The Right Opinion

Do Gun Control Laws Control Guns?

By Thomas Sowell · Jan. 22, 2013

The gun control controversy is only the latest of many issues to be debated almost solely in terms of fixed preconceptions, with little or no examination of hard facts.

Media discussions of gun control are dominated by two factors: the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment. But the over-riding factual question is whether gun control laws actually reduce gun crimes in general or murder rates in particular.

If, as gun control advocates claim, gun control laws really do control guns and save lives, there is nothing to prevent repealing the Second Amendment, any more than there was anything to prevent repealing the Eighteenth Amendment that created Prohibition.

But, if the hard facts show that gun control laws do not actually control guns, but instead lead to more armed robberies and higher murder rates after law-abiding citizens are disarmed, then gun control laws would be a bad idea, even if there were no Second Amendment and no National Rifle Association.

The central issue boils down to the question: What are the facts? Yet there are many zealots who seem utterly unconcerned about facts or about their own lack of knowledge of facts.

There are people who have never fired a shot in their life who do not hesitate to declare how many bullets should be the limit to put into a firearm's clip or magazine. Some say ten bullets but New York state's recent gun control law specifies seven.

Virtually all gun control advocates say that 30 bullets in a magazine is far too many for self-defense or hunting – even if they have never gone hunting and never had to defend themselves with a gun. This uninformed and self-righteous dogmatism is what makes the gun control debate so futile and so polarizing.

Anyone who faces three home invaders, jeopardizing himself or his family, might find 30 bullets barely adequate. After all, not every bullet hits, even at close range, and not every hit incapacitates. You can get killed by a wounded man.

These plain life-and-death realities have been ignored for years by people who go ballistic when they hear about how many shots were fired by the police in some encounter with a criminal. As someone who once taught pistol shooting in the Marine Corps, I am not the least bit surprised by the number of shots fired. I have seen people miss a stationary target at close range, even in the safety and calm of a pistol range.

We cannot expect everybody to know that. But we can expect them to know that they don't know – and to stop spouting off about life-and-death issues when they don't have the facts.

The central question as to whether gun control laws save lives or cost lives has generated many factual studies over the years. But these studies have been like the proverbial tree that falls in an empty forest, and has been heard by no one – certainly not by zealots who have made up their minds and don't want to be confused by the facts.

Most factual studies show no reduction in gun crimes, including murder, under gun control laws. A significant number of studies show higher rates of murder and other gun crimes under gun control laws.

How can this be? It seems obvious to some gun control zealots that, if no one had guns, there would be fewer armed robberies and fewer people shot to death.

But nothing is easier than to disarm peaceful, law-abiding people. And nothing is harder than to disarm people who are neither – especially in a country with hundreds of millions of guns already out there, that are not going to rust away for centuries.

When it was legal to buy a shotgun in London in the middle of the 20th century, there were very few armed robberies there. But, after British gun control zealots managed over the years to disarm virtually the entire law-abiding population, armed robberies became literally a hundred times more common. And murder rates rose.

One can cherry-pick the factual studies, or cite some studies that have subsequently been discredited, but the great bulk of the studies show that gun control laws do not in fact control guns. On net balance, they do not save lives but cost lives.

Gun control laws allow some people to vent their emotions, politicians to grandstand and self-righteous people to “make a statement” – but all at the cost of other people's lives.



Tex in Oklahoma in Oklahoma said:

I'm really becoming alarmed at a point of view I see repeated often. I just read another one in a Patriot Post reader comment: "Our focus should be on getting the mentally ill identified and treated rather than focusing on guns." I want to cry out "WAIT!!!" Here's why I feel alarmed: if 'progressives' are given an inch toward government control of identifying so-called "mentally ill" people just where do you think it will end? I think the answer is obvious and I don't want to go down that road - not an inch much less a mile. There's no turning back from policies that allow the government to designate any one of you as "dangerous" and in need of confinement. Confiscating guns is the least you have to fear if it becomes that easy for a "progressive" psychiatrist - or state-appointed counselor to identify you as a threat.

Understand, I do not disagree that a gun (or bomb or machete) in the hands of a mentally ill person is frightening, I just cannot envision putting that decision in government hands. Isn't the government the reason psychologist and psychiatrist are currently reticent to identify potential murders now? Ted Kennedy's privacy laws are the same type of government abuse of power that you would see if they go after identification of the 'potentially criminally insane'.

Fight gun control with vigor but do NOT encourage the kind of government we have today to take control of the decision about who is a threat to the state!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 5:16 AM

rab in jo,mo replied:

"a gun (or bomb or machete) in the hands of a mentally ill person is frightening"

Agreed, all I ask is to be able to fulfil my responsibility to defend my self/family and end a disturbed individual's rampage before it intensifies. There is a reason why "gun free zones" are the location of choice for these a-holes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:42 AM

JJStryder in Realville replied:

I agree with you about giving the government more power to level the title of crazy on anyone and subsequently removing their second amendment rights. Hell, they probably think conservatism is a mental illness.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 11:50 AM

wjm in Colorado replied:

It is a given that Democrats are mentally unstable, Reid and Pelosi are truely demented souls. Facts are just so inconvenient to the marxist traitors. It isn't the guns they would control, it is the sheeple. Marxist tyranny can only prevail with an unarmed populace.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 1:16 PM

Merry in Cave Creek, AZ replied:

I agree 100% with Tex. Just leave me with the ability to defend myself. There are more sane than crazy and more law abiding than criminals---well, with the exception of those in D.C.

The ONLY requirement that I think both sides would agree on is having a mandatory gun safety class for all NEW gun owners. From what I understand, the dumb clucks who made the news in recent gun shows were not inside the gun shows . The idiots made our job a lot harder because they were too stupid to properly unload and clear a weapon, thought it was okay to carry it loaded to a gun show, or to keep their damned fingers off of the trigger assuming that all weapons are loaded until such time YOU have personally confirmed that fact. Therein is my greatest fear of being shot. Past that--piss on them all.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 3:50 PM

WTD in AZ replied:

Mandatory gun safety class. "Know your weapon" familiarization and safety for everybody would produce positive results where no guns at all for the law abiding public creates a victim class of sheeple.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 6:45 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

"the Federalists are reticent to put anything in govmint hands, Tex!"The LEFT may soon come out with signs for the sand box---"war free zone" will that deter Al Qaeda? Ambassador Stevens would have liked more loaded guns around him, in Benghazi--M4 or M16, perhaps!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 6:18 AM

"Bitter Clinger" in Kansas said:

It is my distinct impression that the first ten amendments(including, of course, the second), or Bill of Rights, were added not to grant rights, but to stipulate pre-existing rights that are "hands-off" to the federal government (LOL!). I would argue, therefore that the second amendment cannot be repealed, anymore than the other nine.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:32 AM

Sammy in Kansas said:

"From my cold dead hands!"

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 10:21 AM

CharlieEcho in Illannoy said:

One reason I keep coming to and donate to "The Patriot". While not the only pages I visit and read each day, The Patriot is my go to pages for people who really get it. So that I can continue to get it.

Semper Fidelis, Dr. Sowell.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 11:26 AM

CharlieEcho in Illannoy said:

While I'm here, another thing regarding mental wellness. I have grand children from the sixth grade to a second year in the Marine Corps.

Our schools have "counsellors" for everything from dead-beat parents to shyness. When the schools call the parents or guardians in for discussion of the childs behavior, grades included, beware, it's a slippery slope. There are special schools for "special children". School systems profit from these "special children" to the child's detriment as well a societies.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Tapdaddy in Indiana said:

Who are the "self righteous people" to whom Dr. Sowell is referring? Those who have not used a gun to kill someone to defend them self or their family but want to prevent anybody else from doing so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

You can't hit liberals with facts because they are so used to dealing in lies they can't handle the truth. They run on emotion and a lack of common sense for every issue that arises. Tex has a good point because if you have ever been treated for any type of mental problem that would automatically move you to the top of the list. It could be something so simple as mild depression brought on by the loss of a loved one or a major physical problem. I believe something should be done for the truly mentally ill but as usual the progressives will go to far with it and innocent people will suffer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 11:54 AM

MoeLarryCurly in CA said:

One aspect to support multiple round magazines is the fact that when confronted with danger or potential death, your body creates a chemical imbalance similar to 'buck fever' or 'fight or flight' syndrome. Most people are not trained in how to confront 'fight or flight' and may require multiple round magazines for personal protection. Also, most times the intended target is mobile...harder to hit a moving target so they say...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 12:06 PM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia replied:

It's the 50% rule -- you are only half as good as your average skill level when confronted with real danger. You will miss, have bad hits, and and not perform to the level you have trained. Besides the fact that they are protected by the Constitution, we need our guns and reliable magazines!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:00 PM

richard ryan in Lamar,Missouri said:

I wish to God I had been able to watch the inauguration of a Thomas Sowell or a Walter Williams yesterday. As it is, I have about given up on our Republic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 2:07 PM

WTD in AZ replied:

Inauguration of an intelligent, concerned person. Oh would that it were so!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 6:52 PM

Dioneikes in Colorado said:

The mentally ill catch is a slippery slope. Soon all of the Docs will be asking us " Do you have any guns at home?" " Do you ever feel angry or depressed?" "Have you ever had any thoughts of hurting someone else or yourself?" If a "Yes" is answered to any of these, then the Doc will get on the phone after you leave the office and report you to the police as a possible mental case who shouldn't own a gun. Why? Because it'll be a criminal charge for them NOT TO. And sure as crap stinks, they aren't going to jail for the likes of you. We don't want any national registry for guns, nor do we need a universal background check. All of these things will lead to eventual confiscation. Our best bet is to inundate Congress with phone calls, faxes, e-mails, and whatever else we can to contact our Senators and Representatives to let them know that this crap ain't gonna fly.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 2:26 PM

rab in jo,mo replied:

Here's an answer key for the three questions:

1. None of your damned business.
2. If I had no emotion, I'd be a psychopath.
3. Yes, I'd like to knock some sense into the dipsh*t that decided you have to ask me these questions.

Hope this helps. :)

Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Deanna in Illinois said:

Thomas, I love all of your articles. This one, as the others, is right on the money. Thank you for trying to get the facts out. Stupidity rules too many in this country.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Dioneikes in Colorado said:

Please follow this link and sign the Second Amendment Protection Directive.

Just cut and paste it into your web browser.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Ed Shipley in Amarillo,Texas said:

1. There used to be institutions for truly menally ill folks, but the liberals decided that "mainstreaming" them in society was best for those people, who are now unable to work, sick, and living under a bridge, or pushing a grocery cart with their possessions. Some are in prisons.
2. The reason guns are useful defensively is because you can shoot at an attacker without having to be within actual reach of his hands. See, hands often contain knives, clubs, guns, or may be stronger than you. Consider children, women, disabled people, and old folks, who are often victims. And guns are easy to shoot, and an 85 pound kid or lady with a pistol or shotgun is the defensive equivilent of any attacking strong adult male.. down the halll holding an icepick. Kids and ladies, by the way can usually learn to handle 12 ga. semi- auto shotguns, and .45 caliber pistols.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 2:17 AM

Deena in Utah said:

I don't want the government screening us all for mental illness - but concerned family members need to be able to get help. The mother of the Sandy Hook killer wanted help - but family members are often told by social workers, cops, etc. that until their mentally ill patient actually does something illegal, there's nothing anybody can do.

For a really educational article on why gun control etc. is a bad idea, read this article (author recently interviewed by Mike Huckabee on Fox - who isn't my favorite, but that was a good interview).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1:04 PM