Commentary

They Never Learn

“What is needed, urgently, is stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage.” So said the New York Times in its predictable but wrongheaded editorial the day after the horrific events at Virginia Tech. Anti-gun advocates, however noble their motives, help create the environment in which horrors like Virginia Tech occur.

Possession and use of guns on the Tech campus violated state-imposed restrictions. But crazed fanatics, undeterred by laws against murder, will not be dissuaded by laws against guns. More such laws will accomplish nothing. Indeed, liberalized laws might have enabled responsible, armed citizens on campus to defend the hapless victims. It took two hours for the killer methodically to massacre 32 people and injure another 15. Why did nobody intervene sooner to stop the killer?

For one possible explanation, consider this report from a Roanoke Times article: A bill, introduced on behalf of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, would have given properly licensed public college students and employees the right to carry handguns on campus. The bill died on January 30, 2006 in the Virginia General Assembly. Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker was pleased with the outcome. “I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus.” Tell that to the ill-fated victims of April 16 and their families.

The article goes on to relate that most universities in Virginia require students and employees, other than police, to check their guns with police or campus security on entering campus. The proposed legislation would have eliminated that requirement for anyone who possessed a valid concealed handgun permit. Ironically, Tech’s governing board had approved in June 2005 a violence prevention policy reiterating the school’s ban on students, employees, or visitors — even those properly licensed — from bringing handguns onto campus.

At the Virginia Tech press conference after the slaughter of 32 defenseless people, the university’s president cautioned that it wouldn’t be possible to have police guard every classroom and dorm. What he omitted was this cold, hard fact: By making the university a “gun free zone,” his administration and the state legislature had fostered a climate in which ubiquitous police would be necessary. Without a means to protect themselves, Virginia Tech students, faculty, and other employees were more likely to be victimized by the only people on campus who had readily available guns: killers and lunatics.

Meanwhile, the New York Times, the Brady Center, and the rest of the usual suspects continue their clamor for more gun regulations — apparently oblivious to the destructive effects of their own proposals. The evidence is clear: more guns in the hands of responsible owners yield lower rates of violent crime. Gun control does not work. It just prevents weaker people from defending themselves against stronger predators.

Here are the numbers, as summarized by legal scholar Don B. Kates: Over the 30-year period from 1974 to 2003, guns in circulation doubled, but murder rates declined by a third. On a state-by-state basis, a 1 percent increase in gun ownership correlates with a 4.1 percent lower rate of violent crime. Each year, approximately 460,000 gun crimes are committed in the United States. But guns are also used to ward off gun criminals. Estimates of defensive gun use range from 1.3 million to 2.5 million times per year — and usually the weapons are merely brandished, not fired. That means defensive uses occur about 3-to-5 times as often as violent gun crimes. Just as important, armed victims who resist gun criminals get injured less frequently than unarmed victims who submit. In more than 8 out of 10 cases where the victim pulls a gun, the criminal turns and flees, even if he’s armed. “So much for the quasi-religious faith that more guns mean more murder.”

Finally, two federal government agencies recently examined gun control laws and found no statistically significant evidence to support their effectiveness. In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 253 journal articles, 99 books, and 43 government publications evaluating 80 gun-control measures. The researchers could not identify a single gun-control regulation that reduced violent crime, suicide, or accidents. A year earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on an independent evaluation of firearms and ammunition bans, restrictions on acquisition, waiting periods, registration, licensing, child access prevention laws, and zero tolerance laws. Conclusion: none of the laws had a meaningful impact on gun violence.

When will the gun controllers learn?

Robert A. Levy is senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.