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What gun control doesn't do

The Professor

By Steven Martinovich

(October 20, 2003) - There are over 24 000 gun control laws on the books today in the United States. It's a staggering number but one that millions of Americans have accepted – if they were aware of it in the first place – in the belief that gun control is necessary to make their society safer. That is the primary argument of the gun control movement, that restrictions are necessary to protect Americans from themselves.

Unless, of course, when they don't. A report released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control found to the consternation of many that gun control laws don't seem to prevent violent crime, suicides or accidental injuries in the United States. A task force composed of health care and community experts found "insufficient evidence" – based on 51 studies, some funded by the CDC – that bans on particular kinds of firearms, waiting periods and other laws changed the incidence of suicide, murder, rape and other types of violent crimes.

The failure of gun control laws isn't exclusive to the United States. One year after the 1996 Dunblane massacre which saw Thomas Hamilton murder 16 children the private ownership of handguns was banned. Legislation was passed in the hopes of reducing the number of handguns available to criminals. Not surprisingly, the exact opposite happened. Crimes involving handguns has exploded, jumping 35 per cent in the past year alone, to levels not seen since 1993.

A similar story is occurring in Canada. Even after three major gun control bills since 1977 and the establishment of a national firearms registry, handguns – long the most regulated of firearms in Canada – accounted for two-thirds of firearms related homicides, up from about half during the 1990s and one-third before 1990. Of all the handguns used during a homicide, 72 per cent weren't registered, proving the registry's ineffectualness.

Why gun control legislation is failing to reduce violent crime should be self-evident on two counts. Law-abiding firearms owners are by definition law-abiding – they took the time to follow the regulations inherent in owning a firearm – and are less likely to use firearms illegally. Gun control laws only inconvenience those who are inclined to follow the law and criminals hardly fall into that category. In Britain, a banned good quality semiautomatic handgun can be purchased in London for only a few hundred dollars. As numerous scholars have pointed out, you can never effectively keep guns out of the hands of criminals, because it takes so few guns to meet their needs. That need will always be met by black markets and smuggling.

Secondly, restricting firearms ownership merely pushes people to use other means to achieve their ends. The CDC study pointed out that while one study suggested the 1994 Brady Bill, which required a five day waiting period until a computerized checking system was introduced in 1998, significantly cut the rate of gun-related suicides for those under the age of 55, several other studies suggested that suicides by other means increased. In Canada, 149 people were killed with firearms while knives accounted for 180 murders.

It's difficult to understand then why the gun control lobby has such a prominent standing in public policy discussions. No predictive studies are ever undertaken of any gun control initiatives and when they inevitably fail the gun control lobby's response is to demand new restrictions. Legal gun owners end up running around a slowly shrinking circle, their Second Amendment rights constantly eroded, while the problem of gun related deaths continues to plague society.

It's time for society to reevaluate its approach to gun control. That doesn't necessarily mean the repeal of those 24 000 gun control laws, unlikely in this current political climate anyway, but a moratorium should be established while we figure out what works and what doesn't. It's a sounder approach then blindly passing laws every time a tragedy like Dunblane or Columbine occur, laws that fail to solve the problem but make us feel better – at least those of us untouched by violence.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich

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