Published Wednesday, November 9, 2005, in National Review Online.

Now We’re Getting Somewhere: A silver lining in a gun ban.

John R. Lott Jr.*

Who wrote the following?

"[I]t is possible that once residents gave up their handguns, San Francisco would be seen as an easy hunting ground for criminals who have no intention of giving up their own pistols."

Is it the NRA claiming that gun laws disarm law-abiding citizens and not criminals? No. Amazingly enough it was the San Francisco Examiner, one of the more liberal newspapers in the U.S., in an editorial arguing against Proposition H, the initiative that passed on Tuesday to ban handguns in the city.

Yet, despite this reasonableness, the initiative passed with a safe margin, 58 percent of the vote. Perhaps that isn't very surprising in a city where a proposition banning military recruiters at public high schools and colleges got even more support and almost 80 percent voted against parental notification for minors getting abortions.

Ultimately, though, the vote didn't mean much of anything. As San Francisco's Mayor, Gavin Newsom, a strong supporter of gun control, said, the ban "clearly will be thrown out [in court]... It's really just a public opinion poll at the end of the day." State law prohibits local jurisdictions from enacting such a ban, and an even weaker law requiring handgun registration that was enacted by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors in 1982 was thrown out by the California state supreme court.

The silver lining was how forcefully many organizations such as the police came out against the gun ban. Besides discussing the increases in murder occurring in Washington, D.C. after it instituted a handgun ban, the officers stated: "When we disarm honest, law-abiding citizens, we contribute to empowering criminals and endangering society-at-large." They directly acknowledged how important it was for people to be able to defend themselves with a handgun when the police couldn't be there.

It would be nice if San Francisco could avoid the increases in violent crime rates experienced by Washington, D.C. and Chicago after their handgun bans.

But Bill O'Reilly probably said it best recently on the Fox News Channel when he noted: "Once I saw what happened in Hurricane Katrina, I said every American household should have a firearm. If there's a tremendous earthquake in San Francisco and looting, you don't want your family protected? You don't want a firearm in your house? You're living in the world of Oz."

It is one thing for a group such as the Pink Pistols, a gay-rights group that advocates people being able to defend themselves, to make these claims, but it's a broader group talking about the importance of people being able to defend themselves and their loved ones these days. The fact that so many people discuss and debate how a gun ban can lead to more crime itself reflects how much the debate has been changing.

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


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