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Does Gun Control Save Lives or Cost Lives?

The world is violent. Lots of people think that we should pass more laws to make the world safer and less violent. It sounds obvious that we could reduce the number of criminals who use weapons by passing more gun-control laws. We’re not the first ones to think of that. We have thousands of gun-control regulations on the books already. I’ve been looking at the subject of gun-control and personal safety for a decade. I think gun-control laws put us at risk. The reasons are complex and not necessarily obvious.

Let’s be clear what is not under discussion here. We’re not talking about rights. Some people say they have a right to “be safe”. Some people say they have a right to “self-defense”. What you have a right to do may not have anything to do with how laws actually work in practice. Let’s look at what we already know.

We know that criminals commit violent crimes with a firearm about 510 times a day. That data is from 2019. That is the last year where the FBI has data from all 50 states.

Isn’t it obvious that we need more laws to stop those criminals? Shouldn’t we pass another law even if it only stopped a single crime? Isn’t that the least we should do?

I like that you obey the law and you think other people obey the law too. The problem of violent crime is more complex. There is more violent crime, much more than I’ve mentioned so far.  There are also lots of gun-control laws. Last, and certainly not least, honest citizens stop a lot of violent crimes because the intended victim had a gun of their own. Each of those factors has a vital influence on what gun-control laws can actually accomplish.

While it is true that criminals use guns to commit crimes, criminals also commit crimes without using a gun. In fact, that’s closer to the rule than the exception. Only one-out-of six violent criminals used a firearm (15 percent). That means that taking guns from every criminal would still leave us with a lot of non-gun crime. The remaining five-out-of-six violent criminals would still commit their acts of violence. And that assumes the currently-armed criminal will suddenly become peaceful if we took away his gun. That isn’t very realistic. Taking the gun away from a violent criminal doesn’t turn him into a nice person who obeys the law.

But we have to do something. We can’t just let armed criminals hurt people. Why shouldn’t we pass more laws?

Those are good questions, but what makes you think we haven’t “done something” already? We have over 23-thousand firearms regulations on the books today. And anti-gun politicians pass more gun-control laws every week. We should certainly be safe by now if ink-on-paper was all it took to stop crime. We’ve tried that approach tens-of-thousands of times.

OK, maybe those gun-control laws didn’t work.  We just need to write ones that will.

Let’s think this through a little more before we propose more laws. Life is more complex than what we see on the news. Bad guys are not the only ones who use guns. Good guys use guns too, a lot. Honest citizens legally use their firearms between 1.6 and 2.5-million times a year to stop violent crime or to prevent great bodily injury. That is over 4,500-times-a-day that honest citizens use a gun to save lives in the United States. Four-out-of-ten households have a gun today. One-out-of-a-dozen citizens are legally carrying a concealed firearm in public every day.

That is hard to believe. Why don’t I know that? How do I know you’re telling me the truth if the news didn’t show those stories?

Those are good questions. Those are brilliant questions. The answer will take more than a minute.

Good guys use a gun in self-defense more than the bad guys use a gun in acts of violence. A gun lets a single mom stop a number of armed teenagers who broke into her home. A gun stops almost 400 sexual assaults a day. And if you think that is hard to wrap your head around, then hold on tight.

Most of the times that an ordinary citizen used a gun in armed defense, these good guys didn’t have to press the trigger. You knew that when you thought about it for a minute. Imagine that a bad guy breaks into your grandmother’s home and she says, “Get out of my house. I have a gun and I’ve called the police.” The bad guy decided this wasn’t the home invasion he had planned, so he ran away before grandma pressed the trigger.

The bad guys changed their behavior because they thought grandma was armed. Most of the time, the law doesn’t record this as a defensive use of a firearm because grandmother didn’t fire a shot. In fact, the good guys only press the trigger about 18-percent of the time. Criminals are hit and wounded less often than that. Most criminals who are shot and wounded are then taken to the hospital for treatment, and most of them survive. Fewer than a thousand criminals are killed by the justified use of armed defense each year. I’m amazed that honest citizens stop crime so often yet they are forced to kill so rarely. I think that is good news. It also explains why gun-control laws cause more harm than good.

Good guys legally use a gun about 9 times more often than the bad guys use a gun illegally.

Gun-control laws make it harder for honest people to own and use guns. Turning honest gun owners into disarmed victims makes all of us less safe. That means that to do any good, the next gun-control law has to somehow disarm lots of criminals for each honest person it disarms. Disarming 1-percent of the criminals is hard to do. Disarming 1-percent of honest citizens is a lot easier, since they are a lot more likely to obey the law than criminals are. That is why gun control is a crime-control disaster: it leads to many more disarmed victims.

Since the bad guys don’t follow the law, it isn’t clear that more gun-control laws disarm criminals at all. Criminals don’t buy their guns at gun shows or at gun stores. Criminals don’t fill out government forms and apply for background checks.

Criminals don’t pay wholesale prices for guns, just like they don’t pay full-price for drugs or jewelry. They steal them.

Gun-control laws demand that honest people pay a fee and get permits before they can own a gun and keep it at home. Depending on where they live, some people need a permit before they can buy ammunition. Some honest people need to pay a fee and get a government permit before they can legally carry a concealed firearm in public. Each one of these requirements means that fewer honest people have the means to defend themselves from violent criminals. I’ve looked at the numbers, and we know that gun-control laws disarm the good guys. We don’t have much evidence that gun-control disarms the bad guys.

You’re saying that gun control doesn’t take guns from criminals?

Not quite. Gun-control laws might disarm some crooks, but it also disarms a lot of honest people. They become disarmed victims and the rate of crime doesn’t go down.

The proof is in the rate of violent crime in states with strong gun-control laws. If I tell you the rate of violent crime in a state, you won’t be able to guess whether that state has gun-control laws or not. A statistician can’t tell either, so don’t feel bad about that.

If that is true, then why do so many people think gun-control works?

People who obey the law assume that everyone else obeys the law too.  And, we are not told the full story about violence. Millions of us might see the news article when a robber shoots a store clerk or a disturbed teenager shoots up a school. In contrast, the news won’t make it out of our local town if a store clerk down the street chases away a robber without firing a shot.

Mass-murder is on the TV for days. Stopping mass-murder is on the TV for an hour.

In addition to this media bias, we’re inadvertently biased ourselves. We can’t see the violent crimes that didn’t happen because our neighbors stopped them. Naturally we discount those things we don’t see.

We need to ask good questions in order to make ourselves and our neighbors safer. Sometimes, we need to dig a little to find meaningful answers.


I gave you 1400 words and tried hard to say more with less. Please share them with a friend and leave a comment. RM


Weapons used in violent crime in 2019-

National survey of US firearms owners-

Media bias-

Rob Morse

Rob Morse works and writes in Southwest Louisiana. He writes at Ammoland, at his Slowfacts blog, and here at Clash Daily. Rob co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast, and hosts the Self-Defense Gun Stories Podcast each week.

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