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Another Spin on the Old Gun Control Revolver

Sensational media coverage of shootings and particularly of homicides in the United States, almost always results in a rampage from the gun control lobby. The arguments from this group haven’t changed much, but neither have the facts. Empirical evidence has always shown that tighter restrictions on the possession of guns – even hand guns – does not reduce the rate of violent crime; in fact, if there is a relationship then gun control is correlated with an increase in violent crime. An excellent and exhaustive study on this topic was done by Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm of Bentley College, the results of which are available in a book entitled “Guns and Violence”. Professor Bentley’s focus in the book encompasses the history of firearms in England.

Especially instructive is the comparison of murder rates between London and New York City. Malcolm examined the crime rates as well as gun ownership restrictions in these two cities from 1911 forward, and provides a number of insightful observations. She points out that New York state instituted one of the most severe gun control laws in the United States back in 1911, while serious gun control laws did not begin in England until nearly a decade later. But New York City still continued to have far higher murder rates than London throughout that period.

In “Gun Control Myths”, an excellent article reviewing these findings, Thomas Sowell points out: “The rise of the interventionist state in early 20th century England included efforts to restrict ownership of guns. After the First World War, gun control laws began restricting the possession of firearms. Then, after the Second World War, these restrictions grew more severe, eventually disarming the civilian population of England — or at least the law-abiding part of it. It was during this period of severe restrictions on owning firearms that crime rates in general, and the murder rate in particular, began to rise in England. “As the number of legal firearms have dwindled, the numbers of armed crimes have risen,” Professor Malcolm points out. “In 1954, there were only a dozen armed robberies in London but, by the 1990s, there were more than a hundred times as many. In England, as in the United States, drastic crackdowns on gun ownership by law-abiding citizens were accompanied by ever-greater leniency to criminals. In both countries, this turned out to be a formula for disaster.” While England has not yet reached the American level of murders, it has already surpassed the United States in rates of robbery and burglary. Moreover, in recent years the murder rate in England has been going up under still more severe gun control laws, while the murder rate in the United States has been going down as more and more states have allowed private citizens to carry concealed weapons — and have begun locking up more criminals.”

Recent press certainly seems to back this up, although it’s important to understand that sensationalism and overstatement exists on both sides of this controversial issue. One article that certainly indicates alarm – outrage, actually – at the high and growing crime rate in England. This July 2009 article points out that “Official crime figures show the UK also has a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and even South Africa – widely considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries.” Comparing England to other countries, the article says that: “In the UK, there are 2,034 offences per 100,000 people, way ahead of second-placed Austria with a rate of 1,677. The U.S. has a violence rate of 466 crimes per 100,000 residents, Canada 935, Australia 92 and South Africa 1,609.” Since very strict gun control laws have been enacted in England for many years now, it seems clear that legal gun ownership is not a contributor to violent crime; it is, judging from the numerical facts actually a deterrent.

But what about all those statistics that the gun control lobby trots out whenever they want to scare people – especially after a shooting occurs in the United States? As Sowell says: “ Gun control zealots love to make highly selective international comparisons of gun ownership and murder rates.” The exhaustive analysis done by Professor Malcolm should end that practice and end this debate. But of course, it will not. The next Columbine or Virginia Tech or political assassination with cause it all to boil over again. Because whatever else the American people may be, we are not very objective. The passions stirred by the stories of those affected, the tragic circumstances of the recent event, and sheer hype of media surrounding the story will carry us all away again. As P.T. Barnum once said: “You will never go broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

What do you think?

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