Freedomnomics

Article published Saturday, May 2, 2015, at Investor's Business Daily.

Baltimore Riots Point To Failure of Gun Control Laws

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Police aren’t always there to protect people — not in Baltimore, not in Ferguson and not when the average person has to confront a criminal.

This is particularly true in the poorest sections of town. Even police with the best response times seldom arrive until after the crime has been committed and the assailant has run off.

But even where crime is high, many Democratic politicians are unwilling to let the police do their job. To make matters much worse, they also prevent citizens from defending themselves.

Granted, police can’t be every place all the time. Even a very fast eight-minute police response time can take too long, making the difference between life and death.

Yet in Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake “gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.” Apparently last Monday, she ordered police to “stand down” when riots broke out. And she refused to return the governor’s calls when he repeatedly tried to get permission from the mayor to send in the National Guard.

It is hardly comforting when she apologized on Wednesday for using the word “thugs” to describe those who destroy businesses and beat up people.

Similarly, when the grand jury decided not to charge officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon ignored calls from Ferguson’s mayor and kept the National Guard away from the initial violence.

As Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder complained: “(The National Guard) were kept away at the crucial time while Ferguson burned.”

Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore went further on Thursday and called for police to be disarmed, but even he acknowledged that private gun ownership could help protect people.

Citizens in Baltimore and Ferguson were on their own. Not surprisingly, during the weeks in early November before the St. Louis County grand jury released its verdict, gun sales in the Ferguson area went up about sixfold.

But poor blacks in Maryland simply can’t rush out to get guns. Politicians in Maryland have made it virtually impossible for law-abiding civilians, particularly poor individuals, to get a concealed handgun permit.

Even owning a gun in the home is difficult. It costs at least $300 to go through the licensing and registration process to get a handgun. On top of that, people face a seven-day waiting period, and it’s illegal for them to borrow a gun from their friends.

The law-abiding people living in places most heavily hit by riots are the ones most clearly prevented from defending themselves if an emergency were to arise. Democrats’ actions sure don’t back up their claims of being the defenders of the poor.

In 2013, when the Colorado legislature voted for a bill that would charge people a fee when they purchase a gun, Republicans put up an amendment to exempt people below the poverty level. But Democrats virtually unanimously voted against the exemption.

As Democrats controlled over two-thirds of both houses of the Maryland state legislature, a similar amendment that year was never even allowed a vote.

In most other states, like Missouri, it’s much easier for poor minorities to obtain guns for protection. Most importantly, one doesn’t have to justify why they should get a permitted, concealed handgun, something that is rarely approved for poor minorities when government permission is required.

Some politicians believe that all these regulations prevent criminals from getting guns. But they are simply wrong. Criminals are not stupid enough to pay all the licensing and registration fees and face background checks to get guns.

It isn’t just during riots that guns for defensive use are important. Guns are effective for defense in more ordinary situations. And it is particularly important for poor people who live in high crime urban areas.

With surveys showing that blacks believe that they can’t trust police, the obvious option is to let them defend themselves. And minorities generally like that option. A Gallup survey at the end of last year showed that by a 56%-37% margin, nonwhites felt that having a gun in the home made them safer.

Democrats want the votes of poor, law-abiding minorities. They just don’t want them to be able to be safe. Apparently, Democrats believe that the right to self-defense belongs only to the wealthy.

• Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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