'More Guns Mean Only More Violence'


I didn't have space in my column to discuss The Washington Post's predictions about the practical consequences of last week's federal appeals court decision overturning major provisions of the D.C. gun ban:

If allowed to stand, this radical ruling will inevitably mean more people killed and wounded as keeping guns out of the city becomes harder….The NRA predictably welcomed yesterday's ruling. [As Radley noted the other day, the Post predictably fails to mention that the demonic NRA opposed the lawsuit on tactical grounds and tried to derail it.] According to its myth, only criminals have had guns in the city and now law-abiding citizens will be able to arm themselves for protection. [Far from a myth, this seems almost like a tautology to me, given how strict D.C.'s gun law is.] Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) counters that argument with the sad record of what results from a proliferation of guns. [In other words, he counters the argument that gun control is counterproductive by emphasizing how ineffective it is.] As he points out, more guns mean only more violence, and the city already has too much of both.

Even if John Lott is wrong that more guns mean less crime, one thing seems clear: In the states that have decided to let people carry handguns for self-protection, that policy has not been associated with increases in violence, contrary to the predictions of anti-gun activists. Is there reason to believe that letting D.C. residents keep guns in their homes for self-protection will, by contrast, "inevitably mean more people killed and wounded"? Ordinarily law-abiding people would be more likely to have guns handy in moments of anger, I suppose, and there would be more guns to be stolen. Criminals could more easily buy guns from legitimate dealers—or, more likely, get people with clean records to buy guns on their behalf.

But as criminologists such as Don Kates have pointed out, gun homicides are overwhelmingly committed by people with long records of anti-social behavior, not by Walter Mittys who have spats with their wives and end up killing them only because there's a gun in the house. That scenario is not impossible, of course, but it is not likely to have a noticeable effect on the homicide rate. As for criminals, they generally obtain their guns in the black or gray market, and they seem to have little trouble in doing so. As the D.C. Circuit noted in a footnote to its decision, "the black market for handguns in the District is so strong that handguns are readily available (probably at little premium) to criminals. It is asserted, therefore, that the D.C. gun control laws irrationally prevent only law abiding citizens from owning handguns." Not only are criminals, by definition, less punctilious about obeying the law; they are more strongly motivated than the average citizen to obtain guns, the tools of their trade.

Adding to the stock of legally owned guns might have an indirect, marginal effect on the supply available to criminals. But it seems unlikely to noticeably increase gun violence in a city that already has one of the highest homicide rates in the country, with the vast majority of those murders committed using firearms that Washington's gun controls have conspicuously failed to keep out of criminals' hands. It seems even less likely that such an effect would outweigh the positive impact of permitting armed self-defense. If nothing else, the knowledge that some potential victims are legally armed would discourage criminals from breaking into homes that might be occupied, thereby avoiding violent confrontations.