The Right Way to Combat Gun Violence

Most gun control ideas are irrelevant or impossible.

Public policy is a lot like math: No matter what the problem, the wrong answers are far more numerous than the right ones. This is particularly true on the subject of mass shootings and other firearms violence, which have stimulated a new fervor for barking up the wrong tree.

Many liberals think the answer to mass shootings and street crime lies in stricter gun regulation: banning "assault weapons," limiting the capacity of magazines or, in their unrestrained moments, adopting ultra-stringent laws like those in Britain or Australia.

Tigresblanco / photo on flickrTigresblanco / photo on flickrBut most of these ideas are irrelevant or impossible. Even if the Second Amendment didn't prevent it, Americans would never stand for a near-total ban on ownership of semiautomatic weapons, a la Australia, or of handguns, as in Britain. You might as well expect Nebraska to build 300 miles of oceanfront beaches.

Outlawing "military-style" guns would be a waste of time, since other weapons of identical capabilities would remain available. A limit on magazine capacity wouldn't impede street thugs, who don't need to fire 30 rounds to accomplish their tasks, or even mass shooters, who typically bring multiple guns or magazines.

The problem with most gun control laws is that they impose a burden on the law-abiding that lawbreakers can usually evade. What is needed is an approach that focuses tightly on altering the behavior of criminals. There are proven steps that can hobble the dangerous without penalizing the harmless.

What works in preventing violent crime? One remedy is simple, though not cheap: more police on the streets. This may look like a Blinding Flash of the Obvious, but it's not. Among criminologists, it was once commonly assumed, based on actual research, that beefing up patrols would make no difference.

Today, the evidence points conspicuously in the opposite direction. Jens Ludwig, who directs the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, says, "The COPS program launched in the 1990s under President Clinton helped contribute to the crime drop we saw in that decade." Nationally, it increased the number of police by more than 80,000.

New York City added 7,000 uniformed officers in the 1990s, and its numbers are still well above where they started. Result: a stunning 81 percent reduction in homicides since 1990. Last year, the city had fewer murders than any year since 1963. In January, it went 10 days without a single homicide.

Having plenty of law enforcement personnel is just part of the battle; the other part is using them effectively. What appears to have worked in New York -- and, later, in Chicago -- is swarming crime "hot spots" with cops for days or weeks, forcing criminals to mind their manners. This approach "almost certainly made a substantial contribution in New York," writes criminologist Franklin Zimring, author of "The City That Became Safe."

It was once thought that when cops moved into an area, crooks would merely move to another one. It turns out that migration is not always an attractive option. So a crime prevented today may be a crime that is never committed.

Chicago also had some luck with a joint federal-city operation, called Project Safe Neighborhoods. It zeroed in on ex-convicts, with the goal of dissuading them from carrying guns, using a carrot-and-stick approach. The stick was federal prosecution carrying long sentences with no parole in faraway prisons; the carrot was meetings where offenders were offered help getting shelter, job training, and education.

In areas where PSN was implemented, homicide rates plunged. In the rest of the city, they barely budged. Ex-offenders who were required to take part in round-table meetings with police, community representatives and service providers were nearly 30 percent less likely than others to end up back in prison.

Another method of catching thugs with guns, says Ludwig, is to offer significant cash rewards to tipsters -- $500 or $1,000. This approach would not only produce more arrests of felons and teens but also strongly discourage them from illegally carrying weapons. An action that today may generate respect or fear -- displaying a handgun to friends or rivals -- would suddenly carry a serious risk of prison time.

If we hope to reduce gun crime, the answer doesn't lie in broad laws that mostly affect people who pose no threat. It lies in targeting the criminals. Most gun control measures involve rearranging the haystack. What these initiatives do is locate the needles.

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  • Jordan||

    Want to significantly reduce gun crime while simultaneously improving the state of liberty? End the War on Drugs and roll back the regulatory leviathan that destroys economic opportunities for the poor.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yes. hello! Let's see. When was the last time we had a bunch of gun violence in the streets? Alchohol prohibition. One has to be daft not to see the parellel. You want to know who's most responsible for gun violence? The government. We don't need more cops. We needs less laws.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Obviously, we don't need more cops, we need less laws. You know it is fact when Chapman says the opposite. If he were a stopped clock he would read 26:63.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    I didn't even bother reading the article, I skipped straight to the comments for the takedown. Now I see why.

  • JohnD||

    I doubt ending the war on drugs will have the effect you desire. But you have a point on the out of control regulatory mess.

    Unfortunately, many criminals do not want a job. They would rather take what you have worked for.

  • KPres||

    Drug legalization would free up police resources to pursue REAL criminals. I also happen to think sentences for REAL crimes should increased, and in fact, think that would be much easier to accomplish politically if the opposition wasn't able to point to an outrageous justice system driven by drug prohibition as evidence that jail doesn't work.

  • CatoTheElder||

    The problem is that effective responses to REAL crimes require hard work, something that humans, especially government employees, find unpleasant. It much easier to set up narcotics stings and DUI roadblocks.

    Probably even more important, though, is how much easier it is for prosecutors to obtain drug and DUI convictions.

  • dbobway||

    Mr. Cato you are the smartest man on this page.
    Let me add 1 more thing or 2.

    Busting a pothead is safer and may bring revenue.
    DUI roadblocks are a money making monster.
    15 cops busting drunks who are sitting in a car in line stopped while a block over some guy with a revoked license is screaming down the road looking for victims.

    How much area could 15 cops each in a car cover at the same time of a road block! NA! There's no profit in that.

    To "serve and protect" our job!

  • Zeb||

    "Unfortunately, many criminals do not want a job."

    Supply and demand works for criminals too. And how is drug trafficking not a job?
    Sure, many will continue to try to be criminals, but without the money from drugs, a lot fewer will be able to make a living at it. It is silly to imagine that there is a fixed population of natural criminals who will always do bad things, no matter what else changes.

  • Sam Grove||

    Unfortunately, many criminals do not want a job. They would rather take what you have worked for.

    Now if they got organized and formed a government, they do this without personal consequence.

  • ||

    Jordan said:

    Want to significantly reduce gun crime while simultaneously improving the state of liberty? End the War on Drugs and roll back the regulatory leviathan that destroys economic opportunities for the poor.

    THIS.

    The fact that both the media and politicians cannot directly address this fact shows just how much both institutions are practically one in the same. Media is the new religion: it only tells the masses what the people in power choose to discuss.

  • CosmoBro||

    Bingo. This has to be the most misinformed Reason article I've read in quite a while.

  • Johnny||

    my best friend's aunt makes $87/hr on the internet. She has been unemployed for 7 months but last month her paycheck was $21645 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site... http://www.youtube.com.qr.net/kaaS

  • Bear Talking in Passive Voice||

    I don't want more police on the streets. That means more taxes and more ticket writing. I want more people armed and who patrol their own neighborhoods.

    There was an 18 year old black man shot and killed around the corner from my house the other day in broad daylight. I work from home and heard the shooting and the bullets whizzing by. I immediately ran to check on my baby and then loaded my AR-15. The cops didn't show up for about 5 to 10 minutes. Per the witness (who is a close friend of mine) and the detective, it was black-on-black shooting, most likely involving drugs or a gang.

    The house this was in front of is a Section 8 house and it is literally filled with blacks, young and old, hanging out all day with the door open. When the shots rang out at 2:30 pm, both the victim's dad and sister were right there on the block to run to the scene. None of the people work!

    If you really want to stop crime and not simply disarm us and tax us more, then we need to 1) eliminate welfare and section 8 housing so they don't have the funds to buy drugs and ammo and which will force them to find employment and 2) arm the people and make them patrol their own neighborhoods.

    More cops is the last thing we need.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    1) eliminate welfare and section 8 housing so they don't have the funds to buy drugs and ammo and which will force them to find employment

    While I agree with you that welfare creates a perverse incentive not to work, eliminating welfare will do nothing to curb drug use. The nature of drug addiction will cause many to commit petty thievery and other crimes to fund their drug addiction. As things stand now, most drug violence isn't caused by drug users, but by drug dealers.

  • Bear Talking in Passive Voice||

    Citations to authority please. I live in N.O. in the hood I grew up in a severely impoverished part of the country and was always around drugs and drug dealers. I am a lawyer and my brother was a prosecutor. Drug users and drug dealers are often one and the same, mainly the difference being the quantity used or sold. Blacks are statistically more violent, it's a fact we all have to confront and deal with. Ending free or cheap housing and cash handouts WOULD curb the crime dramatically as it would literally force *these people* to work or starve.

    The black community was not this violent 50 years ago. My dad grew up in deep south segregation and can attest to this fact.

  • KPres||

    50 years ago there was no drug war. Look, I'm all in to curbing welfare, but you're focusing on the wrong thing here.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Ending free or cheap housing and cash handouts WOULD curb the crime dramatically as it would literally force *these people* to work or starve.

    What you forget is that in the minds of many crime is "work," and it's often easier work than busting your ass for minimum wage.

  • ||

    To some. It carries great risk and ultamately will lead one to prison. According to Freakonomics the pay for Crack dealers is no better than for those who work at mcdonalds. There are some people who are not mentally capable of doing productive work. They will end up, where they belong, prison.

  • Zeb||

    I'd think that selling crack takes more mental ability than working as a cashier at WalMart. It's just another job.

  • Zeb||

    "Blacks are statistically more violent"

    What does than even mean? Does this apply to blacks across the board? Are similarly situated inner city poor white people any less violent? Are wealthy or middle class blacks more violent than other races in similar situations?

  • An0nB0t||

    If I were to say that men are statistically more violent than women, would you ask whether 70-year-old billionaire males are more violent than 19-year-old biker bitches?

    Life is full of unpleasant realities, and this sort of race-baiting undermines the serious discussion that we need to have regarding racial paternalism, violence, and the welfare state.

  • wareagle||

    While I agree with you that welfare creates a perverse incentive not to work, eliminating welfare will do nothing to curb drug use.
    -------------------------------

    maybe, maybe not, but a good case could be made that it removes on welfare's built-in disincentives - that of working for the money to support a drug habit. Drug crime is inexorably linked to welfare; public housing projects are among the most dangerous areas in any city.

    Criminals hide out there knowing cops don't particularly want to go, they hand a few bills in buying protection or warnings that cops are coming, and the nature of welfare itself is soul-sucking.

    When people are subsidized to NOT work, no one should be surprised when they fill their days with less that desirable activities. The drug war has merely continued what the war on poverty began.

  • General Butt Naked||

    People with drug habits that are on welfare aren't gonna go to work if you cut off their welfare, they'll just deal and steal more. Yes, I said more, because there is no way in hell welfare alone can support a serious habit.

  • KPres||

    Yes, I said more, because there is no way in hell welfare alone can support a serious habit.

    What would it cost if producers didn't have to import their product from Columbia up somebody's ass?

  • ||

    And they'll get caught and put in prison where they belong.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    While I get what you're saying, I keep thinking back to my travels in the 3rd World. In most of the countries I visited, there was no welfare state to speak of, and yet the poor weren't all noble yeomen working for their daily bread (or bowl of rice). A portion of the population were satisfied living hand to mouth and relied on petty crime or the shadow economy for their income. That income went to support their daily lives of drinking, fucking each other, and buying objects of status consumption like motorbikes and cell phones.

    The two easiest crimes to get this income were drug dealing and prostitution.

  • KPres||

    The two easiest crimes to get this income were drug dealing and prostitution.

    Yep, and neither of those would pay much if they had to compete against a big corporation pushing volume and satisfied with a 4-5% margin.

  • wareagle||

    then let such folks rely on a shadow economy rather than a welfare state. Sorry gonna be sorry; agree with you on that, but nothing says the rest of us have to subsidize it.

  • ||

    The poor question will always exist. You seem to understand it well. Why then, do you support mass third-world immigration?

  • Zeb||

    Shut the fuck up Lone Whacko.

  • Spoonman.||

    You seem a little too interested in the color of these people.

  • Bear Talking in Passive Voice||

    You obviously live in a place where whites are the majority and the median income is above average.

    Talk to me when you move to the hood and can here gunfire throughout the night and people drop dead on your block.

  • Virginian||

    You're a lawyer, but you can't move out of a neighborhood where people drop dead in front of your house?

    Bullshit. Come on, say what you really want to say.

  • l0b0t||

    I've been living and working The Quarter for more than 30 years. Your attempt to make this a race based problem is disgusting and ignorant.

  • ||

    This IS a race-based problem. Blacks, 13 percent of the population, commit 52 percent of the crime. If we only looked at White Americans, our crime rate would be the same as Belgium's.

  • JohnD||

    Police investigate crime. They seldom prevent crime, although a constant police presence can have an effect in high crime areas.

    When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

  • ||

    Police catch and imprison criminals. That is what really counts

  • ||

    The best thing ending welfare will do is curb the birth rate of these people. Women will know that their kid won't be supported, and will be taken away from them if they can't take care of it. It might even convince them to close their legs once in a while

  • Zeb||

    What's with all the racist dicktards lately? Or are they all the same one?

  • General Butt Naked||

    One remedy is simple, though not cheap: more police on the streets.

    I see that The Balko Files have been flushed down the memory hole.

  • Drake||

    I would agree - IF it is in concert with the recommendations above to end the Drug War.

    Instead of cops chasing drug dealers and users armed as soldiers, put them on the street in police uniforms.

  • JW||

    No, no, no, they just need more military-surplus equipment and fewer controls. That'll solve everything.

  • db||

    More cops = more drug war = more crime ---
    ^----------------------------------------------|

  • KPres||

    New York City added 7,000 uniformed officers in the 1990s, and its numbers are still well above where they started. Result: a stunning 81 percent reduction in homicides since 1990.

    Yeah, any relationship people draw between the crime wave in the early 90s and the various reactions the government had is dubious at best. When you look at the data closely the correlations are spurious and probably not causal. It was just the gang fad that rose up around crack, which wouldn't have happened if it had been legal. When people finally realized it was a stupid fad that was ruining their lives, the crime rate fell.

  • Marshall Gill||

    The other very important factor, if not the most important factor in crime rates is demographics. Young men commit something like 75% of all crime, as any who were young men can attest. When the percentage of the population that fits this category decreases, overall crime decreases.

  • SKR||

    plus the explanation has to account for the same massive and concurrent drop in crime in countries that did not massively increase the number of police. The increase in police seems obvious and there was probably some effect, but it can't account for most of the decrease.

  • Way Of The Crane||

    What works in preventing violent crime? One remedy is simple, though not cheap: more police on the streets.F

    Who are you and what have you done with H&R?!?!?!

  • JW||

    Forget it, Crane. It's Chapmanville.

  • ||

    "The problem with most gun control laws is that they impose a burden on the law-abiding that lawbreakers can usually evade. "

    This is not a problem in the view of the gun control crowd. Disarming the law abiding populace and keeping them cowed in a high crime environment is exactly what they want.

    See Fast and Furious.

  • wareagle||

    one man's feature is another's bug.

  • KPres||

    Gun control is culture war bullshit, not violence. It's just a way to criminalize rednecks that vote for the wrong team. That's why they love it so much.

  • Way Of The Crane||

    New York City added 7,000 uniformed officers in the 1990s, and its numbers are still well above where they started. Result: a stunning 81 percent reduction in homicides since 1990. Last year, the city had fewer murders than any year since 1963. In January, it went 10 days without a single homicide.

    And how many people's civil rights have been violated? How many innocent bystanders were shot by officers? If you're going to use statistics Chapman, ALL of the statistics relevant to the argument.

  • Rich||

    Public policy is a lot like math: No matter what the problem, the wrong answers are far more numerous than the right ones.

    Particularly if one does not apply logical analysis to explore the outcomes of one's method of "solution".

    I'll never forget having a congressional public policy weenie tell me that essentially NO actual analysis or simulation is done in setting policy. He basically admitted that most legislation is based on feelings and any numbers in it are made up.

  • JW||

    Last year, the city had fewer murders than any year since 1963. In January, it went 10 days without a single homicide.

    Chap-man, you'll never go far in this town for failing to praise the power of a fully armed and operational Bloomberg.

  • Corneliusm||

    Either Bloomberg's dick-sucking contest has made it all the way to reason, or Chapman has a midget fetish.

  • squarooticus||

    I am not in favor of more thugs with a badge on the streets. First, end Prohibition Redux (the drug war) and see what happens to crime as a result. After this is done, then we can have a talk about adding police to the streets.

  • JohnD||

    Ya know, the Libertarian Party would have a lot more converts if you weren't so hung up on drugs. That turns off a lot of folks.

  • Rich||

    My sarcasm meter is in the shop, so I'll just say "If you don't like drugs, then don't use them."

  • ||

    Are you kidding me? Every year, polling favors, at least, some drug legalization more and more. We don't have to go to them, they're coming to us.

  • ||

    -1 comma

  • Zeb||

    Locking up a person for selling or possessing drugs is exactly the same as locking them up for no reason at all, morally speaking. That's the main reason for opposing prohibition, and it is a pretty fucking big deal. The awful social and economic effects of prohibition are just side issues, really. But they are a good way to sell anti-prohibition arguments to people who are less clear on how self ownership works.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Chapman is an idiot.

  • Jon Lester||

    How about higher standards for becoming a cop in the first place? Quite a few people out there might not teeter on the edge of crime so much if they didn't have cause to associate the badge with a bad personality type.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "the Libertarian Party would have a lot more converts if you weren't so hung up on drugs freedom. That turns off a lot of folks."

  • Scott T||

    More cops and more tip lines? Just what this country needs...

    End the drug war, take away their easy money.

  • desosa||

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  • Corneliusm||

    Lucille lied. She embezzled that money from the Bluth Company.

  • Alphonse||

    This is not about "assault weapons" it is about universal registration.

  • Alice Bowie||

    I agree with the article that these laws are useless.

    What would help is an all-out ban on firearms and it can be accomplished. It is not like Nebraska building beaches.

    If manufacturing and sales were banned, it would be a good start.
    If that's what we desire.

  • Jon Lester||

    Would you like to do the confiscating yourself?

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    What would help is an all-out ban on firearms and it can be accomplished.

    Want to bet a dollar?

  • Alphonse||

    Do you think a civil war would be fun?

  • Loki||

    What would help is an all-out ban on firearms...

    ...because people getting stabbed to death instead of shot is such a huge improvement.

  • Loki||

    in their unrestrained honest moments, adopting ultra-stringent laws like those in Britain or Australia.

    FTFY.

    Also I think it's safe to a lot of the left-tards who are pushing this gun control nonsense, the payoff is the fact that only "law abiding" citizens would actually be affected. It's a feature, not a bug. It's about control, not reducing gun violence.

  • Globalmitch||

    This sort of simple-minded critique assuming ill-will of those you disagree with is the opposite of persuasive. You could call me a "left-tard", and I could care less about control, and I can tell you this about say, Australia - it's in no danger of a tyrannical government, and no Australian parent worries about their kid getting shot at school.

  • Loki||

    My goal was not to persuade anyone. As for "assuming ill-will of those [I] disagree with", when every one of their preferred policy "solutions" would result in less freedom and more control and power for the state, then it's not an assumption, but an observation. Oh sure, there may be some useful idiots whose intentions are not sinister, but the politicians elected by those useful idiots are after one thing and one thing only: more power. Again, this is based on observation, not assumption.

  • chris.church@gmail.com||

    If Australian citizens cannot arm themselves for protection, then they already have a tyrannical government.

    Tyranny doesn't always equate to jackbooted thugs and death camps. It can also include soft despotism.

  • ||

    "when fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley."

  • Corneliusm||

    "no Australian parent worries about their kid getting shot at school."

    Neither should any American parent, if they knew and understood statistics.

  • An0nB0t||

    They just have to worry about everyone--old, young, men, women--being raped and assaulted.

    Funny thing how mandating a technological return to barbarism results in the powerless and frail being exploited by the strong. If only there were a human innovation capable of preventing a woman from being gang raped when she is caught alone in a field by a trio of thugs.

  • 34lbs||

    Australians like me don't worry about our kids getting shot at schools because we know the statistics... and if americans knew the statistics they wouldn't be scared either, and that's not cause of gun laws, which have actually been inneffective here in down underland (20% compliance rates, half a million guns confiscated when more than 3 million were imported in the 80s). Everybody who has grown up in the countryside will tell you that they have at least seen an SKS... an SKS is a semi-automatic rifle that fires an intermediate round... and is illegal, and there are shit loads in this country.

  • Globalmitch||

    Chapman somehow ignores the fact the two thirds of all gun homicides are suicides, which his 'solutions' would do zero to address.

    As others have already pointed out, ending the War On Drugs would also do far more to reduce gun violence, along with doing substantially more to alleviate poverty, and boosting education levels (high levels of tech-industry in a given metro are negatively correlated with gun homicide).

    Source: http://www.theatlanticcities.c.....ence/4171/

  • Alphonse||

    What manner of suicide would you prefer?

  • Shaftoe||

    Death by Snoo Snoo.

  • GregMax||

    Abortion services . . . more abortion services!

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    I'm surprised that so far no one has used the phrases "broken window theory" or "Giuliani" with any hint of enthusiasm or contempt.

  • Joseph S||

    More police and tougher sentencing is one of the simple solutions that look great on paper, but not so much in the world. The increase in the number, and length, of sentences does produce a drop in crime, but it also breeds a culture where children come from broken homes and learn to expect police to worry more about padding their arrest stats than protecting the innocent.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    Does a kid who's raised by a parent who wanders around robbing people at gunpoint with impunity have a better home life? People who resort to violence for anything other than self-defense need to be the first ones to go into the slammer and the last ones out.

  • Johnimo||

    More cops and more government: that's what we need for sure. Does Chapman have the courage to suggest the corollary to his line of thinking: we need more taxes!

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