Betsy Hart: Gun control loses firepower

By BETSY HART, Scripps Howard News Service May 28, 2004 When a "million moms" turned up in Washington recently to demand more gun-control laws, it wasn't exactly a million. It was more like 3,000 tops.

Gun control is not an issue in this year's national election, partly because even Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has mouthed support, sort of, for the Second Amendment.

An extension on the so-called assault-weapons ban was defeated in the Senate in March, to little public outcry. It went down in large part because the ban had not been shown to reduce crime, as advocates had predicted it would.

Sure, every once in a while one hears of a small gun-control victory, or near-victory, in some state legislature, but while gun control was all the rage only a few years ago, now it's sort of on a par with Madonna: Every once in a while she pops up in the news, and you think, "Gee, is she still out there?"

John Lott, perhaps America's foremost expert on gun-control laws, is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and author of "More Guns Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press), among other books. He says the declining interest in the issue of gun control is that we have so much evidence it doesn't work.

Lott points out that 37 states now have "right-to-carry" laws, and nine states allow some persons to carry guns. Although there was widespread panic by gun-control advocates that the growth in such laws over the last decade would cause shootouts at the OK Corral, the fact is that those who carry weapons have shown themselves to be law-abiding. So, Lott argues, this and other "doom and gloom" scenarios about what would happen if we didn't enact stricter gun controls put the gun-control lobby in a bad spot.

So does the international record. Lott shows that crime rose sharply in England after guns were banned, though it had fallen steadily before the ban was in place. Australia saw its crime rates soar after gun-control measures were enacted in 1996. In fact, the most recent crime survey done "shows that the violent-crime rate in England and Australia was twice the rate in the United States."

Gun registration in Canada, Lott notes, has been equally unrewarding for gun -control advocates. It costs 1,000 times more than promised, and a recent poll shows that only 17 percent of Canadians now support it.

All of this evidence does not help the once-very-fashionable gun-control movement in the United States.

Lott is right. But I think there is something else at play, too.

Sept. 11. And once again, this week new warnings about imminent terror threats.

Look, most people don't think Osama or one of his minions is going to come up the home driveway anytime soon.

But the fact remains that gun control was a very popular theme while violent crime rates were falling, as they have for well more than a decade, and people felt pretty safe. Gun control is a luxury that one can afford when one does not feel at risk.

But suddenly, it's a new and dangerous world out there. We perceive ourselves and our families as being in danger. Yes, the risk from terrorists would likely come from a "dirty" bomb, not a "shootout. "

But, just in case ...

One can argue that it's irrational to buy a gun in response to the al Qaeda threat (gun sales did rise dramatically in the weeks and months following 9/11). But, it's not irrational to believe we live in a dangerous world. And that whether the threat comes from overseas or down the street, we can't really count on the government to protect us from danger every minute. We have some responsibility to protect ourselves. Maybe we even understand that we wouldn't want a government that was big enough and powerful enough to protect us every moment.

The rush for ever-stricter gun-control laws has become something of a quaint relic of an earlier, more innocent age.

I'm glad to see that agenda become something of a thing of the past, for now, anyway. But if I'm at all right about how we got here, it's a tragedy it had to happen this way.

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Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

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Some data not found at

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper