Commentary

Another Failed Gun Control Experiment

It sounds strange, but my two favorite columns on gun control were authored by self-identified leftists. But they didn’t let ideology trump common sense.

Justin Cronin, for instance, explained that restrictions on gun ownership undermined his ability to protect his family. And Jeffrey Goldberg looked at the evidence and concluded that guns make people safer.

This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate gun control columns by non-leftists. This Larry Correia piece, for instance, is must reading if you want to understand about magazine limits and so-called assault weapons.

And if you like real-world evidence, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe examines what happened after Massachusetts adopted onerous gun control legislation. He starts by explaining the law and what supporters promised.

In 1998, Massachusetts passed what was hailed as the toughest gun-control legislation in the country. Among other stringencies, it banned semiautomatic “assault” weapons, imposed strict new licensing rules, prohibited anyone convicted of a violent crime or drug trafficking from ever carrying or owning a gun, and enacted severe penalties for storing guns unlocked. …One of the state’s leading anti-gun activists, John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence, joined the applause. “The new gun law,” he predicted, “will certainly prevent future gun violence and countless grief.” It didn’t.

Legal gun ownership plummeted.

The 1998 legislation did cut down, quite sharply, on the legal use of guns in Massachusetts. Within four years, the number of active gun licenses in the state had plummeted. “There were nearly 1.5 million active gun licenses in Massachusetts in 1998,” the AP reported. “In June [2002], that number was down to just 200,000.”

Jacoby then explains, however, that the advocates of gun control were not very successful in restraining the behavior of criminals.

But the law that was so tough on law-abiding gun owners had quite a different impact on criminals. Since 1998, gun crime in Massachusetts has gotten worse, not better. In 2011, Massachusetts recorded 122 murders committed with firearms, the Globe reported this month — “a striking increase from the 65 in 1998.” Other crimes rose too. Between 1998 and 2011, robbery with firearms climbed 20.7 percent. Aggravated assaults jumped 26.7 percent.

Gee, what a surprise. The bad guys responded to incentives and committed more crimes once they knew that victims were less likely to be in a position to defend themselves.

To be fair, the statists do have a response.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for gun-control activists to admit they were wrong. …“Massachusetts probably has the toughest laws on the books, but what happens is people go across borders and buy guns and bring them into our state,” rationalizes Boston Mayor Tom Menino. “Guns have no borders.”

But here’s where Jacoby administers a knock-out punch. He looks at evidence from other states and shows that there’s no plausible alternative explanation to the proposition that more gun control is correlated with more crime.

…why didn’t the gun-control lobby warn legislators in 1998 that adopting the toughest gun law in America would do Massachusetts no good unless every surrounding state did the same thing? Far from explaining why the new law would do nothing to curb violent crime, they were positive it would make Massachusetts even safer. …But crime in Massachusetts didn’t just continue, it began climbing. As in the rest of the country, violent crime had been declining in Massachusetts since the early 1990s. Beginning in 1998, that decline reversed — unlike in the rest of the country. …Guns-across-borders might have explained homicide levels in Massachusetts continuing unchanged. But how can other states’ policies be responsible for an increase in Massachusetts homicides? Relative to the rest of the country, or to just the states on its borders, Massachusetts since 1998 has become a more dangerous state. …In 1998, Massachusetts’s murder rate equaled about 70 percent of the rate for Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York. Now it equals 125 percent of that rate. Clearly something bad happened to Massachusetts 15 years ago. Blaming the neighbors may be ideologically comforting. But those aren’t the states whose crime rates are up.

Game. Set. Match.

But just in case you’re still not convinced, check out some of the empirical work generated by John Lott.

Or check out some of the fact-based research on guns and crime by David Kopel.

In other words, even if you don’t care about the Constitution, there’s no case for gun control.

Jeff Jacoby’s column is simply the 100th nail in the coffin.

P.S. Since I usually try to include something at least vaguely amusing in my posts, click here to see some of my favorite examples of gun control humor.

P.P.S. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that cops overwhelming agree that gun control is ineffective.

P.P.P.S. Jacoby does very good work and deserves more attention. Here are links to some of his columns that caught my eye.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.