Does Gun Control Reduce Crime?

It is clearly in the interests of children and families to reduce gun violence in the United States. Each day, on an average, 13 children under the age of 19 are killed by gunfire and more are injured. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for youths 10–19 years old. For black males of this age, it's the No.1 cause of death. Most youth homicides are committed with firearms, especially handguns.

A heated debate rages between those who believe in rigidly controlling guns and those who believe in no gun regulation. On one side, some gun‐control advocates would like to see the government clamp down on gun manufacturers, sellers, and owners to the point that no citizens can carry guns. In general, the gun‐control community wants to limit the availability of guns (which is a supply‐reduction strategy). On the other side, the National Rifle Association (NRA) claims that the Second Amendment guarantees each citizen an absolute right to “bear arms.” Consequently, the NRA fights all attempts to regulate the manufacture, distribution, and sale of guns. In general, the NRA and its allies favor tough sentences for criminals who use guns (which is a demand‐reduction strategy).

Gun control does reduce crime

Gun‐control advocates advance several arguments to support their position that the government should restrict the availability of guns to reduce violence.

  1. More handguns in circulation equals more violent crime.

  2. Owning a handgun increases a person's risk of being killed.

  3. Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals prevents violent crime.

  4. Taking guns away from criminals reduces violent crime.

Gun control does not reduce crime

The National Rifle Association (NRA) criticizes pro‐gun‐control arguments and offers an alternative proposal for reducing violence.

  • Guns don't kill—only people kill. If more people carried guns to protect themselves, there would be less violent crime.

  • Gun‐control laws are unconstitutional because they violate the Second Amendment “right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

  • Waiting period laws such as the Brady Bill are the first step on the road to a police state.

  • Gun control laws don't reduce violent crime.

  • An alternative to gun control—mandatory sentences for persons who commit crimes with firearms—will produce greater reductions in crime and require less sacrifice on the part of gun owners than gun‐control laws.

Evaluating gun control

Proponents of gun control suggest that some of the arguments against gun control are invalid. For example, they cite statistics that support the fact that if more citizens carried guns to defend themselves, there would be little decrease in crime because crime victims rarely use weapons anyway. And they point to the fact that, so far, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to read the Second Amendment (“A well‐regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) as granting a personal right to bear arms, but rather as a declaration that Congress should not do anything to displace state militias (in modern terms, the National Guard). The case most often cited is U.S. v. Miller (1939), which upheld a law restricting possession of a type of shotgun.

Additional refutation of anti‐gun‐control points involves the assertion that if more states passed mandatory sentencing laws for criminals who use guns in the commission of crimes, crime would be unaffected because in the past such laws have failed to cut crime. Gun‐control advocates further point out that if more states had waiting periods and background checks, they would not usher in a police state, pointing to the fact that although Congress passed the Brady Bill in 1994, it has yet to set off a chain of further steps leading to the establishment of a police state and that there is simply no logical reason to think that waiting periods will cause the emergence of a police state.

A major question is whether or not gun‐control laws reduce crime. Thus far, handgun bans have failed to have any significant impact on murder rates because of the large number of handguns in circulation prior to the bans. Attempts to outlaw the manufacture and importation of handguns have failed because they stimulate the genesis of a black market for guns similar to the black market for drugs. Laws seeking to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals, juveniles, and mental defectives have failed to reduce crime because active criminals either have guns already or can steal them. Waiting periods and background checks temporarily stop some criminals and juveniles from getting guns, but many steal them or get them through the black market.

Taking guns away from criminals is the one promising approach. Proactive arrests (made by police officers on patrols in gun‐crime hot spots, using traffic enforcement and field interrogations) for carrying concealed weapons substantially reduced gun crimes in Kansas City in the mid‐1990s.