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Gun Control: Just the Facts, Part 2- The Practical Issues

In part 1, I discussed some of the constitutional issues involved with gun control legislation. In both the Heller and McDonald cases, Justices Scalia and Alito respectively got it right when they answered the underlying fundamental question about the Second Amendment- whether it is an individual or a collective right. As was discussed, it is clearly an individual right with a collective purpose. The collective aspect is moot without the individual right. The Left can wish to relitigate these cases and play semantic games, but it is what it correctly is.

Many arguments for gun control start to fall apart when one looks at the statistical evidence. Gun proponents can only shake their heads and laugh somewhat when cities and states with some of the most stringent gun control laws also have some of the most notoriously terrible records when it comes to crimes committed with guns and gun-related homicides. One of the most heinous mass shootings in American history- Newtown, Connecticut- occurred in a state with some of the most stringent gun control laws in the country. When Washington had a handgun ban, they were the murder capital of the US. Today, that honor may belong to Chicago, another city with stringent gun control.

The Brady Campaign against gun violence is perhaps the nation’s foremost recognized gun control organization. They annually rank the states based on a set of criteria as to their gun control laws. In their analysis, the states with the most stringent gun control laws are: California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Rhode Island, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the states with the most lax gun control laws are: Utah, Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Montana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Idaho and Florida.

The Justice Department generally gathers crime statistics analyzed as the number of incidents per 100,000 population. Using these statistics, some interesting results are shown. A caveat: the Brady campaign along with other Left-leaning outlets have touted “evidence” that the states with the most lax gun laws have the highest homicide rates. Indeed, Louisiana has a high homicide by gun rate and has some of the most lax laws. Yet they fail to note that Maryland, with some of the strongest laws, is no shining beacon of lack of gun violence.

In the states with the best gun control laws in the country according to the Brady Campaign, the homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 population is 2.69 while that rate in the states with the most lax gun laws is 2.68. For all intents and purposes, they are equal and the only conclusion one can make is that the severity of the gun law makes no difference in the homicide-by-firearm rate. Now while the overall murder rate (regardless of whether a firearm was used) may be higher in the most lax states, there is another statistic that blows a hole in the theory that stringent gun control laws lower the incidences of firearm related homicides. In the states with the most stringent laws, 63.1% of all homicides involve a gun while in the most lax states, 59.9% of all homicides involve a gun. Put another way, in the states with the most lax gun laws, murders occur at a higher rate per 100,000 population, but guns are actually implicated LESS in their homicides. That is, despite the severity of the gun law, the murderer will find a way to murder.

Even using the “almost” equal figures between the most stringent and most lax states and their gun-related homicide rates, most of that equality is attributable to Louisiana (7.7 gun murders per 100,000). They are the aberration in this group just as Maryland is the aberration in the most stringent grouping of states.

Looking at the evidence from a different angle, in the ten states with the lowest gun-related homicide rates, their average Brady ranking (on a scale of 1-100) is 11. In the ten states with the highest rate of homicides attributable to guns, the average Brady score is 11.2. In other words, yet again the severity of the gun control laws in the states have very little to do with homicide rates in general, or homicides where guns are used. Even in one specific area of gun control- concealed carry laws- only four states have unrestricted laws regarding the permitting process. They are Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming. Ironically, two of those states fall in the top 10 among gun-related homicides per 100,000 (Alaska and Arizona) while the other two fall in the top ten states with the lowest gun-related homicides.

All this being said, several states have passed stringent gun control laws which target either the seller or the purchaser. Regarding gun dealers, most on either side of the issue would agree that dealers should be licensed to sell firearms and ammunition, that they maintain records of their sales and that they report theft of any firearms. These are commonsense ideas that would likely pass constitutional muster and, in any case, would fall under the right of states to place conditions on licensing of any business. One regulation that is troubling with respect to dealers, however, is that some states allow police inspections of licensed dealers to ensure compliance. Often, these are unannounced checks. While some may argue that there is nothing wrong with this since we allow unannounced food inspections and health code inspections, it strikes others as somewhat Gestapo-like to do so with firearms since there is a clearly articulated right to own and bear arms. Still, it is conceivable, again under the state licensing schemes, that this practice would likely survive a court review.

Other efforts are directed at the purchaser such as a limiting the number of guns to be purchased, the requirement of permits to purchase, mandatory background checks, and mandatory safety training before possession. The third set of controls applies to the weapons themselves and includes things like banning certain types of weapons from sale, limits on magazine capacity, provision of child safety locks and child access prevention. Finally, the fourth level includes regulations on how the firearm is to be used and includes restrictions on guns in the workplace, schools, college campuses and concealed carry laws.

With respect to the gun dealers, statistics show that the vast majority of violations against gun dealers occurs with some error in filling out Form 4473. In fact, this form and errors on it from as simple as forgetting to fill in a date accounts for 7 out of every 10 violations. Another major “violation” is neglecting to make timely entries. There may very well be examples of certain federally licensed gun dealers being “guilty” of over 1,000 violations before their license is revoked, yet there can be multiple violations off of a single application. The perception is that the government is lax in enforcement and that gun dealers are running amok willfully violating existing laws in pursuit of a profit. And one of the biggest falsities of the debate is the so-called “gun show loophole.” The recent remarks before Congress and Obama’s own citation of these erroneous facts has already been called out by no less a liberal rag than The Washington Post. Five states require background checks for handgun purchases at gun shows, yet two of them- Maryland and Pennsylvania- rank among the worst ten states when it comes to gun homicide rates. And of the 9 states that require checks for any gun purchased at a show, three fall in the 20 worst state category for homicide by gun rates. Simply, closing the loophole, if it exists, will not affect the homicide/crime rate.

As for that celebrated assault weapon ban, the problem is twofold. First, there is the definition of what constitutes an “assault weapon” and this often devolves into minute specifications around which there are numerous loopholes that render a “ban” useless in the first place. The second, and the more important reason, is that we have been down this road before. While boobs like Pierce Morgan and Mayor Bloomberg can claim that we need these laws, when we did have an assault weapon ban, there is absolutely no reliable study out there demonstrating that the ban had any effect on violent crime rates. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control itself determined that the evidence was insufficient at best. Other studies of the issue have found that the ban actually increased the incidence of homicides. Further, “gun related crime rates” may go UP in states with assault weapon bans. Why? Because those states are basically making criminals out of people who have these weapons who would in no way use them in a violent crime. Their mere possession makes them a criminal, not anything they actually did with the gun. And regardless, despite the occasional high profile use of an “assault weapon” in a crime, their use in violent crime and in homicides attributed to guns is very low and was low before the original ban was passed and expired in 2004.

Likewise, limits on magazine size make no sense. While it may be true that no hunter needs a hail of 30 bullets to bring down a deer, large capacity magazines serve a purpose. No one knows how many bullets it would take in order to take down a potential attacker as that relies on many variables like the health of the attacker, the accuracy of the shooter and other things. New York recently passed a bill establishing a seven-round maximum limit. This essentially renders most guns in New York useless since there are no seven round magazines produced or available (most are eight rounds). Thus, this is nothing more than a likely unconstitutional effective ban on gun ownership (unless manufacturers come up with a seven-bullet magazine). In any event, most of the recent mass shootings, while they may have involved large capacity magazines, also involved (more importantly) multiple weapons. If one looks at where these crimes occur with a rational rather than a reactionary eye, they often occur in gun free zones. This is nothing more than an advertisement to the would-be mass shooter that he has a greater chance of success. Does anyone really believe that a little sign deters these people?

The final practical issue is that of concealed carry laws which differ from state to state with Illinois being the only state that outright bans this practice. At best, concealed carry laws, when enacted, usually have what is called a Hawthorne effect on crime rates. When a law was passed in Florida, the incidence of violent crime decreased, but not too long after its passage, crime rates are back up. Yet, there is no empirical evidence to the contrary view that carrying a concealed weapon increases the incidence of violent crime. The primary purpose of a firearm is self-defense. It would make obvious sense that one is more likely to be accosted by a criminal in public where the use of a concealed weapon may deter that potential crime. One study by the Cato Institute estimates that there are anywhere from 830,000 to 2.45 million incidences of defensive use of firearms. Because no crime is actually perpetrated, many of these incidences go unreported and do not make it into a statistical database, so accuracy in these statistics is hard to come by. Still, of these numbers, in states where there are concealed weapon allowances, the vast majority of defensive use of firearms occurs in a residential, not public setting. One argument is that a would-be criminal can take the gun of the concealed carrier, but that Cato study examined 4,700 known instances of use of a concealed weapon by a would be victim and in only 11 instances (0.23%) did the criminal “take” the gun on the legal gun owner. Furthermore, in statistics from a 2003 study on defensive use of firearms, private citizens shot criminals at a rate 2.5 times greater than that of police indicating that a private citizen is more apt to pull the trigger than the police. More importantly, in an analysis of the accuracy of shooting an actual criminal, police shoot innocent suspects 11% of the time while private citizens shoot innocent suspects only 2% of the time. And again, when looking at state gun crime statistics, whether a state has lax or stringent concealed carry laws makes very little practical difference on their gun-related homicide rates OR violent crimes using guns.

In part 1, I ended the discussion with the view that if one is going to curtail or restrict a fundamental constitutional right- and the right to own and bear arms is one such right- then there had better be airtight evidence that the effort is (1) narrowly tailored, (2) serves a legitimate state interest and (3) is proven to be effective. Gun control advocates fail on points (1) and (3) above- especially point #3. At the absolute best, they can claim that “the jury is still out.” But, the jury being out is clearly no reason to infringe upon a fundamental constitutional right. If the gun control proponent’s “best” is the jury being out, then we are surely on a path towards a police state.

Ultimately, I am not a gun control opponent as much as I am a supporter of constitutional rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights and as they apply to states. These feel-good, reactionary efforts are nothing more than an effort to give the impression that “something is being done.” In their zeal to do something, the more important constitutional rights are ignored. Yet, this seems to be the Liberal tendency since they view this document and its amendments as an outdated piece of paper. A true conservative should rue the day when we effectively renounce our constitutional rights just so that we could feel good about ourselves.

[In Part 3, I hope to articulate some practical ideas that would hopefully be constitutional and actually address the issue of gun violence in America.]

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