Article published Tuesday, June 29, 2004, at Investor's Business Daily.

Add Gun Control To Litany Of Misbegotten Gov't Plans

By John R. Lott Jr. and Eli Lehrer

The gun -control movement is in trouble internationally. From Britain to Australia to Canada, promises of lower crime rates from gun control have turned into historic increases in crime.

While the normal knee-jerk solutions are to press for even more controls, once guns are banned the explanation that the laws failed simply because they didn't go far enough becomes almost humorous.

All these experiments were adopted under what gun -control advocates would argue were ideal conditions. All three countries adopted laws that applied to the entire country. Australia and Britain are surrounded by water, and thus do not have the easy smuggling problem that Canada claims to exist with regard to the U.S.

Take the United Kingdom: With new data showing violent crime soaring, Britain's home secretary announced legislation this month that would impose an outright ban on many toy guns.

Britain has already banned just about every type of weapon that a criminal might want to use. Handguns were made illegal in 1997, and nearly every other firearm (even BB guns) is now subject to a complex regulatory regime.

Twice As Dangerous

The laws didn't do what was claimed. The government just reported that gun crime in England and Wales nearly doubled in the four years from 1998-99 to 2002-03. The serious violent crime rate soared by 64%, and overall violent crime by 118%. The violent crime rate in England and Wales now stands at twice the rate of that in the U.S.

Understandably, the government wants to "do something," but it is hard to believe that the new proposals will succeed where past efforts have failed.

With the exception of the U.S., other English-speaking countries have followed Britain's lead in limiting gun ownership. Like the British, they have nothing to show for it.

Australia saw its violent crime rates soar after its 1996 Port Arthur gun -control measures banned most firearms. Violent crime rates averaged 32% higher in the six years after the law was passed (from 1997 to 2002) than they did the year before the law went into effect. Armed robbery rates increased 74%. Australia's violent crime rate is also now double America's.

Canada hasn't gone anywhere near as far as Australia and England, but even that country's limited restrictions have caused problems. Despite a gun registration system that has cost 500 times more than promised (the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. claims the overrun is 1,000 times greater), the overall crime rate is more than half again higher than in the U.S. and has risen as the American crime rate has fallen. Meanwhile, violent crime in the U.S. has fallen much faster than in Canada, and murders in Canada have gone up slightly, while falling in the U.S.

The Canadian government recently admitted it could not identify a single violent crime that had been solved through registration. Public confidence in the government's ability to fight crime has also eroded, with one recent survey showing only 17% of voters support the registration program.

Guns do not tell the whole story: Gangs, police and prisons also play a major role. Drug gangs can't simply call up the police when another gang encroaches on their turf, so they end up establishing their own armies and committing a great many murders. (Gang fights account for about 60% of all murders in urban areas in the U.S.)

The U.S. has long had a sophisticated and violent gang subculture that the nation's decentralized system of 16,500 police agencies had a difficult time handling. England's more centralized 45-agency police did a better job fighting gangs, but, over time, the gangs have become more violent, sophisticated and apt at acquiring guns. This has led to rising gun crime.

Police and prisons probably also account for some of the difference in crime, though it doesn't explain why the difference has grown so suddenly. The U.S. also has more police per capita than the U.K., particularly in its big cities:

New York and London are roughly the same size, but New York has about 40,000 police officers to London's 29,000.

Failed Schemes

The U.S. also locks up many more criminals: Nearly 500 out of 1 million Americans are serving time behind bars as compared to about 150 per 1 million in the other English-speaking countries. America, quite simply, keeps more bad guys behind bars where they can't commit crimes.

Repealing gun control laws might not solve the crime problems in the U.K. and Australia overnight, but the exploding crime rates (including gun crime) in countries that have banned all guns shows that we can add gun control to the list of government planning efforts that do not live up to their billing. Its failures have become too overwhelming to ignore.

John Lott Jr, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and "The Bias Against Guns" (Regnery, 2003).


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