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Will You Be Safer If Guns Are Banned? Part 1

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Violence is out of control, and guns are a major cause. This is a belief many Americans now share. This belief is fueling a nationwide movement that could result in a total prohibition on private-gun ownership in the near future.

Ownership of private guns is being banned one step at a time. The recently enacted Brady Bill mandates a national five-day waiting period and background check for all handgun purchases. Maryland has just passed a law that requires a state license for any handgun purchase and limits purchases to one per month. And President Clinton has banned the importation of most foreign-made, semiautomatic rifles.

On February 28, 1994, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen announced that several 12-gauge semiautomatic shotguns were being reclassified in the same category as machine guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms simultaneously announced that they would trace the owners of 18,000 of these shotguns and order them to be fingerprinted and to register their guns with the ATF within 30 days — or face ten years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

On the same day that semiautomatic shotguns were reclassified, Senator Howard Metzenbaum introduced legislation that would require all handgun owners to get a federal license, pass a safety test, and register their weapons with police.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has proposed legislation that would raise the tax on some ammunition up to 10,000 percent. The price of a single box of Winchester 9-millimeter hollow-tipped cartridges would increase to $15,000.

Would banning guns reduce crime?

According to recent polls, most Americans now support gun licensing as a way to reduce crime. Crime has certainly been increasing — particularly violent crime. Between 1960 and 1980, robberies nationwide increased by 300 percent. In the same period, both the number of handguns and the national murder rate doubled.

But is the proliferation of guns the cause of violence or a response to violence? As Daniel D. Polsby of Northwestern University demonstrated in his article “The False Promise of Gun Control,” which appeared in the March 1994 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, there is no evidence that firearms cause violence:

If firearms increased violence and crime, then rates of spousal homicide would have skyrocketed, because the stock of privately owned handguns has increased rapidly since the mid-1960s. But . . . rates of spousal homicide in the years 1976 to 1985 fell.

If firearms increased violence and crime, the crime rate should have increased throughout the 1980s, while the national stock of privately owned handguns increased by more than a million units in every year of the decade. It did not.

If firearms increased violence and crime, Florida’s murder rate should not have been falling since the introduction, seven years ago, of a law that makes it easier for ordinary citizens to get permits to carry concealed handguns. Yet the murder rate has remained the same or fallen every year since the law was enacted. . . .

Paradoxically, although firearms do not increase crime and violence, gun-control laws do! Throughout the U.S., when strict gun-control laws are passed, crime and violence get worse.

Since 1976, it’s been illegal in Washington, D.C., to own any handguns or to keep any type of gun in your home fully assembled. Nevertheless, Washington, D.C., has among the highest murder rates in the nation. New York City has had a virtual ban on firearms since 1967, yet it also ranks among the most dangerous places in the country to live. In both New York and Washington, violent criminals can easily obtain machine guns and other deadly weapons on the streets within minutes.

Why does increased violence go hand-in-hand with gun-control laws? The reason is that a disarmed people make easy targets.

If an armed criminal attacks you on the street or in your home, you cannot afford to wait 30 minutes, 20 minutes or even 10 minutes for police to arrive — assuming you even get the chance to call police and they respond. Ten minutes is more than enough time for a thug to rob you, rape you, shoot you, or cripple you for life. If the government takes away your guns, you are at the criminal’s mercy.

Self-defense does work. According to Morgan Reynolds of Texas A&M University, armed citizens deter one million crimes each year. “In 98 percent of the cases, simply brandishing the weapon or firing a warning shot is sufficient deterrence.”

In Florida, forcible rapes sharply declined in Orlando and other cities after police trained women to use guns.

During the Los Angeles riots, armed Korean merchants successfully defended their stores from looters after police retreated. Many undefended stores were burned to the ground.

In Los Angeles, many neighborhoods were protected from rampaging mobs only by residents blockading their streets and brandishing guns. If guns had been illegal, their homes would have been looted and burned, and many would have been raped or killed.

Why the rise in crime and violence?

If armed self-defense works, and if gun ownership is increasing, why does violent crime continue to escalate?

Of course there are many reasons, including the breakdown of families, violence generated by drug prohibition, and the lack of jobs for young adults, particularly in the inner city. But as economist Paul Craig Roberts points out, a major reason is that outside of our homes, we are already a disarmed society.

In most of the U.S., it is a crime to carry a gun on the street, so most people do not. And criminals know it. Not surprisingly, 87 percent of all violent crimes occur outside the home.

Another major reason why crime is increasing is that crime pays, and in our tax-ridden, regulation-crushed economy, many people cannot economically survive through low-end jobs. As Professor Polsby points out, “The income that offenders can earn in the world of crime, as compared with the world of work, all too often makes crimes appear to be the better choice.”

In Washington, D.C., it costs $7,000 in city fees to open a pushcart. In California, up to 80 federal and state licenses are required to open a small business. In New York, a medallion to operate a taxicab costs $150,000. Over 700 occupations in the U.S. require a government license. Throughout the country, church soup kitchens for the homeless are being closed by departments of health. No wonder so many people turn to crime and violence to survive.

Banning guns solves none of these problems. And “tough crime laws” also will not help. The risk of being caught if you are a criminal is extremely low: nationwide, only 1.2 percent of all burglaries result in a conviction.

But we can protect ourselves and deter crime by owning guns and knowing how to use them. Professors James Wright and Peter Rossi’s landmark study for the Department of Justice found that 85 percent of felons serving time in prison agreed that “smart criminals” will try to find out if their potential victim is armed before attacking him. Fifty-three percent did not commit a crime, for fear that the victim was armed. And 60 percent felt that most criminals feared armed citizens more than police. (Wright and Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms , 1986.)

There are many dramatic examples of how Americans have used guns to protect themselves and stop criminals. Here is one that I particularly like:

Until recently it was legal to carry loaded guns in public in Texas. Twelve years ago, when a holdup man in Dallas tried to rob a bank, he got a deadly surprise. No less than two bank customers and one teller pulled out guns and shot him dead. Not surprisingly, the bank-robbery rate in Dallas has been a fraction of what it is in other large cities.

The initial effect of stringent new gun control in the U.S. has been exactly the opposite of what was intended. It has produced a huge surge in gun purchases.

Dean Barber, business columnist for the Birmingham News , reports, “In the gun trade, of which Birmingham is a national center, there is an incredible run on guns and ammunition.” Panic buying is now the norm “because of the perception that you will not be able to buy the gun of your choice in the not-so-distant future.” (Llewellyn Rockwell Jr., “Bull market in weapons,” The Washington Times , January 13, 1994.)

Millions of Americans want to be able to defend their homes, their families, and themselves, and they will break the law to do it. As Professor David Kopel explains in his book The Sumurai, the Mountie and the Cowboy:

American gun owners — even more than their counterparts in other countries — will massively resist any form of gun control.

Registration laws for semiautomatic firearms in Denver and Boston have achieved a one percent compliance rate. It is evident that New York City’s near-prohibition is not voluntarily obeyed; estimates of the number of illegal guns in the city range from seven hundred thousand to three million.

The New York state commissioner of prisons testified that if one percent of illegal handgun owners in New York City were caught, tried, and sent to prison for a year, the state prison system would collapse.

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    Jarret Wollstein is a director at The International Society for Individual Liberty and co-founder of the original Society for Individual Liberty in 1969. He is the author of 28 books and special reports, including Surviving Terrorism and Shadow Over the Land: The Government's War On Your Liberty and the author of 300 articles and speeches.