Published August 17, 2003 Sunday Final Edition, in The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


By Chester L. Quarles.
Guest columnist Chester L. Quarles is a criminologist and professor of criminal justice of the University of Mississippi.

Over-regulation of the lawful possession of household guns and the lawful use of concealed firearms is one reason many metropolitan areas in the United States are struggling with increases in crime.

Recent national studies support the contention that honest citizens who legally carry concealed weapons can significantly lower crime rates.

In medieval England, long before the days of constables, sheriffs or professional police, people were protected by a practical security approach known as "King's Peace." All male adults were required to carry weapons and join posses to aid crime reduction and response when an alarm - known as "hue and cry" - was raised.

We don't practice hue and cry in modern America. Honest citizens have been virtually disarmed in many of our largest cities.

Residents have delegated most crime reduction programs to the police department, and many of them naively believe that police officers are responsible for our safety.

Assigning programs to reduce crime exclusively to police is ridiculous public policy. Even police aren't safe in some cities in the United States. How effectively can police departments protect individual citizens?

I am 59 years old and have served in police-related professions since I was a 17-year-old military policeman. As a former state police investigator and director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, I am a police advocate - but the idea that the police are exclusively responsible for public safety in America is unrealistic.

Criminals seldom commit their crimes in front of a uniformed police officer. Most human predators attack in the absence of a police presence. And since many attacks are aimed at a victim who is alone, there often is no one around to help.

Rural people usually understand this. Firearms, often several firearms, are available for protection in most rural homes - and that tactic works. That is why crime rates are much higher in cities.

A criminal's fear that a potential victim might be armed with a gun keeps that person safe. That is the key reason permits that allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons are so important.

In 43 states, citizens of good reputation who do not have a criminal record can obtain a concealed weapon permit. Some states require gun safety and marksmanship certification as part of the application process.

Ours is the most heavily armed nation on the planet. Americans are safer because of the guns that are kept legally in many homes and in the possession of law-abiding citizens. "Fewer guns - less crime" may sound nice, but taking guns away from honorable citizens does not reduce violent crime. The reverse is true.

The United Kingdom and Canada are often touted by the anti- gun lobby as safer than the United States because both countries have long possessed strong gun laws. However, their citizens are often more at risk than Americans.

Nearly 50 percent of home burglaries reported in the United Kingdom are "hot" - those that occur while a resident is inside the house. In America the "hot" burglary rate is only 13 percent, demonstrating that burglars - who are greedy but not stupid - are afraid to attack homes in which the residents may be armed.

In Miami, predators attack international visitors after they leave the airport. They know that the foreign visitors don't have guns, and a local resident might.

Richard Poe, in The Seven Myths of Gun Control, and John R. Lott Jr., in More Guns, Less Crime, write about how the prevalence of legal guns lowers street crime. During the two years after a national gun ban in Australia, for example, armed robberies rose by 73 percent. A law that aimed to protect Australians actually increased their victimization by government edict.

Gun control measures rarely take guns away from criminals or deter violence. They only limit law-abiding citizens' ability to possess guns.

When we disarm honest citizens by lawful mandate, we embolden criminals and enable them to commit more crime. And we turn some of our best citizens into lawbreakers because they fear criminals more than they fear violating a statutory provision.

I endorse state and local laws that re-establish honest citizens' rights to carry concealed firearms. Jurisdictions that follow this approach will find their crime rates spiraling downward.

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