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Do gun control laws control guns?

Thomas Sowell's picture

The gun control controversy is only the latest of many issues to be debated almost solely in terms of fixed preconceptions, with little or no examination of hard facts.

Media discussions of gun control are dominated by two factors: the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment. But the over-riding factual question is whether gun control laws actually reduce gun crimes in general or murder rates in particular.

If, as gun control advocates claim, gun control laws really do control guns and save lives, there is nothing to prevent repealing the Second Amendment, any more than there was anything to prevent repealing the Eighteenth Amendment that created Prohibition.

But, if the hard facts show that gun control laws do not actually control guns, but instead lead to more armed robberies and higher murder rates after law-abiding citizens are disarmed, then gun control laws would be a bad idea, even if there were no Second Amendment and no National Rifle Association.

The central issue boils down to the question: What are the facts? Yet there are many zealots who seem utterly unconcerned about facts or about their own lack of knowledge of facts.

There are people who have never fired a shot in their life who do not hesitate to declare how many bullets should be the limit to put into a firearm’s clip or magazine. Some say ten bullets but New York state’s recent gun control law specifies seven.

Virtually all gun control advocates say that 30 bullets in a magazine is far too many for self-defense or hunting — even if they have never gone hunting and never had to defend themselves with a gun. This uninformed and self-righteous dogmatism is what makes the gun control debate so futile and so polarizing.

Anyone who faces three home invaders, jeopardizing himself or his family, might find 30 bullets barely adequate. After all, not every bullet hits, even at close range, and not every hit incapacitates. You can get killed by a wounded man.

These plain life-and-death realities have been ignored for years by people who go ballistic when they hear about how many shots were fired by the police in some encounter with a criminal. As someone who once taught pistol shooting in the Marine Corps, I am not the least bit surprised by the number of shots fired. I have seen people miss a stationary target at close range, even in the safety and calm of a pistol range.

We cannot expect everybody to know that. But we can expect them to know that they don’t know — and to stop spouting off about life-and-death issues when they don’t have the facts.

The central question as to whether gun control laws save lives or cost lives has generated many factual studies over the years. But these studies have been like the proverbial tree that falls in an empty forest, and has been heard by no one — certainly not by zealots who have made up their minds and don’t want to be confused by the facts.

Most factual studies show no reduction in gun crimes, including murder, under gun control laws. A significant number of studies show higher rates of murder and other gun crimes under gun control laws.

How can this be? It seems obvious to some gun control zealots that, if no one had guns, there would be fewer armed robberies and fewer people shot to death.

But nothing is easier than to disarm peaceful, law-abiding people. And nothing is harder than to disarm people who are neither — especially in a country with hundreds of millions of guns already out there, that are not going to rust away for centuries.

When it was legal to buy a shotgun in London in the middle of the 20th century, there were very few armed robberies there. But, after British gun control zealots managed over the years to disarm virtually the entire law-abiding population, armed robberies became literally a hundred times more common. And murder rates rose.

One can cherry-pick the factual studies, or cite some studies that have subsequently been discredited, but the great bulk of the studies show that gun control laws do not in fact control guns. On net balance, they do not save lives but cost lives.

Gun control laws allow some people to vent their emotions, politicians to grandstand and self-righteous people to “make a statement” — but all at the cost of other people’s lives.

[Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is] COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM


G35 Dude's picture

Excellent column. This has been a point that I've tried to make before. There will always be stories on both sides that support that sides argument. We have to look at the big picture. Gun control zealots mean well but base their opinions on emotion not fact.

[quote]Virtually all gun control advocates say that 30 bullets in a magazine is far too many for self-defense or hunting — even if they have never gone hunting and never had to defend themselves with a gun. This uninformed and self-righteous dogmatism is what makes the gun control debate so futile and so polarizing.[/quote]

Ask the parent who had to identify their child's body after having 11 bullets pumped into it. No uninformed or self-righteous dogmatism - just a harsh reality of what 1, 2, or more bullets do to a human being when in the wrong hands (criminal/mentally ill) We're not going to ever see all guns confiscated in this country - but we certainly can do a better job of who has them - and treat those who have mental problems before they get their hands on one..

Thomas Sowell; a respected 80 year old conservative//libertarian; Harvard graduate, economist who is also a proponent of skewed 'facts'. Common sense, many hope, will prevail over the 'politically informed'. From experience in today's urban world, it is true that most holders of illegal weapons do not know how to effectively use them - and there would be even more deaths if those who held these automatic weapons that fire more than one bullet when a trigger is pulled were accurate - but they aren't. True, a scared, law abiding citizen may not hit any human to effectively 'stop' him if his weapon was firing out of control. So what!! Enforce existing gun control laws; get meaningful help for those who are experiencing a mental disease (other than criminalizine them); stop ignoring what is happening in the urban areas with gun trafficking. Someone is getting paid - and turning the other eye. In the case of Newtown, the gun was purchased legally by the mother of the perpetrator. . . a young man who obviously needed help and did not get it. On Sowell's bio page, a picture of Obama with 'ban all guns' sign. Now is that a fact - or an emotional appeal? Sleezy marketing.

G35 Dude's picture

[quote]Ask the parent who had to identify their child's body after having 11 bullets pumped into it. No uninformed or self-righteous dogmatism - just a harsh reality of what 1, 2, or more bullets do to a human being when in the wrong hands (criminal/mentally ill)[/quote]

I would call this an emotional response. Rather than look at the overall picture you're falling victim to what I described above. Taking one instance as sad as it may be and letting it color your whole perspective.

The whole picture-unemotional: <strong>guns in the wrong hands kill people. That's the cold hard fact.</strong> People with common sense want to do all humanly possible to keep guns out of the wrong hands (criminals/ mentally diseased ). The talk of banning all guns:; confiscating guns. are the messages that the 'gun control' groups (pro/con) are using to politically posture for the next election IMO.

G35 Dude's picture

I think you already know that I agree with you on the mentally ill issues. The fact that nothing was said about the mentally ill was one big reason that I was disappointed with this administrations response to gun issues. I also agree that ALL gun owners should have to undergo a background check. But your statement above looked like you were backing the magazine ban by limiting the number of bullets. And your reasoning seemed to be that a dead person would look better with fewer bullets in him. The facts are that only 3-5% of gun deaths were by long gun i.e. rifles. Assault weapons are only a part of that. So why are we spending so much time on assault weapons? As you said political posturing.

PTC Observer's picture

IMHO, the reason the government is focused on AR's and clip capacity is because the media and politicians know nothing about weapons. They don't care to know anything about weapons and they certainly will never admit that they know nothing about weapons. The only thing they will do is attempt to regulate them based on some vague notion that to do so will save lives. It won't save lives but it sounds pretty good to a whole lot of people that know nothing about weapons. Thus, it will help them to get those votes.

S. Lindsey's picture

...This issue has been hashed to death.

There really is nothing new to add.. The Gun Control crowd exemplifies the typical Liberal, talk a lot but do really nothing.

It's the intent not the outcome that matters. No matter how many facts, how much evidence one puts on the table that bans do not work.. they still got to "DO" something.

Somehow taking away the Law-Abiding Citizens right to buy, what in essence is the very expression of what the 2nd means, anything that they it is need that matters now.

Next is why do we need more then one car, or more then 2 bedrooms in a house...heck why stop there why do we need a house?

Need has nothing to do with RIGHTS... We don't NEED to voice our opinion's we do so because we can...

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."

-Ayn Rand

The last ban did not decrease violence, but the facts be damned by this administration. They don't care as long as they appear to be "doing something" about the issue. Lowering tax rates has proven time and time again to actually increase tax revenues, but this administration does not care. For him, it's about "fairness", and economic justice, whatever that's supposed to mean.

S. Lindsey's picture

...No Gun Control advocate can point to any unbiased case studies that show bans work to control shootings and actually make us safer. (Note to DM) I again used the ...(er).

Gun bans simply do not work.. One must remember that the 1994 Scary gun ban and hi-cap mag ban was in effect WHEN Columbine happened. Did it make them safer? Nope.

Show me a Country where it's population is oppressed by a despotic Government that is armed. Can't do it.. but I can show you Countries where their Citizens are free and are armed.

None of that matters... it's the intent that count's not the results.

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."

-Ayn Rand

My favorite Phrase is "Law abiding Citizens"
THe USA has the presumption of innocense. Meaning Innocent until proven guilty.
That mean the guy who gunned down Rep Giffords was innocent until proven guilty even though dozens of people saw him do it.
That mean the guy who went into the Aurora movie house and open fire on the crowd was law abiding until he pulled the trigger, and is still innocent until, if and when he is convicted in a court of law.
Smae for the guy who killed the folks in Newtown. He was law abiding until he killed his mother and then went down to the local school house and killed as many kids as he could get access to.
Weapons and ammunition all purchases legally.
Our favorite survivalist in Alabama. Was he law abiding too?

Th ephrase law abiding citizen implies something in the minds of the people who say it that has absolutely no relevance in undesranding the role of guns in society.
If you are law abidding, are you willing to register all of your weapons as you do your car ? If no, why not? I thought you were law abidding ?


Cyclist's picture

Senator Donzella James' proposed legislation will turn many into felons if it passes.

"We don't need guns in the hands of people... because many of them are irresponsible," insisted State Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta).

I guess she hasn't heard of the 2nd Amendment.

Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

G35 Dude's picture

She doesn't seem to have any co-sponsors. That is a good sign.

Cyclist's picture

I suspect it will not get out of "committee".

What's interesting is her bill does not exempt police officers from those requirements which surprisingly was the case with the recently passed New York State bill. By gosh they had to do it "now" and in doing so that legislation was flawed.

Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

I suspect there's a lot she hasn't heard of, but her bio says she has consulted personally with Prime Ministers,Kings, & Presidents, I'm sure dazzling them with her Fulton & Douglas County wit and knowledge of foreign affairs!

Cyclist's picture

LOL. Do you think????

Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

What is apparent is the difference in 'gun ownership/possession' in urban and suburban areas. What is identified in this bill are those weapons that have been 'trafficked' into the inner cities of our country - and not used for hunting or collecting. I cringed again when I saw a BAZOOKA listed!! I asked some law enforcement personnel - and they shared that they have recovered this type of weapon from some inner city 'busts'. They also informed me that some 'other militias' have such weapons. A one size fits all won't work here!! Are there some leaders who can sit down and recognize the concerns of all citizens and meet their needs - WITHOUT REPEALING THE SECOND AMENDMENT?

After rereading this bill,I don't believe there's any way in hell Gov Deal would sign this piece of garbage,which I strongly suspect is a product of considerable plagarism from a variety of sources.

I completely agree, at some point in USA history, American will choose , against the wishes of the gun lobby and the bun busines, and their propoganda machine to repeal the seocnd ammendment.

Why ? Because gun control laws, opposed by these folks are watered down to the point wher ther are doomed to be ineffective. Thats right, gun control laws, even the strict ones, are too laxed. And there will always be the obstacle that very strict laws will be challanged as unconstitutional.

But mass murder will continue. Home grown terrorist, in the name of survivalism etc, will become more and more bold and one day it really look like a Die Hard movie and eventually, they wil kill the wrong people and Americans as a whole will have no choice but to systemattically take control of the situation and if the second ammendment stands in the way, it will be repealed.

What is astounding to me is that the killing of 28 school kids in Connecticutt is not enough. If that is not enough for gun advocates to of their own initiative try t otake control of the situation, what will it take ? Who has to die ? How many have to die ?

You cannot argue I do n't trust the governmetn ot manage the data and also argue I have the rights because the government geave them to me. That is the classic cake and eat it too scenario that is all too common in US politics today.


Mike King's picture

Perhaps if you had your way, and all guns were banished (mind you banished) do you really believe you would be safer? Perhaps the German Jews felt as you do back on Kristal-night.

I strongly disagree with you that it is my belief that should the Second Amendment be repealed, America will transform into a society in which you and your liberal friends would be the first to suffer. If you think it tragic that 28 school kids were killed, disarming America will prove to be far worse.

The nation was horrified at the tragedy of Newtown. Children are killed weekly in our urban areas. I agree - don't repeal the Second Amendment. However:

1. Make it just as difficult to get a gun as it is to get treatment for mental illness OR update our treatment of the mentally unstable.

2. Stop gun trafficking.

3. Improve background checks.

Will not stop anothe rmass murder.

As guns laws are too laxed to be effective. Stricter laws must be enacted. The nthere will be a legal challange based on the second amendment. The challenge will prevail and the second amendment will need to be over turned. It will be amended.

I am not advocating banning guns or confiscating guns.

I am saying that the ownership of guns will be regualted by the federal government. And if the second amendment gets in the way, it will go away.

How can I say this? At some point there is a crime so severe that there will be no other choice. It is inevitable.

If the NRA wants to manage the situation, then they need to stop the fear rhetoric and advocate for the correct solution that can work. Otherwise the crime I mention is inevitable and the situatio will pass beyond their capacity to influence the path forward from that point.

What do you think ?


kcchiefandy's picture

Check the crime statistics where state & local gun laws are the most strict; you might wake up and smell the coffee - THEY'RE BAD compare to the rest of the nation, for the most part. Start w/ Chicago & D.C.

Liferfrom65's picture

How many abortions are too many? I would be willing to bet you would have no issue with the 28 at Newtown being killed while they were still in the womb.

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