Which came first - the gun violence or the gun control?

By Chad D. Baus

If ever there was a headline that made me do a double-take, it was a recent Associated Press article entitled "Mass shootings more common since 1960s".

The thesis of the article, written in the days following Seung-Hui Cho's sick massacre of his fellow college students, is to ask "What is it about modern-day America that provokes such random violence?" AP reporter Matt Crenson gets quickly to the point, inciting more than a few tragic memories by invoking the words "Luby's. Jonesboro. Columbine. And now, Virginia Tech."

From the story:

    Since Aug. 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed a 27-story tower on the University of Texas campus and started picking people off, at least 100 Americans have gone on shooting sprees.

    And all through those years, the same questions have been asked: What is it about modern-day America that provokes such random violence? Is it the decline of traditional morals? The depiction of violence in entertainment? The ready availability of lethal firepower?

While it is certainly true that those who would prefer we have no firearms have attempted to (and in some cases succeeded in) exploit these mass murders to question the "ready availability" of firearms, one of the first things that comes to my mind when someone mentions the Sixties is the Gun Control Act of 1968. As Crenson looks back to that decade and compares it to modern America, it becomes clear there is another potential explanation for such instances of random violence - the drastic increase in gun control laws.

Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox told the Associated Press that he blames guns for mass shootings, 'at least in part'. He notes that 'seven of the eight deadliest mass public shootings have occurred in the past 25 years'. It would be just as equally true to say that seven of the eight deadliest mass public shootings have occurred since passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968. This also provides more perspective than just pulling 25 years out of the sky as a benchmark. More on that after we consider Fox's next assertion.

"I know that there were high-powered guns before," Fox told the AP. "But this weaponry is just so much more pervasive than it was."

Actually, ' high-powered guns' were neither less lethal nor less available in the 1960's (or earlier) than they are today. In fact, many of the commonly used rifle and pistol cartridges today are of a smaller caliber than popular cartridges of a generation or more ago. And in the years preceding the Gun Control Act of 1968, it was far easier to buy a gun than in the years in which the "at least 100 shooting sprees" Crenson refers to occurred.

Before 1968, individuals were allowed to direct mail order firearms.

Before 1968, individuals were allowed to acquire handguns outside their state of residence.

Before 1968, individuals from different states were allowed to engage in the private sale of handguns.

Before 1968, individuals under the age of 21 could purchase a handgun, and individuals under the age of 18 could buy a shotgun or rifle.

Before 1968, lone psychopathic individuals were not committing mass murder in the fashion they are today.

So according the tortured logic of Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, shouldn't we rather be blaming gun control for the increase in multiple victim public shootings, rather than the guns themselves?

The truth is, we may never fully be able to quantify why these mass shootings have increased in recent years. We can, on the other hand, quantify policies which can reduce them.

In the year 2000, professors John R. Lott and William M. Landes examined multiple-victim public shootings in the U.S. from 1977 to 1999. According to their research, the only policy factor that has had a consistently significant influence on multiple victim public shootings is the passage of concealed handgun laws.

From the study:

    Right-to-carry laws reduce the number of people killed or wounded from multiple victim public shootings as many attackers are either deterred from attacking or when attacks do occur they are stopped before the police can arrive. We are able to provide evidence for the first time that the harm from crimes that still occur can be mitigated. Given that half the attackers in these multiple victim public shootings have had formal diagnoses of mental illness, the fact that some results indicate concealed handgun laws reduce these attacks by almost 70 percent is remarkable.

Indeed, Lott and Landes found that when states passed right-to-carry laws, the rate of multiple victim public shootings fell by 60%. Deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell even more - an average of 78% - as the remaining incidents tended to involve fewer victims per attack.

I can hear my anti-gun readers now - "but Virginia is a concealed carry state!" True, but Virginia Tech is not a concealed carry campus. By proactively rendering its students defenseless in the name of making everyone "feel safe" rather than pursuing measures that would actually improve safety, Virginia Tech ensured that there could be no deterrent effect, and no reduction in the number of victims. In fact, Lott and Landes noted that their results "clearly show that the states with the fewest gun free zones have the greatest reductions killings, injuries, and attacks." Their conclusion? "Increasing gun free zones increases murders."

The bottom line is that our reaction to past acts of violence has been to pass gun control laws, which have since been proven to increase the likelihood of the types of attacks we were promised those laws would prevent. The Gun Control Act of 1968, for instance, was passed in the wake of the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the University of Texas sniper. Its supporters said it was time for 'sensible' gun laws, and promised they were going to make everyone safer. Now that the Associated Press reports we're somewhere north of 100 mass shootings since then, does anyone feel safer?

On the other hand, laws protecting or reestablishing the right to bear arms for self defense have indeed made people safer. As Lott and Landes noted in 2000, "not only does the passage of a right-to-carry law have a significant impact on multiple shootings but it is the only gun law that appears to have a significant impact. While other law enforcement efforts -- from the arrest rate for murder and the death penalty -- reduce the number of people harmed from multiple shootings, the effect is not as consistently significant as for right-to-carry laws."

It is time for the two remaining states with arcane laws that still ban the right to bear arms for self-defense, Illinois and Wisconsin (Washington D.C. isn't a state, but add them to the list), to allow their citizens the right to carry.

It is time for the seven states with may-issue laws (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York) - where licenses are issued at the whim of local officials, in many cases not at all - to pass shall-issue laws that take the discretion away from anti-gun bureaucrats. [Alabama also has a may-issue law which operates, in practice, like shall-issue].

Finally, is time for the United States Congress to pass HR861, the National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2007, which would establish a national standard for the carrying of concealed firearms, authorizing persons who have a valid license to carry a concealed firearm in one state to carry a concealed firearm in another state in accordance with the laws of that state.

It is time. Because gun control has not made people safer, and it has not prevented mass murder.

It is time. Because as nearly four decades of history since 1968 has proven, the promises of the gun ban crowd were every bit as empty then as they are today.

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