GUN control is one of those things, like motherhood, that most people agree with. Most people in cities, anyway. They believe that if you reduce the number of guns in a society, the amount of armed crime will shrink. This is a truly beautiful idea. Unfortunately, it is wrong.
US economist John Lott is the author of a 1998 book called More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press). He had hardly ever touched a gun before being given a class to teach on the subject of gun control. Reading through the literature, he discovered the arguments for gun control were not supported by the evidence. So he looked at the experience of each of the 3000 US counties where a law permitting any law-abiding citizen to carry a concealed handgun had been introduced or withdrawn. Then he looked to see if violent crime had gone up or down afterwards.
What Lott found was that the right to carry concealed handguns reduces the general level of murder, rape, robbery and other violent crime. Many more such crimes are stopped with guns than are committed with them. Those who benefit most are the relatively weak: the old and women. In several public schools, massacres had been averted by staff and other adults with their own guns, before the police arrived. Lott concluded his book by asking: Will allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns save lives? The answer is yes, it will. He went out and brought himself a 9mm Ruger.
Lott is now a senior research scholar at Yale Law School. Interviewed in Reason magazine in 2000, he noted the hypocrisy of political leaders such as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who argue that there's no benefit from owning guns. Yet, says Lott, he has a whole set of full-time (armed) bodyguards following him every place he goes. He won't even think about visiting some of the more dangerous areas in Chicago without his bodyguards. But there are poor people who live in those areas, who live there at great risk, and he's not willing to let them own guns to protect themselves.
I view it as very hypocritical that Daley can understand the defensive benefits of guns when it comes to himself, but he's not willing to afford that same level of protection to the poorest, most vulnerable people in his city.
The US is often used by Australian gun control supporters as a horrific example of what guns can do. America's high homicide rate is brought up to prove what widespread gun ownership can do. But guns don't equal violence.
If they did, Switzerland, where there is a military rifle in almost every home, would be the most violent on Earth. In fact, a large number of American murders are committed by black criminals (with the victims frequently other black criminals) and are the outcome of ghetto experiences of no relevance at all to Australia. Apart from its high homicide rate, the US is actually a far more peaceful society than Australia, despite what many people here think.
In his book A Brief History of Crime, British journalist Peter Hitchens compares the US with Britain, which has levels of crime about as high as our own. Hitchens points out that England and Wales— with gun control laws like Australia — have rates of assault, robbery and car crime double those of the US, while their robbery rate is 40% higher. The use of handguns in crimes in Britain rose by 40% in the two years after such weapons were banned.
Robberies of a home when the occupant is there are far more common in the UK and Australia than the US, because Americans own guns and their courts are far more tolerant than our own of the use of violence to protect one's home.
So if we look past the knee-jerk opposition to gun ownership, there actually is a lot of evidence that disarming the population helps criminals. In the words of mafia member Sammy Gravano,
"Gun control? It's the best thing you can do for crooks and gangsters. I want you to have nothing. If I'm a bad guy, I'm always gonna have a gun."
The evidence in Australia is mixed. Since John Howard introduced more severe gun control laws following the Port Arthur massacre, non-fatal shootings have doubled, but fatal shootings and robberies with firearms have decreased. In any case the figures are erratic. Despite this, and despite the American statistics, gun control continues to be a vote-winner among ignorant city people here. In NSW the Government is about to compulsorily acquire and destroy almost half of all remaining handguns.
There is no evidence this will do any good. Lott's work suggests it might actually encourage crime. But it would be a brave Australian politician who said he supported gun ownership these days.