Progressive Review


JUNE 2002

[The capital's gun laws, now headed for court review, are - like Samuel Johnson's description of second marriages - the triumph of hope over experience. In honor of the new notoriety of DC's remarkably ineffective gun laws, we have assembled some of our previous material on the issue]

"ILLEGAL GUN TRADING is rampant on the streets of the nation's capital, which has one of the toughest gun control laws in the country." - Washington Post, March 8, 1981.

"THE DISTRICT, which bans all guns except for those used by law enforcement officers, maintains one of the highest gun violence rates in the country." - The Washington Post, Dec. 1, 2000.

WHILE 69 MEN PER 100,000 die of gun shots in DC every year, the number of female fatalities is so small that it's not even listed in the latest Kaiser health statistics report. Obviously, something more than guns are involved in these deaths.

CHARLIE REESE, ORLANDO SENTINEL: A new survey involving 34,000 people in 17 industrialized countries published by the Dutch Ministry of Justice shows [that] the nations that report the highest percentage of crime victims are those that have virtually banned private gun ownership. In descending order they are Australia, England and Wales, Scotland, Finland, Northern Ireland, France and the Netherlands. The United States ranks eighth out of 17. As legitimate scholars have shown time and again, there is no correlation between gun ownership and crime except often an inverse one - the fewer private guns, the more crime.

ARREST RATE of Washington DC police officers: 19 per 1000
Arrest rate of New York City police officers: 3 per 1000
Arrest rate of Florida concealed handgun permit holders: 1 per 1000

[Political Digest]

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: The crime rate in Kennesaw Georgia, near Atlanta, is 89 percent lower than it was 19 years ago according to the Marietta Daily Journal. What's the news in that? Well it seems that 19 years ago the city council passed an ordinance requiring the head of every household to own at least one firearm with ammunition. The ACLU challenged the law in court unsuccessfully and there were predictions of shootings in the streets and violence in people's homes. What happened instead was that the crime rate plunged. Said Robert Jones, president of the city historical society, quote: 'It did drop after it was initially passed and it has stayed the same low level for the past 16 years.'

HL MENCKEN: The new law that [the Nation] advocated, indeed, is one of the most absurd specimens of jackass legislation ever heard of, even in this paradise of legislative donkeyism. Its single and sole effect would be to exaggerate enormously all of the evils it proposes to put down. It would not take pistols out of the hands of rogues and fools; it would simply take them out of the hands of honest men. The gunman today has great advantages everywhere. He has artillery in his pocket, and he may assume that, in the large cities, at least two-thirds of his prospective victims are unarmed. But if the proposed law (or amendment) were passed and enforced, he could assume safely that all of them were unarmed.

Here I do not indulge in theory. The hard facts are publicly on display in New York State, where a law of exactly the same tenor is already on the books the so-called Sullivan Law. In order to get it there, of course, the Second Amendment had to be severely strained, but the uplifters advocated the straining unanimously, and to the tune of loud hosannas, and the courts, as usual, were willing to sign on the dotted line. It is now a dreadful felony in New York to "have or possess" a pistol. Even if one keeps it locked in a bureau drawer at home, one may be sent to the hoosegow for ten years. More, men who have done no more are frequently bumped off. The cops, suspecting a man, say, of political heresy, raid his house and look for copies of the Nation. They find none, and are thus baffled but at the bottom of a trunk they do find a rusted and battered revolver. So he goes to trial for violating the Sullivan Law, and is presently being psycho-analyzed by the uplifters at Sing Sing.

With what result? With the general result that New York, even more than Chicago, is the heaven of footpads, hijackers, gunmen and all other such armed thugs. Their hands upon their pistols, they know they are safe. Not one citizen out of a hundred that they tackle is armed for getting a license to keep a revolver is a difficult business, and carrying one without it is more dangerous than submitting to robbery. So the gunmen flourish and give humble thanks to God. Like the bootleggers, they are hot and unanimous for Law Enforcement.

JOHN R. LOTT, YALE LAW SCHOOL - [Women] who behave passively when they are confronted by a criminal are 2.5 times more likely to end up being seriously injured than a woman who has a gun. And the reason is pretty straightforward. You're talking about a female victim. The attackers are virtually always male. There's a large strength differential on average between a male attacker and a female victim. Other types of resistance -- using your fists, for example -- is very likely to lead to tragedy, because a female who uses her fist has a high probability of a physical response back from the attacker and a high probability of serious injury or death. While men also benefit from having a gun, the benefit isn't as large . . .

There are 31 states now that have so-called right-to-carry laws. These are laws that set certain objective criteria. Once you meet those, you can apply for a permit and then it's automatically granted. You have to be a certain age; you have to pay a fee; half the states require some type of training; and there are criminal background checks. What you find is that the states that issue the most permits, have the biggest drops in violent crime. For each additional year that these right-to-carry laws are in effect, you'll see an additional 1.5 percent drop in murder rates and about a three percent additional drop in rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults . . .

There are lots of reasons why crime has been falling . . . We've seen a huge drop in drug prices in the United States since 1991. There have been big changes in drug interdiction and most people, I think, don't appreciate how many murders, in urban areas in particular, are due to drug gangs fighting against each other in order to try and control drug turf. As the amount of drug interdiction has gone down, we have seen more drugs coming into the country from more sources -- and the profits that have been associated with the gangs controlling drug turf have gone down . . .

Less than one out every thousand times people use guns defensively is the attacker killed. Ninety-eight percent of the time, simply being able to brandish a gun is sufficient to cause a criminal to break off an attack and the two percent of the time when guns are fired, the vast majority of those are warning shots. It's something like less than one-half-of-one percent of the time is the gun fired in the direction of the attacker. Even when they do hit, woundings are much more frequent than times when the attacker is killed.

INCREASE IN SUPPLY of guns since 1945: more than double
Decrease in fatal gun accidents: two-thirds
Number of non-fatal toy injuries annually: 140,000
Number of non-fatal gun injuries annually: 2,000

BETWEEN 1985 AND 1988, in the wake of the revived drug war, murders in Washington, DC soared from 145 a year to 369. During this period, the city's office of criminal justice planning did an unusually detailed analysis of homicides. The report illustrates dramatically the complexity of crime and shows why simple or over-arching solutions rarely work. For example, here are various factors and the percent of murders involved.

Victim under 18 (8%)
Victim 18-25(30%)
Victim a white female (1%)
Victim a black male (75%)
Murders in richest ward (1%)
Murders in poorest ward (20%)
No drugs or alcohol in body (37%)
Drugs or alcohol in body (63%)
July (5%)
January or June (12%)
Thursday (11%)
Saturday (17%)
6-9 am (7%)
9 pm -midnight (25%)

In short, it was virtually impossible to be killed in Washington if you were a young white girl living in upscale Georgetown on an early Thursday morning in July. If, on the other hand, you were a young black 20-year-old male living in low-income Anacostia, dealing drugs on a Saturday night in June, your chances of being killed were far greater than the overall statistics would suggest. And if you were not buying or selling drugs at all, your chances of being killed in DC were about the same as in Copenhagen. Other differences showed up, most strikingly in motive. The murder rate resulting from altercations or robberies actually dropped substantially during this period and those that stemmed from domestic violence stayed about the same. But those involving drugs leaped over 300%. Were it not for the drug trade, DC would have had a murder rate roughly that of Copenhagen. Death in DC is about drugs, not guns.

A JUSTICE DEPARTMENT study, "Urban Delinquency and Substance Abuse," which was conducted from 1993-1995 tracked 4,000 boys and girls aged 6 to 15 in Denver, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, NY. According to the study:

- Children who get guns from their parents don't commit gun crimes (0%), while children who get illegal guns are very likely to do so (21%).

- Children who get guns from parents are less likely to commit any kind of street crime (14%) than children who have no gun in the house (24%) -- and are dramatically less likely to do so than children who acquire an illegal gun (74%).

- Children who get guns from parents are less likely to use drugs (13%) than children who get illegal guns (41%).

- "Boys who own legal firearms have much lower rates of delinquency and drug use [than boys who get illegal guns] and are even slightly less delinquent than non-owners of guns," the study reported.

FORTY-SIX PERCENT of all those dying of gunshots in 1997 were between the ages of 15 and 34. Presumably guns work mechanically the same way for this age group as they do for others, thus something other that safety would appear to be involved. Clue: these are also the major crime years.

THE COLUMBINE MURDERERS violated at least 17 state and federal weapons control laws, and none of the proposals for trigger locks, waiting periods or gun show restrictions would have stopped Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold from obtaining either their guns or bomb-making materials.

ACCIDENTAL GUN DEATHS among children are much rarer than most people believe. Consider New York, with more than 2.6 million children under the age of 10. From 1993 to 1997, the Centers for Disease Control report that there were only six accidental gun deaths in that age range an annual rate of 1.2 deaths. Yet, with over 3.3 million adult New Yorkers owning at least one gun in 1996, the overwhelming majority of gun owners must be extremely careful or such gun accidents would be much more frequent.

GUNS CLEARLY DETER criminals: Americans use guns defensively around 2 million times each year five times more frequently than the 430,000 times guns were used to commit crimes in 1997. And 98 percent of the time, simply brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack.

YOUTH HOMICIDE ARRESTS dropped 56 percent from 1993 to 1998, but two-thirds of 1,000 people polled by The Washington Post said they believed children were getting more violent.


-- Since 1995, 88% of DC homicides have been gun-related.
-- In 1985, only 65% of the homicides involved guns.
-- There has been no significant change in the number of guns reported in the city between 1985 and 1995.
-- During this time, however, the number of homicides went from 148 in 1985 to a high of 454 in 1993, then down to 260 in 1998. Clearly the number of guns in the city was not the controlling factor.

THERE ARE MORE GUNS per-capita in Maine than in any other state save possibly Alaska. About 50,000 Mainers have permits to carry concealed weapons. Over ten percent of the state's population buys deer-hunting licenses. Yet Maine has a crime rate one-third below the national average. Maine has one or two fatal gun accidents a year, lower than the death rate for snowmobiling or boating. These figures from Down East Magazine -- are similar to those of certain high gun-ownership countries such as Sweden and Switzerland.


-- There are already thousands of them, too many of which don't work. Every ineffective law brings government into disrepute.

-- Prohibition of something that large numbers of citizens want always fail, witness the war on the drugs. It merely increases the value of the prohibited item and changes the distributors from honest people to crooks.

-- Gun control laws are highly divisive to no good end. Since they don't work well, why get everyone so mad about them? Progressives should instead start finding issues that make people happy.

-- Treating gun laws as a national issue exacerbates cultural conflict, such as those between rural and urban, east and west, wealthy and not so well off. Telling rural Westerners to get rid of their guns is like telling an urban blacks to stop reading African-American books.

-- There is no evidence that members of the NRA murder people at a higher rate than non-members. It is insulting to gun owners to speak as though they did.

-- The push for gun restrictions and prohibition is interwoven with the drive to restrict other citizen liberties and erode democracy. Liberals once opposed such moves, but in recent years have become supporters of repression. They need to became civil libertarians again.

-- America no longer has a strong, reliable democracy. It has been deeply corrupted and is being brutally manipulated. We are also losing our major defense against tyranny: the spirit and will of the people. An armed citizenry is a reasonable back-up plan.

-- One of the things authoritarian governments do is disarm their citizens.

-- People who drive around cities in four-wheel drive SUVs shouldn't lecture others on what safety precautions are permissible.

-- The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government. We didn't say that. Thomas Jefferson did.

-- Progressives should stop treating average Americans as though they were alien creatures. Progressives haven't just lost elections because of their issues but because of their attitudes as well.