After the release of Michael Moore’s hole-ridden Bowling for Columbine in 2002, anti-gun sentiment became more prominent in America. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans authorities confiscated firearms from many local gun owners to combat the area’s roving armed gangs. Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty recently proposed to uphold his city’s gun ban even after a federal appeals court overturned it. And now, given Monday’s tragedy at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, many more Americans are probably going to ask, “Why does America need guns?”
The answer can be found in a 2001 Department of Justice report titled, “Firearm Use by Offenders.” The first page of the file establishes that in 1997, a paltry 21.2 percent of prison inmates who had possessed a firearm received their weapon from a legal retailer. Thirty-nine-point-six-percent attained the gun through friends or family, and 39.2 percent acquired it through the black market. Added together, that’s a staggering 78.8 percent of prisoners procuring their firearm illegally.
These statistics demonstrate that regardless of the restrictions set in place, a murderer or burglar, who is unlikely to abide by the law in the first place, will go through whatever procedures necessary to access a desired firearm. Hence, gun control laws will not influence him in the long run. Those laws will affect citizens who want to defend themselves from criminals.
Those who oppose this logic often cite a 1986 study by Arthur Kellerman which stated that “a homeowner’s gun is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder,” and therefore “the advisability of keeping firearms in the home for protection must be questioned.” The ratio used is 389 violent gun deaths in one Washington county to nine caused from self-protection homicide (over the course of several years). But what the study ignores is that 333 of those deaths were from suicide, and 41 were from criminal homicide (criminals who might have received the weapon illegally). Only 12 of the deaths were accidental.
Many studies have shown that gun laws do very little, if anything, to mitigate violent crime. Despite the fact that handguns were banned in Great Britain in 1997, a 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey reported that the violent crime rate in England and Wales was twice that of the United States.
A 2004 paper by economist Steven Levitt established that both rigorous gun control laws and concealed carry legislation seem to have little impact on crime. The statistics in Levitt’s essay suggest that culture and monetary cost have more of an impact on crime.
Levitt never argues, however, that concealed carry laws won’t help citizens to defend themselves. There was an extremely underreported instance in 2002 where a disgruntled student went on a shooting spree at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va. The individuals who stopped him went out to their cars and returned with their guns, thus preventing further killing.
Violence is a futile action, but crime will always exist in the world. Because of this, citizens need a means for self-defense. Most of the gun restrictions legislated around the world do little to protect them.