THE CONTRIBUTION OF GUNS TO CRIME

1/30/99 (minor rev)
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Not all, or even most, crimes now committed with guns would go away if there were magically no more guns.  However, there is no question that some violent crimes would not occur except for existence of guns.  A criminal that would not do certain crimes can be emboldened by having a gun, especially if there is potential that the intended victim will be better armed.  However, if the victims could not have firearms, few criminals would hesitate to attack with a lesser weapon such as a knife or club.  There is no shortage of very deadly, effective weapons other than guns (although most would be useable only at shorter distances than guns can be used).  So, law-abiding citizens would need guns for protection even if no criminals had guns.

Gun control advocates insist, however, that the public does not need guns for protection because we have the police.  This is false thinking.  In the first place, police cannot be everywhere whenever somebody wants to victimize us.  There aren't enough police for that, and there never could be.  And they are, for the most part, visible to the criminals since they are mostly in uniform for some very good reasons.  Criminals choose to victimize us when no officer is around.  And it takes much less time for the criminal to rob us and maybe kill us than it usually takes police to arrive, even if somebody immediately calls for them.

Besides this, police are not even legally required to protect us individually.  Their role is to deter criminality by creating the possibility that a criminal will be punished after doing the criminal act.  The truth is that we are responsible for protecting ourselves because we are the only ones who can do it, and that we should also consider it a duty to protect each other to whatever extent we can reasonably.  Besides protecting individuals directly, this also protects us all to a degree by creating deterrence because it generally increases the risks taken by criminals.

Unfortunately, it takes few guns to arm the criminals who want guns.  Because of this, they will always be able to get guns for themselves even if most of the public can't.  Because of the nature of our technology, it is relatively easy to make guns--so many people could do it.  The small numbers needed by criminals could be provided easily by a black market.  Remember what happened when people thought we could get rid of alcohol by outlawing it?  It is an economical fact that cheap (easily made) things can't be eliminated if anybody wants them (i.e., there is a market).

Yet, anything that can be done to reduce the numbers of guns in criminal hands can actually be counterproductive if that thing also reduces by a larger proportion the numbers of law-abiding people (potential victims) that have guns.  There is, however, some value in minimizing the availability (and increasing the costs) of guns to criminals as long as it can be done without taking them from law abiding citizens.  What can be done about minimizing criminal access?

Check out Firearms and Violent Crime:  Old Premises, Current Evidence by Don B. Kates, Jr. [ALT]

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