Add Gun Control to Litany of Misbegotten
R. Lott Jr., Publication Date: July 1, 2004
Despite promises to the contrary by gun-control advocates,
many nations have found that increasing restrictions
on guns--and even banning them outright--actually
increases the number of violent crimes committed.
The gun-control movement is in trouble internationally.
From Britain to Australia to Canada, promises of lower
crime rates from gun control have turned into the reality
of historic increases in crime.
While the normal knee-jerk solution is to press for
even more controls, once guns are banned the explanation
that the laws failed simply because they did not go far
enough becomes almost humorous.
All these experiments were adopted under what gun-control
advocates would argue were ideal conditions. All three
countries adopted laws that applied to the entire country.
Australia and Britain are surrounded by water, and thus
do not have the easy smuggling problem that Canada claims
to exist with regard to the United States.
Take the United Kingdom: with new data showing violent
crime soaring, Britain's home secretary announced legislation
this month that would impose an outright ban on many
Britain has already banned just about every type of
weapon that a criminal might want to use. Handguns were
made illegal in 1997, and nearly every other firearm
(even BB guns) is now subject to a complex regulatory
Twice As Dangerous
The laws did not do what was claimed. The government
just reported that gun crime in England and Wales nearly
doubled in the four years from 1998-99 to 2002-03. The
serious violent crime rate soared by 64 percent, and
overall violent crime by 118 percent.
The violent crime rate in England and Wales now stands
at twice the rate of that in the United States.
the government wants to "do something," but
it is hard to believe that the new proposals will succeed
where past efforts have failed.
With the exception of the United States, other English-speaking
countries have followed Britain's lead in limiting gun
ownership. Like the British, they have nothing to show
Australia saw its violent crime rates soar after its
1996 Port Arthur gun-control measures banned most firearms.
Violent crime rates averaged 32 percent higher in the
six years after the law was passed (from 1997 to 2002)
than they did the year before the law went into effect.
Armed robbery rates increased 74 percent. Australia's
violent crime rate is also now double America's.
Canada has not gone anywhere near as far as Australia
and England, but even that country's limited restrictions
have caused problems. Despite a gun registration system
that has cost five hundred times more than promised (the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation claims the overrun
is one thousand times greater), the overall crime rate
is more than half again higher than in the United States
and has risen as the American crime rate has fallen.
violent crime in the United States has fallen much
faster than in Canada, and murders in Canada have
gone up slightly, while falling in the United States.
The Canadian government recently admitted it could not
identify a single violent crime that had been solved
through registration. Public confidence in the government's
ability to fight crime has also eroded, with one recent
survey showing only 17 percent of voters support the
Guns do not tell the whole story: gangs, police and
prisons also play a major role. Drug gangs cannot simply
call up the police when another gang encroaches on their
turf, so they end up establishing their own armies and
committing a great many murders. (Gang fights account
for about 60 percent of all murders in urban areas in
the United States.)
The United States has long had a sophisticated and violent
gang subculture that the nation's decentralized system
of 16,500 police agencies had a difficult time handling.
England's more centralized forty-five-agency police did
a better job fighting gangs, but, over time, the gangs
have become more violent, sophisticated, and apt at acquiring
guns. This has led to rising gun crime.
Police and prisons probably also account for some of
the difference in crime, though it does not explain why
the difference has grown so suddenly. The United States
also has more police per capita than the United Kingdom,
particularly in its big cities: New York and London are
roughly the same size, but New York has about 40,000
police officers to London's 29,000.
The United States also locks up many more criminals:
nearly 500 out of 1 million Americans are serving time
behind bars as compared to about 150 per 1 million in
the other English-speaking countries. America, quite
simply, keeps more bad guys behind bars where they cannot
Repealing gun control laws might not solve the crime
problems in the United Kingdom and Australia overnight,
but the exploding crime rates (including gun crime) in
countries that have banned all guns shows that we can
add gun control to the list of government planning efforts
that do not live up to their billing. Its failures have
become too overwhelming to ignore.
John R. Lott Jr. is a resident scholar at AEI, and Eli
Lehrer is the associate editor of The American Enterprise.