Freedomnomics

Article published Thursday, March 12th, 2009, at Fox News.

What Not To Learn From Europe: More Gun Control

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Inevitably the massacres in Germany and Alabama over the last two days have produced more calls for gun control. Already the attack in Alabama is being used to call for a new assault weapons ban, even though there are no published academic studies by economists or criminologists showing that the previous ban reduced violent crime.

The Alabama shooting spree left 11 people murdered, as the killer went from one house to another shooting members of his family and others inside. Three victims were shot from the window of the killer's moving car.

At least 9 students and 3 teachers were killed at the public school near Stuttgart Germany. Three other people were killed at other locations.

Unfortunately, the latest German attack is just another in a string of horrible K to 12 public school shootings in that country. In 2002, 16 people were killed at an attack in Erfurt. There were two other smaller multiple victim public school shootings in 2002 alone. In 2006, 11 students were wounded in Emsdetten. Germany has had the two worst multiple victim K to 12 school shootings in the world. The last seven years of Germany school shootings make the United States seem peaceful by comparison: though the US has almost five times as many students as Germany, a total of thirty-seven people were killed during all multiple victim k-12 shootings in the US during the eight years from the Fall of 1997 to the summer of 2005.

Yet, Germany already has some of the strictest gun control laws in Europe and much stricter gun control laws than are being publicly discussed in the United States. It might not get much attention because it doesn't fit the template of gun violence in the US, but during the last seven years, other European countries including France, Finland, and Switzerland have experienced multiple-victim shootings. The worst outside of Germany have involved 14 murders, and all these killings have occurred in places where guns were banned.

We all want to take guns away from criminals, but gun control is more likely to disarm potential victims relative to criminals and make crime easier to commit.

Multiple victim public shootings are terrifying and they drive much of the gun control debate, but they make up just a tiny fraction of one percent of the murders in the United States, Europe, or the rest of the world. The problem is that the gun control laws that come out of these crimes not only make crime go up, they also make multiple victim public shootings more likely. Research shows that police are the single most important factor for reducing crime, but even the police themselves understand that they virtually always arrive on the crime scene after the crime has occurred. Letting law-abiding citizens defend themselves not only deters some crimes from occurring, but it is the surest way of reducing the carnage when attacks do occur.

Unlike most public shooting scenarios, where citizens are allowed to carry concealed handguns, presumably the Alabama killer knew whether or where his family member victims had guns in their homes.

The few shots that he fired in public were from the open window of his speeding car, but even here privately owned guns potentially could have made a difference. ABC News reports:

McLendon fired several shots at the Bradley TrueValue Hardware store before heading out of town for Geneva, 12 miles away.

"We were just business as normal, and all of a sudden there were bullets flying and glass was everywhere," owner David Bradley told the Dothan Eagle newspaper. "We realized what it was and grabbed our guns, but then he was gone."

The crimes that are stopped rarely get much news coverage and surely not the coverage given to the horrific killings.

Europe is rushing to adopt even more gun control laws. Let's hope the calls for more gun control in the US are given more thought. Unfortunately, the "cures" will disarm law-abiding citizens and make the disease of violence even worse.

*John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics and a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.

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