Article published Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008, at Fox News.

The Life-and-Death Cost of Gun Control

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Banning guns is in the news. India practically bans guns, but that didn’t stop the horrific Muslim terrorist attacks this last week.

A football player concerned for his safety violates New York City’s tough gun control regulations by carrying a concealed handgun, and people call for everything from banning NFL players from carrying guns to demanding that the athlete serve many years in jail.

Where is the sympathy or debate in either case over letting people defend themselves? Given that the terrorists smuggled their machine guns in with them, would anyone argue that India’s extremely strict gun licensing and artificially high prices for guns helped prevent the terrorist attacks? In fact, the reverse is more likely the case.

Would Plaxico Burress, the New York Giant’s receiver who was arrested yesterday, really have been safer just trusting the police to protect him?


In India, victims watched as armed police cowered and didn’t fire back at the terrorists. A photographer at the scene describedhis frustration: “There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything. At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, ‘Shoot them, they’re sitting ducks!’ but they just didn’t shoot back.”

Meanwhile, according to the hotel company’s chairman, P.R.S. Oberoi, security at “the hotel had metal detectors, but none of its security personnel carried weapons because of the difficulties in obtaining gun permits from the Indian government.”

India has extremely strict gun control laws, but who did it succeed in disarming?

The terrorist attack showed how difficult it is to disarm serious terrorists. Strict licensing rules meant that it was the victims who obeyed the regulations, not the terrorists.

Academic research has continually found that police are the single most important factor in reducing crime, but police can’t always be depended on to be quick enough.

The attack also illustrates what Israelis learned decades ago. — Putting more soldiers or police on the street didn’t stop terrorist’s machine gun attacks. Terrorists would either wait for the armed soldiers or police to leave the area or kill them first. Likewise, in India, the Muslim terrorists’ first targets were those in uniform (whether police or security guards).

Terrorists only stopped using machine guns to attack Israelis once citizens were allowed to carry concealed handguns. In large public gatherings, a significant number of citizens will be able to shoot at terrorists during an attack — and the terrorists don’t know who has them.

With mass shootings becoming more difficult, terrorists were forced to switch to a less effective strategy: bombs. Bombings are more difficult for armed citizens to stop because they can’t respond after the bomb blows up.

Still, even though handguns can only kill would-be bombers before they set off their bombs, during waves of terror attacks, Israel’s national police chief will call on all citizens who are allowed to carry guns to make sure they carry their firearms at all times, and Israelis have many examples where citizens with concealed handguns have saved lives.

In their warped minds, both terrorists and the murderers are kamikaze-like killers, who value maximizing the carnage. Even if the killers expect to die anyway, letting victims have guns at the scene can help deter these crimes in the first place by reducing their expected return.

Do Football Players Need Self-defense?

Physically huge NFL players admitting they feel threatened by crime? This hardly fits their tough, macho image. Our concern is supposed to be for women walking alone at night. Who can have sympathy for a professional football player such as Plaxico Burress who is 6 feet 5 inches and weighs 232 lbs.?

Burress, who has no previous criminal record, now faces between three and a half to 15 years for illegally carrying a concealed handgun with him in Manhattan, if convicted. He was arrestedMonday and was released on $100,000 bail. — Burress had had a concealed handgun permit in the state of Florida for the last five years, but he forgot to renew it in May this year.

While the massive size and strength of NFL players might make them seem like unlikely potential crime victims, their wealth and high public profile nonetheless make them particularly attractive targets for violent criminals. While “only” two players were murdered last year, that means a murder rate of 118 per 100,000 people, compared to 5.9 per 100,000 for the rest of the population. In other words, the rate for NFL players was 20 times higher than the average for the rest of the country. This is even higher than the most at risk segment of the population -– young black males between 18 and 24. It is higher than the risk faced by police officers.

Last year, the Washington Redskins’ Sean Taylor was killed during a robbery at his house. The Denver Broncos’ defensive back Darrent Williams was killed outside a nightclub.

As Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber noted, “We are targets, we need to be aware of that everywhere we go.” Yet, the news coverage doesn’t engender much sympathy for Plaxico Burress.

So, what do many NFL players do when they realize that their physical strength does not give them enough protection from violent crime? The same thing that many other would-be victims do — they get guns. Well over 50 percent of NFL players are estimated to own guns, somewhat higher than the 45 percent of American adults who own guns.

Not everyone approves. Mike Ditka, the Hall of Fame tight end and former Chicago Bears football coach, advocates banning NFL players from owning guns. Ditka said, v“I don’t understand the league, why can anybody have a gun? I will have a policy, no guns, any NFL players we find out, period, you’re suspended.” AOL Sports writer Michael Smith also supports the ban and says, “If you carry a gun around, you’re more likely to hurt yourself than protect yourself.”

It would be great if the police were always there to rescue would-be victims, but as the police themselves understand, they virtually always arrive on the scene after the crime has already occurred. Fortunately, just as criminals are deterred by higher arrest rates or longer prison sentences, the fact that potential victims own guns deters some attackers. The Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, which covers almost 30 years, also shows that having a gun is consistently by far the safest course of action for victims.

Over the last three or four years, numerous professional players can attest to the benefits of owning guns. For example, Corey Fuller, the 5-foot, 10-inch, 210-pound defensive back for the Baltimore Ravens, was confronted by two armed robbers outside his Tallahassee house. One robber chased Fuller into his house where his wife and children were sleeping, but Fuller was able to grab a gun and fire at the attackers, who then ran away.

T.J. Slaughter, a 6-foot, 233-pound linebacker, was arrested for allegedly pointing a gun at motorists who pulled up next to him on the highway. Slaughter denied that he had pointed the gun at the motorists and claimed that they had threatened him. No charges were filed, though, possibly following Dikta’s rule, the Jacksonville Jaguars still cut Slaughter the next day. Jacksonville claimed Slaughter was performing poorly.

Professional athletes’ physical strength hardly makes them immune to crime. Take a couple additional examples.

-- Javon Walker with the Oakland Raiders (height: 6-3, weight: 215 lbs.) was robbed and beaten this past June while visiting Las Vegas. He was hospitalized with a concussion and facial injuries.

-- Dunta Robinson of the Houston Texans (height: 5-10, weight: 184 lbs.) was robbed by two men in his home a year ago. The robbers bound him with duct tape and stole jewelry.

Unfortunately all of the nation’s four leading pro-sports leagues — the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball — trivialize the athletes’ concerns over safety. The NFL’s official advice: “In some circumstances, such as for sport or protection, you may legally possess a firearm or other weapon. However, we strongly recommend that you not do so.” The league advocates passive behavior when confronted by a criminal.

Fred Taylor (height: 6-1, weight: 228) a running back with the Jacksonville Jaguars made the point clear: “League officials tell us we need to take measures to protect ourselves. But the NFL says we can’t have guns in the facility –even in the parking lot. Crooks know this. They can just sit back and wait for us to drive off, knowing we won’t have anything in our vehicle from point A to point B.”

Even professional athletes are not supermen. T.J. Slaughter expresses no regrets for having a gun despite running afoul of political correctness and being cut by the Jaguars. He says, “I believe legally owning a gun is the right thing to do. It offers me protection. I think one day it could save my life.” It seems a lesson that many who are not quite as strong can also learn from.

Toys “R” US

The media can’t be blamed for some of the left out information and misimpressions about guns. For example, the news coverage over the weekend about a shooting at a Toys R Us in Palm Desert, California gave the wrong impression about guns. It seemed the perfect fit –- two couples squabbling over who would get a toy resulting in a deadly shoot out. Surely this demonstrated the dangers of letting people have guns for self defense.

But political correctness made it difficult for local authorities to even admit a simple and important fact — the two couples were members of rival gangs. As Palm Desert city councilman Bob Spiegel told The L.A. Times, there were apparently “two rival groups shopping at the store.” Even stories that mentioned the gangs often left the mention until the end.

Unfortunately, commentators at places such as the Huffington Post confuse letting gang members and law-abiding citizens carry guns. As one remarked: “does anybody still think concealed weapons laws are a good idea?” But in contrast to gang members, data for states like Florida or Texas indicate that concealed handgun permit holders lose their permits for any gun-related violation at hundredths or thousandths of one percent and even then usually for very trivial, non-threatening violations.


When police can’t promise to protect law-abiding citizens such Plaxico Burress or the victims in India, why don’t we allow people the right to protect themselves? Unfortunately, bans do more to encourage crime than prevent it.

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

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