Published Thursday, March 22, 2007, in National Review Online.

Law and Order and Guns: Rudy has some funny views on guns; he’d better beware if Thompson enters the race.

John R. Lott, Jr.*

One person’s “reasonable and sensible” gun laws aren’t always another’s. So when Rudy Giuliani recognizes that the Second Amendment guarantees people the right to bear arms subject to “reasonable and sensible” laws, it really doesn’t tell us much. Yet one thing is for sure though: Giuliani is hardly a “strict constructionist” on constitutional matters, at least when it comes to the Second Amendment. It is a long ways from “shall not be infringed” to “shall infringe whenever Congress has a ‘reasonable and sensible’ justification.”

For those who support the Second Amendment, the main problem is that Giuliani has rarely met a gun regulation he didn’t see as “reasonable and sensible.” In 2000, he pointed out how he was “a very strong supporter of gun-control legislation” and called for everything from federal gun-licensing and registration to banning guns based upon their price.

Only in the last couple of months has he finally gone on the record as opposing a gun law: he came out against re-imposing the assault-weapons ban. Yet he originally supported this law when it was first adopted, and he wanted it renewed as recently as 2004, when it expired.

His support for all these gun laws isn’t too surprising given his belief that “the single biggest connection between violent crime and an increase in violent crime is the presence of guns in your society . . . . the more guns you take out of society, the more you are going to reduce murder. The less guns you take out of society, the more it is going to go up.”

Giuliani is justifiably proud of New York City’s dramatic drops in violent crime during the 1990s, but his claim that “the single biggest” factor was taking guns off the street is weak, to say the least. There is no academic research by economists or criminologists that indicates that gun control mattered at all. But there are other more obvious explanations, including the massive increase in the number of full-time sworn police officers, which grew from 26,844 in 1990 to 39,779 by 2000. The growth in the per capita number of officers in New York City was roughly five times the rate in other large cities. The city also greatly improved its hiring standards and increased officer pay.

Giuliani’s rationalizing of New York City’s suit against the gun makers also tells something about his views. In justifying the lawsuit, Giuliani claimed that the gun makers were “deliberately manufacturing many more firearms than can be bought for legitimate purposes of hunting and law enforcement.” He refused to acknowledge any other legitimate uses for guns, including civilians using guns for self-defense. His statements frequently sounds as if they came directly from the Clinton administration during the 1990s.

Without accepting the possibility of self-defense, it is not surprising that he doesn’t see any risks to laws that mandate trigger locks or ban inexpensive guns. Locking up guns defeats their purpose for people using them for defense. A lot of gangs may like inexpensive guns, but so too do poor law-abiding people in high-crime urban neighborhoods.

The one saving grace for many social conservatives is Giuliani’s promise to appoint judges who are strict constructionists. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Giuliani noted, “I appointed over 100 judges when I was the mayor — so it’s something I take very, very seriously — I would appoint judges that interpreted the Constitution rather than invented it, understood the difference between being a judge and being a legislator.” But conservatives counting on this might be more than a little disappointed: At least 89 percent of Giuliani’s nominees were Democrats, with some pretty outlandish decisions that no one would classify as fitting in with “strict constructionism.”

The one thing that Giuliani probably does have going for him is that, on the gun issue, his opponents are either even worse (John McCain) or possibly no better (Mitt Romney, who supports renewing the so-called “assault-weapons ban” and who signed into law draconian gun legislation while governor of Massachusetts). That would all change dramatically if former Senator Fred Thompson were to enter the race. Thompson has been rock solid on people’s right to defend themselves.

Giuliani has many positive traits, but his past positions on guns isn’t one of them.

John Lott is the Dean’s Visiting Professor at the State University of New York and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Presss, 2000) and "The Bias Against Guns" (Regnery 2003).

This piece contains a corrected number.

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