The past few years have produced many mass shootings and criminal misuse of guns, notable examples including Fort Hood, Texas; Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; Santa Monica, California; and most recently Washington Navy Yard, Washington D.C. In light of these tragedies, it is natural to seek a way to prevent these atrocities from occurring again. Many people think increased gun control, ranging from registering weapons and requiring safety classes to banning certain types of firearms outright, is the key to lowering crime with guns. I would like to explore what experts have said and studies have shown about gun control and crime and see if gun control is effective at preventing crime.
Australia might be a model for how gun control has successful resulted in a drop in gun-related crime. After a heinous mass shooting in 1996, the entire country and all factions of the federal government united to adopt enormous reforms concerning firearms. Simon Chapman, a key figure in the Australian gun reforms of the 1990s, details how “key components of the reforms included a ban on civilian ownership of semiautomatic long guns and pump action shotguns; […] proof of genuine reason for firearm possession; the formal repudiation of self-defense as a legally acknowledged reason to own a gun; prohibition of mail or Internet gun sales; and required registration of all firearms” (770). Since the reforms were enacted, the rate at which firearm homicide decreased per year has more than doubled (from 3% to 7.5%) and no mass shootings have occurred, as a third of the population’s stock of guns were voluntarily destroyed (770).
The reason, of course, that America will never follow Australia’s path to lower gun violence is ingrained in the Second Amendment of our Constitution, which guarantees the right to gun ownership, and by extension, the right to self-defense. So long as those rights are respected on American soil, we won’t see any dramatic reforms as Australia has experienced. Dr. Lance K. Stell, professor of ethics and philosophy of law, notes that some gun control proponents categorize the lawful use of firearms in self-defense as the same sort of violence as the unlawful use of firearms in criminal activity (44). One only has to look at the passionate divisions of audiences during the trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin to see there are some who believe as Dr. Stell describes (be it noted that this paper will not explore that case). Understanding that outright bans on guns and the rejection of self-defense as a lawful reason to own a firearm is unlikely to sweep America’s socio-political landscape, let us examine less broad efforts to control American guns in recent history.
John Moorhouse, professor of economics at Wake University, and Brent Wanner, a graduate of Wake in economics, tested crime data from all fifty states and the District of Columbia in 1998 and 2001 looking for an interrelation between crime and gun control: it would be reasonable to assume that increased crime might result in increased gun control, which may in turn result in a decrease of crime. His hypothesis proved only partially correct: while increased crime did increase gun control legislation in some states, gun control had no statistically significant impact on crime (121). Additionally, Moorhouse and Wanner point out another study, performed by Lott and Mustard in 1992, that states with right-to-carry laws experience decreased violent crime rates, especially in urban population centers, and also notably lowered the victimization of women and minorities (109). Stell concurs, noting that the poor can’t take advantage of hiring bodyguards or living in gated communities, so making cheap weapons illegal puts the less-well-off-but-law-abiding at risk of becoming victims of crimes (45). Stell also points out that in such cases, a poor individual wishing to defend herself would be forced to become a criminal herself should she attempt to purchase a gun that was illegal explicitly because of its low cost (45). Moorhouse hypothesizes that the increased risk to criminals in right-to-carry states deters them from committing confrontational crime (109), and that criminals simply have no respect or regard for the law and ignore or circumvent the law to acquire weapons illegally anyway (122).
Altogether, Moorhouse makes a devastating case against the effectiveness of gun control. If criminals bound and determined to acquire guns are able to obtain them illegally, no amount of gun control will prevent them from doing so. Indeed, many of the recent shooters, like Adam Lanza of Newtown and John Zawahri of Santa Monica, were not able to purchase weapons legally, and had to resort to illicit methods to obtain their guns; Lanza stole his mother’s legally-purchased firearms, and Zawahri managed to build his weapon by purchasing and assembling incomplete parts. It is worth noting that stealing a firearm in Connecticut is a felony, and the LA Times reported that California police claimed the weapon Zawahri constructed is illegal to possess under California law; however obviously none of the aforementioned laws prevented the shootings from occurring. The Washington Post reports that Aaron Alexis was able to legally purchase the shotgun he used in his massacre at the Washington Navy Yard, passing a state and federal background check in doing so. CNN points out that Alexis carried out his shooting “a few weeks after he told police in Newport, Rhode Island, that he’d heard “voices” emanating from the walls of hotels he’d been staying at”. In all cases, the shooters were either shot by police or shot themselves, but only after being confronted with gun-carrying police. These experiences fully affirm Moorhouse’s study: gun control laws are highly ineffective at stopping the very crimes those laws are often implemented to prevent.
Examining more recent statistics from cities that have implemented strict gun control seem to affirm Moorhouse’s older study. The police in New York City, a stronghold for gun control legislation, experienced a slight decrease in murders (19%, from 515 to 419) but an increase in all six other categories of “Seven Major Felony Offenses” (those being rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle) increased by 4% in a year’s time, totaling 110,728 offenses in 2012 as opposed to 106,154 offenses in 2011. Chicago is also infamous for its restrictions on legal gun ownership, yet the Chicago Police Department saw an increase in both shootings (10%, from 2235 to 2460) and murders (16%, from 435 to 506) during the calendar year 2012, while crime for the abovementioned non-murder major felonies racked up to 77,479 offenses, a 9% decrease from 85,069 offenses in 2011. The huge numbers of crimes committed, even after years of stringent gun control laws, indicate that gun control does not in fact reduce crime.
It is reasonable to conclude that laws which restrict the ownership of weapons and disarm the law-abiding populace, make that populace victims of mass murderers and other armed criminals, who by definition are disobeying the law. In these cases, gun control laws do not protect the general populace, but rather actually increase the likelihood that a gunman will inflict as much death and injury as possible before armed persons confront him.
I therefore call upon our government officials at the local, state, and federal level to roll back or repeal overly restrictive gun control efforts. If the only way to stop bad guys with guns is to introduce good guys with guns, then empower the average, law-abiding citizen to be that good guy, rather than becoming another defenseless victim in a senseless tragedy.
Botelho, Greg, Greg Seaby, Bill Mears, Leslie Bentz, and Joe Sterling. “FBI: Navy Yard Shooter ‘delusional,’ Said ‘Low Frequency Attacks’ Drove Him to Kill.” CNN. Cable News Network, 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2013
Chapman, Simon, PhD, and Philip Alpers. “Gun-Related Deaths: How Australia Stepped Off “The American Path”.” Annals of Internal Medicine 158.10 (2013): 770-71. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.
Jackman, Tom. “Inside Sharpshooters, the Newington Gun Store Where Aaron Alexis Bought His Shotgun.” Washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
Moorhouse, John C., and Brent Wanner. “DOES GUN CONTROL REDUCE CRIME OR DOES CRIME INCREASE GUN CONTROL?” CATO Journal 26.1 (2006): 103-24. Web. 2013.
Stell, Lance K. “The Production of Criminal Violence in America: Is Strict Gun Control the Solution?” Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics 32 (2004): 38-46. The American Society of Law, Medicine, & Ethics. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
Stevens, Matt. “Remorse, but Not Hate, in Note Left by Santa Monica Gunman.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 13 June 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
"Crime Statistics Year End." Crime Statistics Year End. Chicago Police Department, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
"Historical New York City Crime Data." Historical New York City Crime Data. The City of New York, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
It’s worded nicely because it’s a formal English paper but yeah, I nailed it. Got a B+ on it too, from a Jewish lesbian English professor which screams about as liberal as you can get. Your argument is invalid.