
The debate over gun control in the U.S. has raged over time and shows
little promise of being resolved in the near future.
While most would agree that firearms need to be kept out of the hands of
criminals, opinions differ on how to accomplish this goal. Current gun control laws are either ineffective in
accomplishing this, or are just plain unenforceable.
Advocates of gun control continue to push for even more legislation,
which would be aimed at law abiding citizens and would have little or no effect
on the criminal element that they wish to deter.
my preliminary research, I did a very informal survey to find out what feelings
about gun control were prevalent in my own community. I was surprised to find out how many people were in favor of
gun control, although many claimed to be gun owners themselves.
A majority expressed the opinion that although they felt that it was
their right to own a gun, they could also see the need for regulations to keep
firearms out of criminal hands. I
was expecting to hear views from both ends of the spectrum, which there were,
but a large number of the people that I spoke with, favored this very reasonable
middle ground. This brought me to
the question of whether or not people felt that the current gun-control laws
were effective. I got many varied
responses in this regard, but many people felt that the current legislation is
quite adequate, if only it could be enforced properly.
This response was echoed repeatedly, when I interviewed Canon City Pawn
Shop Operator, Tom Miller, who felt that the existing gun laws would be more
than adequate and could be very effective if they were enforced consistently and
upheld as they were meant to be. (Miller). Gallop Polls 2000-2007 show a rise in
opinions for the need of stricter enforcement of current laws rather than
creating new gun legislation, and an ABC News Poll reported similar results (PollingReport.com).
The findings of Jeffrey Roth also support this claim, "Evaluations
of firearm laws suggest that enforcement is critical in their effectiveness.” So, the question seems to be how enforceable are the existing
gun laws and what could be done to make them more effective.
“The False Promise of Gun Control”, Daniel D. Polsby claims that gun laws
are not effective enough to make them worth the expenditure required to enforce
them (Atlantic Monthly). Some laws
aimed at gun-control are more effective than others, so let’s look at what
works and what doesn’t. It would
be beyond our scope to evaluate each law in effect all across the country, so we
will instead look at the different types of laws in existence, regardless of
whether they might be in effect on Federal, State or local levels. First, there are bans on specific weapons and other items,
such as automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons, Saturday night specials,
and handguns in general, to name a few. Then,
there are restrictions on gun ownership based on various requirements, such as
age, residence and background. There are also laws regulating the purchase and sale of
firearms which require background checks, waiting periods, licensing of
manufacturers and dealers, and laws that regulate sales through gun shows,
pawnshops and private sales, or the frequency of firearm purchases. Lastly, there are laws that regulate the storage and carrying
of firearms, such as concealed carry laws, safe storage and child access laws,
and laws that control the possession of guns in public buildings (Henderson, pp.
32-38). Each of these types of
legislation is aimed at a different aspect of gun-control and each carries a
different level of effectiveness, as well as variations within individual laws.
Unfortunately, making gun laws that are both effective and enforceable
may be a utopian solution, "Thinking that absolute enforcement, control
and/or restriction singly or collectively prevent unauthorized access to
firearms is not likely nor is it practical.
There simply is not an absolute solution to any of the concerns
expressed." (Kendrick, Rpt in Kim 201).
on specific types of weapons are meant to decrease the volume of firepower
available, or to take away fire power completely from the average citizen.
"These categories include concealable "Saturday Night
Specials" or high-capacity "assault weapons," both of which have
proven difficult to define in practice.” (Roth). There is doubt as to whether laws restricting the sale
of guns are truly very effective. According
to John R. Lott Jr., in More Guns Less Crime, "Some laws, such as the Brady
Law, may prevent some criminals from buying guns through legal channels, such as
regular gun stores. Nevertheless,
such laws are not going to prevent criminals from obtaining guns through other
means, including theft." (197-198). Most people that I spoke with did feel
that firearms should not be sold to just anyone and that some type of regulation
discussing the above mentioned study, in an article reprinted by Kim,
Controlling Legal Gun Ownership Does Not Reduce Crime, Mr. Lott reports that the
results of his study actually indicated that the Brady Law resulted in the
opposite of the desired effect, showing a rise in murder and assault rates
following its implementation (WSJ). An
earlier article, by Kurt F. Kluin suggests that from studies taken in Great
Britain, where strict regulations against handguns were implemented, that there
was actually more illegal handgun usage, and the rate of firearms used in crimes
was not noticeably reduced.
are of the opinion that regulating specific types of guns is not targeting the
right area at all. Bart Kendrick
says, "Aggressively enforced firearms laws can diminish firearms incidents
like traffic laws prevent auto accidents. The
need for laws and control does not stem from devices, but specific owners and/or
users." (Rpt in Kim 200). Restrictions
on gun ownership, including the regulations for sales and distribution of
firearms generated many objections, from them being an infringement of
individual rights under the second amendment to the individual being stripped of
a viable and effective form of self protection.
The biggest complaint that I heard from gun owners, however, was that
laws regulating their purchase of firearms were not really affecting those that
would use guns illegally. The general feeling was that the criminal element doesn’t
abide by the law in the first place, so laws prohibiting them from buying guns
are not really going to stop them from obtaining a firearm through other
channels. To further support this
premise, Roth states, "Between the manufacturer and the criminal user, 20
percent of the guns passed through a chain of unregulated private transfers,
while 40 percent were stolen." (Roth).
Bovard explains that laws such as the Lautenberg Act prohibit those with
misdemeanor offenses, and specifically domestic violence, from purchasing a
handgun, but there are several problems with this approach; “State laws on
'domestic violence' are totally inconsistent; some states even define
'trespassing' as an act of domestic violence.....women... are increasingly
likely to be stripped of the means of self-defense by its provisions.
Many localities require police to make arrests when answering domestic
violence calls....” (Rpt in Kim 83-85). Colorado
is one of the above mentioned states, where police are required to press charges
on all parties involved in a domestic violence dispute. Hence, if the neighbors
call the police because you and your spouse are arguing loudly, you
automatically have charges of domestic violence against you and can no longer
legally own a gun, or even purchase a hunting permit.
In short, legislation such as this may actually make criminals out of
otherwise law abiding citizens. Lott
states that, “there are probably at least one million new felons in this
nation—people with misdemeanor convictions who retain their firearms because
they are unaware of their duty to disarm themselves.”
to Glamour Magazine in their article, Gun Control: The Battle that Won’t Go
Away, "More than any other population group, women reject the notion that
public safety comes from the barrel of a gun." (Rpt in Kim 71).
Surprisingly enough, this was not what I found to be true in my survey.
Many women that I spoke with identified themselves as single mothers,
with responses like, “When you have an abusive, psychotic ex-husband, you have
to protect yourself.”, or women who do a lot of traveling alone, “When I was
in Wyoming, I woke up to find two men standing in my hotel room door and I was
very glad that I had my gun.”’ (Booth, Survey). Conclusive evidence is
shown in research done by Robert J. Woolley, at Boyton Health Services, that
victims of attempted rape are much more likely to deter their attacker when they
resist through the use of a firearm. Mr.
Lott’s observations seem to back this up, "Victims of violent crime are
generally physically weaker than the criminals who prey on them. Allowing a
woman to defend herself with a concealed handgun makes a much larger difference
in her ability to defend herself than the change created by providing a man with
a handgun. Guns are a great
equalizer between the weak and the vicious." (More Guns 75).
Interestingly enough, an ABC News Poll on April 22, 2007 showed that
while a majority of people favored stricter gun laws and would support a ban on
semi-automatic handguns and assault weapons, a higher number would also be in
favor of people carrying concealed weapons. (PollingReport.com).
the effectiveness of concealed carry laws, which authorize a person to carry a
concealed weapon legally, are evident, “Our study also provided some
surprising information. While
support for strict gun-control laws usually has been the strongest in large
cities, where crime rates are highest, that's precisely where right-to-carry
laws have produced the largest drops in violent crimes." (Lott, WSJ). This type of law is also an effective deterrent to violent
crime, even if there might occur a slight rise in accidental deaths involving
handguns, "Our estimates imply that if the states without 'shall issue'
laws were to adopt them, the increase in accidental handgun deaths would be at
most nine more deaths per year. This
is small indeed when compared to the at least 1,570 murders that would be
avoided." (Lott, WSJ).
to Polsby, “Everyone knows that possessing a handgun makes it easier to
intimidate, wound, or kill someone. But the implication of this point for social
policy has not been so well understood. It is easy to count the bodies of those
who have been killed or wounded with guns, but not easy to count the people who
have avoided harm because they had access to weapons.” (Atlantic Monthly).
Concealed carry laws make not only the person carrying the weapon safer,
but also those around them, because a would be assailant would be more hesitant
to attack when there are greater chances of their victims being armed, and since
they have no way to know who is carrying and who’s not, the crime might be
averted all together. According to
John Keldare, on KOA, regarding the shall issue laws of Colorado, “…must
meet certain criteria and then you will be able to obtain a concealed carry
permit, it's no longer up to individuals to decide whether or not you need to
have a permit…Gun deaths and injuries went down following concealed carry laws
that have gone into effect…Most concealed carry permit holders have turned out
to be good, law abiding citizens.” (Keldare).
Based on his findings in this area, Mr. Lott asserts, "Preventing
law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns does not end violence; it merely
makes victims more vulnerable to attack…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
that we have the right to obtain a concealed-carry permit and arm ourselves for
self protection, and that such laws are wise because they have been proven to be
an effective deterrent against violent crime, does it then follow that we also
have the right to protect ourselves in our homes and businesses, and that
firearms would be an effective way to do this? Hand gun ownership is a very
personal choice, “"First, the decision to own a gun involves a trade-off
between the risks of gun accidents and violent victimization....More detailed
analysis of gun self-defense cases is needed to measure both frequency and
consequences of different self-defense actions using guns." (Roth).
According to David Kopel, however, "Gun prohibitionists make all
sorts of claims about the risks of 'a gun in the home,' and these claims have
some validity if the gun happens to be in the home of a violent felon, or an
alcoholic, or a person with suicidal tendencies.
But in responsible hands, guns are no danger at all, since the gun will
only shoot the direction in which it is pointed, and will not fire unless the
trigger is pulled." (Rpt in Kim 80-81).
people that I spoke with in my survey expressed concern over gun safety within
the household, which brings up safe storage and parental control laws.
Greider points out some of the drawbacks that come with this type of
legislation, "Trigger locks...are already available to gun owners as add
ons, but they require a diligent gun owner, and the locks can be poor.
Parental-liability laws, likewise, already exist..., but whether they
have had much impact is in dispute. In
many instances when kids were killed accidentally by a parent's handgun,
prosecutors are reluctant to add to the tragedy by prosecuting the owner as a
felon." (Rpt in Kim 182). Lott
indicates that safe storage laws may actually contribute to a rise in violent
crimes, "Nevertheless, the passage of these laws was associated with more
murders, more robberies, and more aggravated assaults, and the effects appear to
be quite large." (WSJ).
suggests that the manufacture of the 'smart gun' would be an effective solution.
He proposes a gun that contains technology that would allow electronic
recognition of the designated operator, thus preventing unauthorized users from
shooting the gun. "Colt's
Smart Gun uses a transponder, a tiny transmitter that the authorized user would
wear on a wristband, which sends a matching code to a receiver in the handgun's
grip and enables the weapon to function." (Rpt in Kim 182).
This would seem to be a feasible alternative to safe storage and parental
control laws, but Greider also cautions that this is not a fix-all for
gun-control, "There's a downside. This
new safety device, assuming it works, will not by itself solve the gun problem
in its full dimensions (no one claims it will)....Accidents should be reduced,
but if a gun owner wants to shoot his wife (or vice versa), A Smart Gun isn't
going to stop him….Furthermore, a significant number of the guns that felons
use in crimes are originally stolen from homes." (Rpt in Kim 185).
Generally, my findings revealed that existing gun laws are probably more than adequate if they could be enforced properly, and most people do not think that even more legislation that is unenforceable would be of any great benefit. I also found that many people identify the fact that legislation regulating gun sales and ownership can only affect law abiding citizens and the criminal element that it attempts to deter still has other avenues available in which to obtain firearms. These laws also may be too strict and infringe upon individual rights in some instances. It is generally felt that gun ownership and possession is an effective form of self defense and studies have shown that in areas where concealed-carry laws are in effect, have lower rates for violent crimes, perhaps because would be assailants are aware that their victims are more likely to be armed. Lastly, responsible ownership and parental responsibility are important factors, although safe storage laws have not proven to be very effective. Although "Smart Gun" technology that programs a gun to a specific owner may be a partial solution, it seems to be taking awhile to catch on with the general public, perhaps due to expense or just a general lack of awareness. The main key is to effectively enforce the laws that are already in existence, which has been shown to drastically reduce murder rates.
Booth, Greg. “Survey”. Canon City, Colorado. February 17, 2008.
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Reduction". Reprinted from "Disarming Those Who Needs Guns Most,"
The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 23, 1996. Guns and Violence. Ed. Henny H.
Kim. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc. 1999. 83-87.
Burchfiel, Nathan. "Court
Overturns DC Gun Ban." CNSNews.com. March 09, 2008. 17 March 2008.
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and Company (1993)
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Woolley, Robert J. “Guns
Effective Defense Against Rape.” The Minnesota Daily. 2000. 9 March
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