Extra comments at end of piece

Published June 26, 2003 in the New York Post.

ARMED, AND SAFER, IRAQIS

By John R. Lott Jr.

-- THE June 14 deadline for Iraqi citizens to turn in banned weapons worked about as poorly as any gun buy-back program in the United States. After the two-week program ended, a guard at one of the designated places to turn in guns said, "We have had plenty of reporters, but no weapons come in."

American soldiers are laying down their lives to protect Iraqi citizens, and the last thing that we want to do is put them in harm's way. On Tuesday, six British soldiers were killed. During the preceding week, an American soldier was killed by a sniper and another killed in a drive-by shooting.

But as we try to protect Iraqis and ensure the safety of our troops, we must ask: Is it really clear that our soldiers are better off by attempting to disarm Iraqi citizens?

The argument seems straightforward enough: Get rid of guns, and the Iraqis can't harm our troops. Banning the carrying of guns also makes it easier for soldiers to simply arrest anyone they are suspicious of.

Yet, the question is more complicated: If guns are banned, who would turn them in? Presumably the most law-abiding citizens - not the terrorists and Ba'ath Party members whom our troops should be concerned about.

Fortunately, despite many news stories to the contrary, our government has taken a much more sensible approach than outright banning guns. Iraqis are able to keep weapons up to AK-47s in their home or business and are able to carry guns with them with a permit. These AK-47s are real military machine guns, not the semi-automatic versions that fire only one bullet per trigger pull and are banned from being sold in our country by the 1994 so-called assault-weapons ban. Yet, despite Iraqis owning machine guns and the country still not under control, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that Baghdad is experiencing fewer murders than Washington, D.C., where handguns are banned.

To the extent that guns are banned and law-abiding citizens disarmed, the jobs for our soldiers actually become more difficult. Crime is already rampant. Consider the case of Mohammed Abdul Razak, an Iraqi taxi driver who lost his handgun when soldiers stopped him at a checkpoint because he had it in his car's glove compartment without the proper permit.

Just two days later, Razak could not defend himself when carjackers attacked. Before his gun was taken, Razak had successfully used his gun to scare off thieves.

As one report recently noted: "Instead of being filled with people coming to give up their guns, police stations are busy with Iraqis complaining about being victims of crime - as well as people who say they want their confiscated weapons back." A machine gun can be handy defending oneself when people are being attacked by bands of thugs.

It would be great if gun-control laws primarily disarmed criminals, but as data from the U.S. and other countries indicates, disarming law-abiding citizens actually increases crime and encourages criminals to attack because they have less to worry about. Studies continually show that gun-control laws such as gun buy-backs, waiting periods, one-gun-a-month regulations, assault-weapons bans and gun-show regulations are associated with either no statistically significant change or increases in violent crime. The states that polls show as having the biggest increases in gun ownership are also the ones that have experienced the biggest relative drops in violent crime.

But won't letting citizens carry weapons make soldiers' jobs more difficult and more dangerous? Surely it is easy to imagine what can go wrong when a soldier comes across a citizen with a gun.

Yet, recent research by Professor David Mustard at the University of Georgia examined jurisdictions with different kinds of gun laws and found that only one kind was associated with fewer police being killed by criminals - the kind that lets citizens carry concealed handguns. The people who take the time to apply for a permit to carry a gun are not the people police have to worry about. Interestingly enough, criminals apparently become less likely to carry guns as more law-abiding citizens do so.

With an American media that reports only the bad things that happen with guns, it might be hard for some Americans to understand that the simplistic approach of banning guns can make our soldiers' jobs more difficult. Our soldiers are extremely important in creating a stable society, but they cannot protect more than 22 million Iraqis all of the time. Wasting resources on collecting Iraqi guns will only work against efforts to make Iraq eventually a civilized country.

John R. Lott Jr., a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of the recently released "The Bias Against Guns."

So What About Rumsfeld's Claim About the Murder Rates in Washington, DC and Baghdad?

This op-ed of mine referenced Rumsfeld's statement that Baghdad's murder rate (despite still mopping up after a war and civilians being able to own high power guns) is greater than Washington, DC's. The sentence in my piece that seems to upset people is that:

"Yet, despite Iraqis owning machine guns and the country still not under control, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that Baghdad is experiencing fewer murders than Washington, D.C., where handguns are banned. "

Other web sites and various e-mails have claimed in typical diplomatic language that "JOHN LOTT LIES AGAIN" (7.22.2003). Yet, Rumsfeld's statement and logic seems extremely clear;

"'You've got to remember that if Washington, D.C., were the size of Baghdad, we would be having something like 215 murders a month,' Rumsfeld said. 'There's going to be violence in a big city.' "

Baghdad is a city with a population some 8.5 times greater than Washington. While it might be difficult to keep track of the number of property crimes or robberies these days in Iraq, presumably Rumsfeld knows whether the number of murders is greater or less than 200 a month. It is certainly not clear why Rumsfeld would make the claim that he did if he didn't have this information. As an aside, given that during 2001 Washington had 261 murders, my math is a little different from Rumsfeld's (185=(261/12)*8.5), but the numbers are of a similar order of magnitude and the point is the same.

Finally, an e-mail suggests that Rumsfeld was referring to the military deaths of our soldiers. I think that is clearly false when one reads Rumsfeld's quote.

UPDATE August 12, 2003

An article from the Associated Press is referenced by Wyethwire. The article notes that there were "470 gunshot deaths in July." First, the article mentions that these 470 gunshot deaths are not all murders. The article states:

Iraqis also say American soldiers are part of the problem. Many accuse the soldiers of opening fire randomly when they feel threatened.

War casualties are not murders. While the bodies are in the Baghdad morgue, the story also doesn't make clear where the deaths occurred. It just says that the Baghdad morgue handled that many bodies.

Two other points should be made. The article notes that "Saddam Hussein released many criminals from prison just before the war," though I think that this is an understatement for Baghdad where I think the jails were essentially emptied. Finally, just as an aside in defense of Rumsfeld's accuracy, his statement was made in the beginning of June and presumably would have to be based on information prior to that. The number for the AP stories deals with July.

UPDATE: 11/10/03
WSJ data indicates that Rumsfeld was correct

Early this year there was quite a debate about Rumsfeld and myself discussing the relatively low murder rate in Baghdad. My quoting Rumsfeld

"Yet, despite Iraqis owning machine guns and the country still not under control, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that Baghdad is experiencing fewer murders than Washington, D.C., where handguns are banned"

apparently outraged many people. Well, it turns out that Rumsfeld was correct. The Wall Street Journal reports that the murder rates this year were as follows: July, 92; August, 75; September, 54; and October, 24. As I pointed out,

"Baghdad is a city with a population some 8.5 times greater than Washington. While it might be difficult to keep track of the number of property crimes or robberies these days in Iraq, presumably Rumsfeld knows whether the number of murders is greater or less than 200 a month. It is certainly not clear why Rumsfeld would make the claim that he did if he didn't have this information. As an aside, given that during 2001 Washington had 261 murders, my math is a little different from Rumsfeld's (185=(261/12)*8.5), but the numbers are of a similar order of magnitude and the point is the same."

Only in July does the number of murders in Baghdad even approach half the rate found in Washington, DC.

My discussion on 7/26 also makes related points.

11/19/03
New York Times Op-ed gets the numbers completely wrong on Murder rate in Baghdad

A recent article in the New York Times got some of it's facts completely wrong about murder rates in Iraq. The mistakes were up to around a factor of 28 fold. In fact, the piece couldn't even accurately report another New York Times piece that it relied upon for its data. I point this out in a letter to the editor. Not surprisingly, the NYT has apparently decided not to correct this mistake.

UPDATE December 12, 2003

For an indepth discussion that goes through the sources for different figures used in this debate and summarizes the evidence please see my piece in Investors' Business Daily.

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