Freedomnomics

Article published Wednesday, June 25, 2008, at National Post (Canada).

Handgun bans don't cut crime

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Banning handguns is all the rage. Mayor David Miller's push for a national ban has been joined by other Canadian big-city mayors. Yet, dissatisfied with progress at the national level, Miller successfully asked city council this week to approve measures to further discourage gun ownership in Toronto, such as shutting down city-owned gun ranges.

While it may seem obvious to many people that banning handguns will save lives and cut crime, the experience in the United States suggests differently. Two major U. S. cities -- Washington, D.C., and Chicago --have tried banning handguns. (The U. S. Supreme Court is soon expected to release a ruling on the D.C. ban.)

Washington's ban went into effect in early 1977, but since it started there has been only one year (1985) when its murder rate fell below what it was in 1976. Murder rates were falling before the ban and rose afterward. In the five years before the ban, the murder rate fell from 37 to 27 murders per 100,000 people. In the five years after it went into effect, the rate rose back up to 35.

D.C.'s murder rate also rose dramatically relative to other cities. In the 29 years that we have data after the ban, D. C.'s murder rate ranked first or second among the largest 50 U. S. cities for 15 years. In another four years, it ranked fourth. By contrast, in 1976, its murder rate ranked 15th.

Not only did Washington's murder rate rise much faster than other cities, it rose more quickly than neighbouring Maryland's and Virginia's or the U. S. rate as a whole.

Similarly for overall violent crime, there have only been two years after the ban when D.C.'s violent crime rate fell below the rate in 1976.

Surely D.C. has had many problems that contribute to crime, but even cities with far better police departments have seen murder and violent crime soar in the wake of handgun bans. Chicago has banned all handguns since 1982. But that handgun ban didn't work at all when it came to reducing violence. Chicago's murder rate fell from 27 to 22 per 100,000 in the five years before the law and then rose slightly to 23. Chicago's murder rate rose relative to other large cities and its five neighbouring Illinois counties.

But the experience in other countries, even island nations that have gone so far as banning handguns and where borders are easy to monitor, should give Mr. Miller and his supporters some pause. These are places that just can't blame the United States or other neighbouring states for the failure of their gun-control laws. Not only didn't violent crime and homicide decline as promised, but they actually increased.

Great Britain banned handguns in January, 1997. But the number of deaths and injuries from gun crime in England and Wales increased 340% in the seven years from 1998 to 2005. The rates of serious violent crime, armed robberies, rapes and homicide have also soared. The Republic of Ireland and Jamaica also experienced large increases in murder rates after enacting handgun bans.

Everyone wants to take guns from criminals, but banning guns ends up meaning only criminals, not law-abiding citizens, have them. Just as it is extremely hard to stop illegal drugs from getting into Canada, drug gangs seem to find ways to bring in the guns. The weapons the Canadian border guards seize at the U. S. border are overwhelmingly from unwitting U. S. tourists. Few criminals smuggling guns are caught.

Possibly Toronto and Canada will somehow operate differently from the rest of the world, but gun control has become the ultimate scapegoat for politicians' failure to control crime. One hopes politicians will learn it is the law-abiding citizens, not criminals, who obey the bans.

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

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