Support for tighter gun laws is often based on mistaken assumptions. A common one has to do with the alleged impulsiveness of otherwise law-abiding people—in particular, the notion that most shootings are acts of passion that involve guns purchased by non-criminals for home protection. However, a look at empirical studies -- evidence, not assumptions -- yields a vastly different conclusion. A 2004 study by the National Academy of Sciences, for example, couldn’t identify a single gun law that had lowered violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. This wasn’t a minor report, but a massive review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, and dozens of government studies.
Other research has found that handguns have been used more often for defensive purposes than for committing crimes. “Annually, three to six times as many victims successfully defend themselves with guns as criminals misuse handguns,” writes attorney, criminologist, and Independent Institute Research Fellow Don B. Kates Jr. A study published in the BYU Journal of Public Law found that firearms were used approximately half a million times per year to stop home invasion burglaries, and in most of those cases no shots were fired: merely brandishing a gun sent the burglars scurrying to safety. These findings are especially comforting because the police rarely arrive in time to stop a crime in progress and are indemnified if they fail to protect law-abiding citizens.
The evidence on crime and firearm ownership has had a powerful effect in some academic circles: it has convinced several researchers to abandon their former advocacy of tighter restrictions on guns. Economist David Mustard explains what shaped his former support for tighter gun laws: “My views on the subject were formed primarily by media accounts of firearms, which unknowingly to me systematically emphasized the costs of firearms while virtually ignoring their benefits,” he wrote in a 2003 article for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. “It is now over six years since I became convinced otherwise and concluded that shall issue laws—laws that require [gun carry permits] to be granted unless the applicant has a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness—reduce violent crime and have no impact on accidental deaths.”
By Don B. Kates Jr.
(The Jurist, 2/27/13)