“Assault Weapon” Is Just a PR Stunt Meant to Fool the Gullible
This column by ACRU General Counsel and Senior Fellow for the Carleson Center for Public Policy (CCPP) Peter Ferrara was published December 28, 2012 on Forbes.com.
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has announced that she will be introducing legislation to reenact the ban on so-called assault weapons that she authored in 1994. The evidence is in on the effect of her previous assault weapons ban: zero, zilch, nada, as the saying goes. The ban made no perceptible difference in the gun violence statistics when it went into effect, and no perceptible difference when it was allowed to expire 10 years later, in 2003.
That is because the term “assault weapon” is just a PR stunt that fools the gullible and easily deluded. It is defined in legislation by cosmetic features that frighten white bread suburbanites, but do not involve any functionality of any gun. We tried it, conservatives said it wouldn’t work, and it didn’t work. Yet, it is the liberal answer to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Why do the hard work of actually making a difference, when with no work at all you can perform a meaningless and irrelevant gesture that won’t make any difference? A Connecticut state law already banned assault weapons. The difference that made in stopping the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary: zero, zilch, nada, as the saying goes.
The sharpest analyst in America, and probably the whole world, on the issue of guns and crime is economist John Lott, the author of the classic book, More Guns, Less Crime. Early in his career, Lott served as an economist for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which adopted uniform, mandatory, criminal sentencing guidelines for the federal courts. That led to his subsequent career as the world’s foremost expert on statistics relating to violent crime and guns.
Now in its Third Edition, Lott’s book is neither an opinion piece nor a lawyer’s brief. What it does is present highly sophisticated regression analysis of copious data relating to violent crime and guns city by city, county by county, and state by state, for several recent decades. Lott’s regression equations,
“account for not only all the law enforcement variables (arrest, execution, and imprisonment rates), income and poverty measures, (poverty and unemployment rates, per capita real income, as well as income maintenance, retirement and unemployment payments), the thirty-six measures of demographic changes, and the national average changes in crime rates from year-to-year and average differences across states …. In addition, the [regressions] account for the difference in various concealed handgun laws and other types of gun control laws.”
In short, this is the most sophisticated and comprehensive presentation of the data relating to violent crime and guns in the world.
This and similar work relating to other countries worldwide shows that where the local population owns more guns, there is less crime. That it is because criminals avoid victims who are or might be armed, and prefer to prey on the defenseless and unarmed, such as in “gun-free” zones. And because the presence of guns that can be used in self defense stops the commission of the more violent crimes, such as murder.
This unparalleled scholarship has swept the states with newly enacted “concealed carry” laws. These laws require local authorities to issue permits to carry concealed handguns to those who meet the specified qualifications, known as “shall issue” laws. Alternative state laws authorize local authorities with the discretion to issue such concealed carry permits, known as “may issue’ laws. In the early 1980s, just 8 states had any such right to carry laws. Today, 39 states have shall issue laws and 9 more have may issue laws. That leaves just two states, Illinois and Wisconsin, that completely ban citizens from carrying concealed handguns, and the Seventh Circuit just ruled the Illinois ban to be unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.
As a result, by 2007 about 5 million Americans held permits to carry concealed handguns. Lott’ s Third Edition published in 2010 includes regressions that show these concealed carry laws result in:
“large drops in overall violent crime, murder, rape, and aggravated assault that begin right after the right to carry laws have gone into effect. In all those crime categories, the crime rates consistently stay much lower than they were before the law. The murder rate for these right to carry states fell consistently every year relative to non-right-to-carry states.”
“All the results indicate that violent crime falls after right-to-carry laws are passed …. There is a large, statistically significant drop in murder rates across all specifications. The before-and-after average comparison implies that right-to-carry laws reduce murder by roughly 20 percent. In all cases, right-to-carry laws cause the trends in murder, rape, and robbery rates to fall.”
As David Kopel explained in the Wall Street Journal on December 17, armed permit holders often serve as the first line of defense against mass murderers:
“The media rarely mentions the mass murders that were thwarted by armed citizens at the Shoney Restaurant in Anniston, Ala. (1991), the high school in Pearl, Miss. (1997), the middle school dance in Edinboro, Penn. (1998), and the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. (2007), among others. At the Clackamas Mall in Oregon last week, an active shooter murdered two people and then saw that a shopper, who had a handgun carry permit, had drawn a gun and was aiming at him. The murderer’s next shot was to kill himself.”
Israel, which can’t afford the weak minded irrationality of American liberals, has learned from all this and its own experience to stop terrorist attacks in its schools by arming its teachers. That has worked spectacularly to shut down terrorist attacks in Israeli schools, without a single accident or misuse of guns.
But CNN anchor Piers Morgan showed recently that he does not learn from experience when he unprofessionally attacked Gun Owners of America President Larry Pratt on the air as “an incredibly stupid man” because Pratt was aware of the above evidence, while Morgan was not. Morgan, who demonstrates on air every day why people have said that America and Britain are two nations separated by a common language, ignorantly insisted that America adopt the benighted gun control laws of his formerly great country of Britain.
George Mason Law School Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm, author of Guns and Violence: The English Experience (Harvard, 2002), explained why Morgan’s position was so silly in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal. In March, 1996, Thomas Hamilton, known to suffer mental illness, shot and killed 16 young children and their teacher in a primary school in the Scottish town of Dumb lane, wounding 10 other children and 3 more teachers before killing himself. That resulted in the Firearms Act of 1998, “which instituted a nearly complete ban on handguns. Owners of pistols were required to turn them in. The penalty for illegal possession of a pistol is up to 10 years in prison.”
The results of that law, which would be unconstitutional in the U.S. no matter how many guests Piers Morgan calls stupid on his show, were:
“Within a decade of the handgun ban and the confiscation of handguns from registered owners, crime with handguns had doubled according to British government crime reports. Gun crime, not a serious problem in the past, now is. Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time.”
Lott adds, “The evidence should make gun control advocates pause, as all the gun bans that I have studied show that murder rates increase after the ban is enacted.”
The draconian British law nullifying self defense in that country did not end mass shootings there. In June 2010, “Derrick Bird, a taxi driver in Cumbria, shot his brother and a colleague then drove off through rural villages killing 12 people and injuring 11 more before killing himself.”
Based on all the evidence and experience above, what would work to stop tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary is to offer a bonus of $2,500 a year to all teachers who obtain a conceal and carry permit, which requires training in every state, and who bring their gun to school every day, where it would be available in case of emergency. That would deter even mentally ill people from even trying mass murders at schools.
Lott explains that mass murderers choose so-called gun free zones such as schools or movie theaters or shopping malls where guns are prohibited because they know they can carry out their plan for mass murder there without being stopped. All gun free zone signs should be required to include a skull and crossbones with the admonition to the innocent “Enter at your own risk.”
Lott adds that these mass murderers are consciously choosing to commit suicide in carrying out their crimes. But they don’t want to go out quietly. They want to go out with a big bang to draw national and even worldwide attention to their pain and their plight. This is all a reflection of their mental illness.
Only the above policy of arming the teachers can stop such crazed madmen. The government does not even have the power to take away guns from dangerous criminals and insane mass murderers. We can’t even stop drugs and illegal aliens from crossing the border, and drugs and illegal guns even show up in prisons. Guns will always be available to those who want to obtain them. Legally mandated helplessness by the victims and those who could protect them only results in maximum vulnerability, as at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Moreover, Kopel also reports in Monday’s Journal, “A 2011 paper by Steven P. Segal at the University of California, Berkeley, Civil Commitment Law, Mental Health Services, and U.S. Homicide Rates, ‘found that a third of the state-to-state variation in homicide rates was attributable to the strength or weakness of involuntary civil commitment laws.” Wednesday’s Journal notes that a Hartford, Connecticut Judge Robert K. Killian, Jr. has been arguing for Connecticut to adopt stronger civil commitment laws, based on his own experience with repeat offenders. But the ACLU was focused on protecting Adam Lanza’s civil liberties to mow down kindergarten students at Sandy Hook Elementary, so the Connecticut legislature never acted.
The same paper editorializes that a better solution would be mandatory outpatient treatment laws for the mentally ill who are a danger to others without taking their medication, which has “shown results in limiting violence among the mentally ill.”
These policies would constitute a complete and effective program to prevent the next Sandy Hook Elementary atrocity. But they are based on evidence and reason, not mindless emotion, so don’t expect any “liberal” support.