March 6, 2012 – Essay #12 – Amendment II: The Right of the People to Keep & Bear Arms, Shall Not Be Infringed – Guest Essayist: Dr. John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, third edition, 2010).
The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed
To an overwhelming percentage of Americans, the constitutional question over DC’s and Chicago’s gun bans seemed simple enough. The plain meaning of the amendment was clear, and the Supreme Court agreed. In 2008 and 2010, Supreme Court decisions struck down gun bans and gunlock laws and decided that Americans have a right to self-defense. These were contested decisions, both being decided by close 5 to 4 votes. The four dissenting liberals claimed that there exists no individual right to “self-defense,” and even if such a right existed, it could be overridden by the public interest of reducing gun crimes and suicides.
In his 2008 dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer claimed that the “thought of self-defense primarily in terms of outbreaks of fighting with Indian tribes, rebellions such as Shays’ Rebellion, marauders, and crime-related dangers to travelers . . . .” is unrelated to the fears that Americans face today from crime in urban areas. He claims that the proposition that “householders’ possession of loaded handguns help to frighten away intruders” as “a question without a directly provable answer.” And that “none of the studies can show that [handgun bans are] not worthwhile.”
But a simple word count shows how Breyer’s fear over letting law-abiding Americans own guns fills his dissent. Just the words “crime,” “criminal,” “criminologist,” “death,” “homicide,” “murder,” “life-threatening,” “injury,” “rape,” “robbery,” “assault,” “safety,” and “victim” were used a total of 163 times in 44 pages. The terms “accidents” and “suicide” by themselves were mentioned an additional 13 times each. While other words could be included, these words alone averaged 4.3 per page of his dissent.
Many others shared Breyer’s concerns that murder and violent crime rates would soar after the Supreme Court struck down the Washington, D.C. and Chicago gun control laws. Politicians predicted disaster. “More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence,” Washington’s Mayor Adrian Fenty warned the day the court made its decision. Chicago’s Mayor Daley predicted that we would “go back to the Old West, you have a gun and I have a gun and we’ll settle it in the streets . . . .” The New York Times even editorialized this month about “the Supreme Court’s “unwise” decision that there is a right for people “to keep guns in the home.”
Yet, Armageddon never happened. Indeed, in the year after the 2008 Heller decision, the murder rate fell two-and-a-half times faster in DC than in the rest of the country. It also fell more than three as fast as in other cities that are close to DC’s size.
And murders in DC have continued to fall. If you compare the first six months of this year to the first six months of 2008, the same time immediately preceding the Supreme Court’s late June Heller decision, murders have now fallen by 34%.
To top it off, gun crimes fell more than non-gun crimes. Robberies with guns fell by 25%, while robberies without guns have fallen by 8%. Assaults with guns fell by 37%, while assaults without guns fell by 12%. Just as with right-to-carry laws, when law-abiding citizens have guns some criminals stop carrying theirs.
Similarly, the experience with crime data for Chicago shows that, as in DC, murder and gun crime rates didn’t rise after the bans were eliminated — they plummeted. They have fallen much more than the national crime rate. On this topic, the national media has remained completely silent.
In the first six months of last year, there were 14% fewer murders in Chicago compared to the first six months of last year – back when owning handguns was illegal. It was the largest drop in Chicago’s murder rate since the handgun ban went into effect in 1982. Meanwhile, the other four most populous cities experienced a total drop at the same time of only 6 percent.
The benefit could have been even greater. Getting a handgun permit in DC and Chicago is an expensive and difficult process, meaning only the relatively wealthy go through it. Only a few thousand people had handguns registered in Chicago by the middle of last year. That limits the benefits from the Supreme Court decisions since it is the poor who are the most likely victims of crime and who benefit the most from being able to protect themselves.
For DC, the biggest change was the Supreme Court striking down the law making it illegal to possess a loaded gun. Over 70,000 people have permits for long guns that they can now legally used to protect themselves.
Lower crime rates in Chicago and DC by themselves don’t prove that gun control increases murders, even when combined with the quite familiar story of how their murder rates soared and stayed high after the gun bans were imposed.
But these aren’t isolated examples. Around the world, whenever guns are banned, murder rates rise. Gun control advocates explained the huge increases in murder and violent crime rates Chicago and DC by saying that those bans weren’t fair tests unless the entire country adopted a ban. Even island nations, such as Ireland and the UK — with no neighbors to blame — have seen increases in murder rates. The same horror stories about blood in the streets have surrounded the debate over concealed handguns. Some said it was necessary to ban guns in public places. The horror stories never came true and the data is now so obvious that as of November, only one state, Illinois, will still completely ban law-abiding citizens from carrying concealed handguns. Forty-one states will have either permissive right-to-carry laws or no longer even require a permit.
The regulations that still exist in Chicago and DC primarily disarm the most likely victims of crime. Hopefully, even the poor in these areas will soon also have more of an opportunity to defend themselves also.
Dr. John Lott is the co-author with Grover Norquist of the just released book: Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future. He has held research positions at academic institutions including the University of Chicago, Yale University, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Rice, and the University of Maryland, College Park and at the American Enterprise Institute. Lott was the chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission during 1988 and 1989. He has published over 100 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals related to his research areas, and has authored seven books, including “More Guns, Less Crime”, “The Bias Against Guns” and “Freedomnomics.” He is a contributor and columnist for Fox News. Lott earned his Ph.D. in economics from UCLA in 1984.