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Gun Control

Probably fewer than 2% of handguns and well under 1% of all guns will ever be involved in a violent crime. Thus, the problem of criminal gun violence is concentrated within a very small subset of gun owners, indicating that gun control aimed at the general population faces a serious needle-in-the-haystack problem.

Criminal gun users most commonly get their guns by buying them from friends and other nonretail sources, or by theft. Therefore, gun regulation would be more likely to succeed in controlling gun violence if it could effectively restrict nondealer acquisitions and possession of guns by this small high-risk subset of gun owners.

Most gun safety training is aimed at hunters, rather than the defensive gun owners who make up the bulk of people involved in gun accidents. Because of this narrow focus, and because the training does not treat alcoholism or modify the shooter's personality, it probably has little impact outside of the hunting community. On the other hand, it might be possible to reduce gun accidents through gun laws (mainly aimed at reducing crime) which prohibit gun acquisition or possession by high-risk groups like felons or alcoholics.

Kleck and Patterson (1991) sought to avoid all of these technical problems. Their analysis covered all forms of violence which involves guns, encompassed every large (over 100,000 population) city in the nation, and assessed all major forms of existing gun control in the U.S. Their findings are summarized in Table 6. They indicate that gun ownership levels have no net positive effect on the total rate of any major form of violence, and that, with few exceptions, existing gun control laws have no net negative effect on violence rates.

(Table 6 about here)

The only clear exceptions were owner licensing, which seems to reduce fatal gun accidents, add-on penalties for committing crimes with a gun, which appear to reduce robbery, mandatory penalties for unlawful gun carrying, which also seem to reduce robbery, and state or local licensing of gun dealers, which (surprisingly) appears to reduce suicides and assaults.

Policy Conclusions (Chapter 11)

Despite substantial variation in gun control severity and gun ownership levels across U.S. cities, there is no evidence that these have any measurable impact on violence levels, although they do affect the frequency with which guns are used in some kinds of violence. On the other hand, the frequency with which guns are carried may have an impact on robbery which gun ownership levels do not, and gun ownership within special high-risk subsets of the population may have an impact on violence rates which general gun ownership levels do not.

Therefore, the significance of the few gun control measures found to be effective should not be overlooked. There is empirical support for some moderate gun controls. I favor a national "instant records check," which would screen for high-risk gun buyers similar to owner license and purchase permit systems, but without the delays and arbitrary administration which sometimes characterizes those controls. The system should cover nondealer transactions as well as dealer sales, and apply to rifles and shotguns, as well as handguns. Also, tighter licensing of gun dealers and increased enforcement of carry laws may be useful.

Gun control is a very minor, though not entirely irrelevant, part of the solution to the violence problem, just as guns are of only very minor significance as a cause of the problem. The U.S. has more violence than other nations for reasons unrelated to its extraordinarily high gun ownership. Fixating on guns seems to be, for many people, a fetish which allows them to ignore the more intransigent causes of American violence, including its dying cities, inequality, deteriorating family structure, and the all- pervasive economic and social consequences of a history of slavery and racism. And just as gun control serves this purpose for liberals, equally useless "get tough" proposals, like longer prison terms, mandatory sentencing, and more use of the death penalty serve the purpose for conservatives. All parties to the crime debate would do well to give more concentrated attention to more difficult, but far more relevant, issues like how to generate more good-paying jobs for the underclass which is at the heart of the violence problem.

State Party Platform on Gun Control

See Democratic Party Platform:

  • Promote responsible gun ownership and reasonable gun safety and work with gun owners and sporting associations to promote gun safety education;
  • Continue the efforts to keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals;
  • Continue to support the common sense ban on deadly assault weapons;
Topic revision: r1 - 2009-01-28, RaymondLutz
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