LONG! Why new Gun Laws Wont Work

Discussion in 'The Powder Keg' started by Sniper[MI], Oct 19, 2002.

  1. Howdy,

    Long but wothr the read. Send this to your elected officials and remind them you will be voting this November!
    Author/s: John R., Jr. Lott
    Issue: May 31, 1999

    Why new gun laws won't work.

    The airwaves have been full of arguments over the lessons, if any, of the massacre at Columbine High School. But what about the lessons of those school massacres that were stopped in their tracks? In October 1997, after a shooter had killed two students at a high school in Pearl, Miss., assistant principal Joel Myrick retrieved a gun from his car and immobilized him until the police arrived. An April 1998 school- related shooting in Edinboro, Pa., which left a teacher dead, was stopped by nearby restaurant owner James Strand, who pointed a shotgun at the shooter as he was reloading his gun. The police did not arrive until eleven minutes later.

    Most news coverage of these incidents ignored the role of guns in ending the bloodshed. In the month following the Mississippi shooting, only 19 of the 687 stories on the episode mentioned Myrick. Some of those said only that he had "disarmed the shooter." In a later story on CBS, Dan Rather noted only that "Myrick eventually subdued the young gunman." Similarly, only 35 of the 596 stories on the Pennsylvania crime mentioned Strand, with the New York Daily News explaining that he had "persuaded [the shooter] to surrender" and the Atlanta Journal- Constitution claiming that he had "chased [the shooter] down and held him until police came."

    Five school-related shootings occurred in the 1997-98 school year. One might have thought that the fact that two of them were stopped by guns would register in the public debate over such shootings. Instead, and particularly since the Columbine tragedy, that debate has focused on irrelevancies. Consider President Clinton's proposed gun regulations, repackaged after Columbine. He would, among other things, mandate that guns have safety locks, require three-day waiting periods before guns could be purchased, and hold adults criminally liable for allowing minors access to guns.

    Of course, one might question the effectiveness of any gun controls, given that Columbine is one of the few places in Colorado where possessing a gun is illegal and that federal law has since 1995 generally prohibited guns within 1,000 feet of a school. But assume these new proposals could be perfectly enforced. A three-day waiting period would have made no difference in an attack planned at least a year in advance. Past school shooters have used guns with safety locks. And none of the proposals would have restricted Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold from having access to the propane and plastics used to make many of the bombs.

    Nor does it make sense to attach much significance to the particular features of the Tech-9, the so-called "assault pistol" used at Columbine. The media have shown pictures of a Tech-9 containing a much larger ammunition clip than was actually used in order to make it look more frightening. But oversized clips can be added to virtually all semiautomatic guns, and this "assault weapon" functions no differently from other semiautomatic pistols sold in the United States. It is no more powerful, it doesn't shoot any faster, and it doesn't shoot any more rounds. One pull of the trigger fires one bullet. Few reports have even mentioned that at most one person was killed with the Tech-9.

    Media coverage of guns would be distorted even without bias or ignorance. School massacres are inherently more newsworthy than the over 2 million incidents each year in which people use guns defensively-including incidents where the gun is merely brandished and attacks on schools where the shooter is stopped before claiming victims. But the fact remains: Guns are used for defensive purposes about five times as often as they are used for crimes. Ignoring that fact can have unfortunate consequences for public safety. Victims behaving passively are much more likely to face serious injury than those who use a gun when they are confronted by a criminal.

    My colleague William Landes and I have compiled data on all the multiple-victim public shootings that took place in the United States from 1977 to 1995. We included incidents where at least two people were killed or injured in a public place; and to focus on the type of shooting seen in the Colorado rampage, we excluded gang wars or shootings that were the byproduct of another crime, such as robbery. The U.S. averaged 21 such shootings annually, with an average of 1.8 people killed and 2.7 wounded in each one.

    We examined a range of different policies, including sentencing laws and gun laws (such as waiting periods), to see what might stop or deter these killings. We found that higher arrest and conviction rates, longer prison sentences, and the death penalty reduce murders generally. But neither the gun laws nor the frequency or severity of punishment turned out to have any significant effect on public shootings.

    We found only one policy that does have such an effect: letting adults without criminal records or a history of significant mental illness carry concealed handguns. The impact of these "right to carry" laws, now on the books in 31 states, has been dramatic. During the 19 years covered in our study, states that passed such laws saw the number of multiple-victim public shootings decline by an average of 84 percent. Deaths from these shootings plummeted on average by 90 percent, injuries by 82 percent. To the extent that attacks still occur in states that have enacted these laws, they disproportionately occur in those areas in which concealed handguns are forbidden.

    The likely explanation for these results lies in the peculiarly deranged nature of these crimes. The perpetrators usually die in the course of their rampages: Either they are killed in the attack or, as in the Colorado shooting, commit suicide. The normal penalties, then, simply do not apply. Whatever the other merits of proposed laws such as a lifetime ban on gun ownership for people who commit violent crimes as a juvenile, they won't deter this particular crime.

    What motivates most of these criminals seems to be the desire for publicity. They want to kill as many people as possible. The possible presence of concealed weapons can limit the carnage, and thus the incentive to begin the attack. With concealed-handgun laws, it is not even necessary that many people actually carry a weapon. If only 5 percent of the general population has a permit, the probability that someone will be able to defend himself against attack in a crowded restaurant or on a train, or in some other place where a large number of adults are present, is essentially 100 percent.

    Concealed-handgun laws also have an important advantage over uniformed police in that would-be attackers can in the latter case either aim their initial assault at the officer or wait until he departs the area. The Columbine High attack helps illustrate this point. Neil Gardner, the armed sheriff's deputy stationed at the school, was in uniform and well known to the students, thus placing him at a disadvantage. (His job was also made vastly more difficult by the threat of pipe bombs, which the killers essentially used as grenades.)

    Right-to-carry laws are effective in stopping multiple shootings not only in this country. Well over 20 years ago in Israel, there were many instances of terrorists' pulling out machine guns and firing away at civilians in public. But with expanded concealed-handgun use by Israeli citizens, terrorists soon found ordinary people pulling pistols on them. Suffice it to say, terrorists in Israel tend no longer to engage in such public shootings.

    There was, however, one recent shooting of schoolchildren in Israel. On March 13, 1997, a crazed Jordanian soldier shot seven Israeli girls to death while they visited Jordan's "Island of Peace." The Los Angeles Times reported that the Israelis had "complied with Jordanian requests to leave their weapons behind when they entered the border enclave. Otherwise, they might have been able to stop the shooting, several parents said." Indeed.

    Mr. Lott is a fellow at the University of Chicago law school and the author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws.

    COPYRIGHT 1999 National Review, Inc.

    COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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