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December 15th, 2018

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Where's the Common Sense in 'Common Sense' Gun Laws?

Larry Elder

By Larry Elder

Published March 29, 2018

Where's the Common Sense in 'Common Sense' Gun Laws?

Americans, many quite young, attended anti-gun violence rallies across the country. Many protesters demanded more federal "common-sense" gun control laws. But the push for common-sense gun laws lacks common sense, or at least perspective.

The protests, sparked by the murders of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, were billed as a "March for Our Lives." But according to criminologist James Alan Fox, over the last 25 years 10 students have died each year, on average, in school shootings. By contrast, every year about 300 Americans are struck by lightning. Most survive, but since 2000 an average of 35 people have died each year from lightning strikes.

One "common-sense" proposal is to reenact the "assault weapons" ban.

But of all homicides involving a firearm, only a small percent involve any type of rifle. Furthermore, the assault weapons ban did not achieve the objective of reducing murder and violent crime. Economist John Lott noted: "Since the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in September 2004, murder and overall violent-crime rates have fallen. In 2003, the last full year before the law expired, the U.S. murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people. ... By 2011, the murder rate fell to 4.7 per 100,000 people. One should also bear in mind that just 2.6 percent of all murders are committed using any type of rifle."

The "common-sense" gun control activists rarely ask, "What about the beneficial effect of gun ownership?" The Centers for Disease Control examined research on the defensive uses of guns. It concluded: "Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was 'used' by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies."

The CDC's report also found that "defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence." Exact statistics are hard to find because the police are not always notified, so the number of defensive gun uses is likely understated because they're underreported. "Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals," wrote the CDC, "with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year, in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008." The CDC noted one study of defensive gun users who believe that but for their own firearm they would have been killed.

Criminologist and researcher Gary Kleck, using his own commissioned phone surveys and number extrapolation, estimates that 2.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes each year. One in six of that number, or 400,000, believe someone would have been dead but for their ability to resort to their defensive use of firearms. Kleck points out that if only one-tenth of the people are right about saving a life, the number of people saved annually by guns would still be 40,000.

For some perspective, consider the number of Americans who die each year because of medical errors. A 2016 Johns Hopkins study called medical error the third-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for about 250,000 deaths annually, or 10 percent of all deaths. Other studies put the number as high as 400,000 a year or more — since medical examiners, morticians and doctors rarely put "human error" or "medical system failure" on a death certificate.

What about accidents that result from driving while texting or engaged in other distracting activities like playing a CD or applying makeup? In 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured, in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

How many Americans die each year because of opioid abuse? According to the latest estimates from the CDC, more than 50,000 people died from opioid drug overdoses in 2016 — 15,446 from heroin, 14,427 from prescription opioids and 20,145 from non-methadone synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Finally, few of the demonstrators, at least publicly, called for the repeal of the Second Amendment. But the former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens calls for the repeal of the Second Amendment on the grounds that it is "a relic of the 18th century." He argues that only a repeal of the Second Amendment would diminish the National Rifle Association's power and influence. Stevens does not even believe that the Founding Fathers intended an "individual right" to keep and bear arms. A repeal would require approval of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-quarters of the states. Good luck with that.

A prediction. When the dust settles and the fury wanes, Congress will not pass additional gun control laws. It won't be for lack of passion. It will because the "common-sense" proposals suggested — banning bump stocks, reenacting the "assault weapons ban" and others — either would do nothing to reduce firearm crime or would violate the Second Amendment. In short, the "common-sense" measures are devoid of common sense.

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