Gun Control Debate Nearing End


Media reports of gun violence are inescapable. Horrific images are replayed continually, and the message is loud and clear: If there were no guns, there would be no gun crimes.

Until recently, a lack of good information has forced advocates on both sides of the gun control debate to rely on slogans and emotional appeals to sell their case to the public. Both sides have made an effort to change this situation by seeking out scientific research that would prove their case.

If not for a few high profile shooting incidents covered excessively by the media and exploited by politicians and gun control organizations, the gun control debate would be fading away.

Proponents of gun control have benefited from the involvement of anti-gun medical researchers who treat guns as if they were a disease or an epidemic. These are the studies that offer conclusions like, "You are 43 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the home than to kill an intruder." The conclusions are always packaged in simple sound bites for easy digestion by the public, but the basic premise never stands up to serious common sense evaluation.

Those who advocate gun rights have had to make do with boring FBI crime statistics and research into the intent of the founding fathers when they wrote the Second Amendment. Valid information, but poor sound bite material.

Nature abhors a vacuum and it was probably inevitable that this debate would catch the eye of a serious independent researcher. In this case it was an economist with experience in criminology. John R. Lott, Jr. published his groundbreaking research in his 1998 book titled "More Guns, Less Crime".

If not for the sensationalist title, this book might have been relegated to dusty bookshelves in university libraries. It contains a mountain of dry and complex statistics that analyze the effects of guns in each and every county in the United States. The study was aided by the fact that twenty two states have passed liberal concealed weapons laws since the mid 1980s, creating a perfect opportunity to study the effects. Contrary to the claims of the anti-gun groups, streets did not run red with blood and people did not suddenly start shooting each other over minor disputes. You don't need a complex study to prove the point. Simple state government statistics have been demonstrating this for several years.

Lott's conclusion, which has shocked the anti-gun organizations, is that concealed weapons permits actually reduce crime. Whether or not this applies to overall gun ownership is much harder to prove, but the fact that crime is decreasing rapidly while Americans are buying millions of guns may indicate that it is. So far, Lott has provided logical answers to criticism of his work and it seems to be holding firm against all attacks.

Another area where the gun control debate is changing is in the experiences of other countries. Simple comparisons of crime in different countries have been a staple of gun opponents, but a deeper look into gun ownership in countries like Canada, Israel, Switzerland and others is showing that the relationship between guns and crime is not simple at all.

In the last two years, major gun control programs in certain countries have provided an invaluable look at how gun control might work here. In Britain and Australia, serious and emotionally traumatic gun confiscation plans have created sudden drops in gun ownership. These drops have not been followed by a drop in crime. Reports from Australia indicate that armed robberies are actually up in some areas and suicide victims appear to be switching from firearms to hanging as their preferred method.

Canada is in the process of implementing a universal gun registration scheme. So far, the project has been plagued by errors and is draining money away from more important law enforcement needs. It may be abandoned soon. In all three of these countries and in the state of California, the fact that gun confiscation has followed gun registration makes it impossible for gun control advocates to argue that the former does not follow the latter.

In addition to all these factors, an even more important development has been the growing agreement among legal scholars that the Second Amendment really does guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms. Combined with the Supreme Court's shift toward a more traditional interpretation of the Constitution, this trend will probably have a major legal impact sometime in the next few years.

While those on both sides of the argument continue to slug it out in Congress and in the media, it seems that the great American gun control war is over. The combatants just don't know it yet.

Copyright, Michael S. Brown, O.D., November 1999

May be distributed and reproduced freely in its complete form with author's name attached.

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