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Jewish World Review / June 30, 1998 / 6 Tamuz, 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell When more is less

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH recently passed a resolution urging all Presbyterians to keep handguns out of their homes. This resolution passed by a three-to-one margin, but it is very unlikely that those who voted for it have studied the empirical research on this subject.

The most recently published study is by Professor John Lott of the University of Chicago's More Guns, Less Crime : Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws (Studies in Law and Economics) . He found that murder rates went down after states passed laws making it easier for law-abiding citizens to own and carry concealed handguns. Rates of other violent crimes also went down.

The number of states with new laws making it easier for the average citizen to get a gun permit rose dramatically, from 8 states in 1985 to 31 by 1996. Moreover, the states with the most rapidly growing numbers of people owning handguns have had the greatest reductions in crime.

If Presbyterians follow the advice to remove handguns from their homes, they may reduce the number of accidental shootings of family members. But these are very few already and -- based on Professor Lott's study -- are likely to be more than offset by increased numbers of murders by intruders.

Ultimately, this is not a matter of a difference in opinion or philosophy, but a matter of empirical facts. Anyone who studies the many facts in John Lott's book will find it hard to continue believing the gun-control rhetoric that has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the media for years.

The crown jewel of the gun-control movement has been the Brady bill, which mandates a waiting period for people wanting to buy guns and also mandates background checks to keep criminals and crazies from becoming armed and dangerous. Background checks are not an issue. They have long been supported by opponents of gun restrictions, including the National Rifle Association.

Yet gun-controllers are whooping it up in the media because recent data indicate that background checks have worked and this is supposed to show that the Brady bill as a whole is a good thing.

But the other half of the Brady bill -- a 15-day waiting period -- is something else. Professor Lott's statistical data indicate that waiting periods cost lives, rather than save lives.

Liberals often assume that other people are irrational, so the idea behind a 15-day waiting period is that these irrational people should not be able to get their hands on a gun when they are angry and might do something they will regret. But there are also quite rational reasons for wanting a gun, including a realization that you are in danger. If so, you can be murdered before the 15 days are up -- as a number of people have been.

Criminals are also quite rational. So it is hardly surprising that a spread of handguns among the citizenry has been accompanied by both a decline in violent crimes and a rise in non-violent crimes. Since criminals are in the business of committing crimes, they adjust to changed conditions by changing their crimes.

Armed robbery is not nearly as much fun when the other guy is also armed. Shoplifting or stealing parked cars may look like a better alternative to getting shot. Some criminals may decide that even an honest job has possibilities.

Among the other facts to come out of this study is that a greater availability of handguns especially reduces crimes of violence against women and blacks. Unfortunately, many ghettos are in states with stringent restrictions against getting gun permits and heavy penalties for having guns without permits.

The criminals, of course, have plenty of guns, despite these laws. With an estimated 200 million guns in the United States, it is hard to imagine how gun-control laws will disarm anyone except law-abiding citizens.

If our real purpose is to reduce the number of lives lost on net balance, then it is just a factual question as to what actually does that. Unfortunately, there are people for whom gun-control crusades are part of a whole vision of the world that they are unwilling to give up, or even to risk by looking at facts.

Professor Lott has learned the hard way that gun-control activists will denounce his study in the media without ever having seen it. I could have told him that from long years of personal experience on other issues, but this is his first book.

To gun-control advocacy groups, politics and power matter and facts don't. But if you want the facts, read More Guns, Less Crime.

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6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.