Op-Ed: Gun control has a clear record of failure

by Tom Gresham

In the wake of the horrific murders at the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut, America has been deluged with calls for ever-more-restrictive gun-control laws, and that's understandable. It's natural to think that's the solution if you don't know these measures have been tried and have always failed.

We crave a solution so much that we'll ignore the record and keep repeating failed policies.

We are told that we need gun-control laws. Sounds good, right? Should we make it illegal for anyone adjudicated to be mentally ill to buy a gun? Let's make it illegal for felons to possess guns. Let's license gun dealers and require the FBI to do a background check on anyone buying a gun from these stores. How about an age restriction on buying guns? Gun shows should have to follow the same laws as everyone else.

All those already are law, and there are some 20,000 additional gun-control laws in the U.S. Before one can rationally call for passage of gun laws, he or she must know what already is covered.

How about a ban on "assault weapons?" We're told this is only common sense. But, what is this thing called an assault weapon? It's not a machine gun. There were no machine guns covered in the original assault-weapon ban because those firearms already are tightly restricted. No, the auto-loading (called semi-automatic) rifles included in the original law simply looked like military guns. They should be banned on the basis of how they look? They fire only one shot with each pull of the trigger, like a revolver or the cowboy-style lever-action rifle used by John Wayne.

Semi-automatics have been around for more than 100 years. President Teddy Roosevelt hunted with a semi-automatic rifle, as do millions of hunters today.

For 10 years (1994 to 2004) we banned only those semi-automatic rifles that look like military guns. Prohibitionists' logic dictates that the demise of this law in 2004 should have spawned a huge increase in crime with rifles. Didn't happen. More people are killed with fists and feet than with rifles of any kind, and semiautomatics constitute merely a subset of rifles. In short, the ban failed. It had to.

The National Academy of Sciences studied gun laws in the U.S. and reported it could find no link between restrictions on gun ownership and lower rates of crime, firearms violence or accidents with guns.

Over the past 20 years, the rates of violent crime and murder have dropped by half in the U.S., according to the FBI. That's astounding. We have more guns and more gun owners, but the rate of violent crime and murder went down by half. Accidental shooting deaths also declined. How can this be?

Two things were done, and they work.

Over the course of a half-century, with more guns and more gun owners, the number of gun accidents resulting in death has fallen because of education. Gun owners, through various programs, have taught safe gun storage and gun handling and have brought into our schools the Eddie Eagle program, which teaches young children to not touch guns and to tell an adult if they find one.

The major change in America's gun laws over the past two decades is removing prohibitions against people carrying guns for protection. The concealed-carry movement started in Florida amid catcalls from the media — which dubbed it the "Gunshine State" — and predictions that every fender-bender accident would result in gunshots. That didn't happen there, and it didn't happen in the other states. More good people are carrying guns, and the violent-crime and murder rates decline.

We have a clear track record of what works to increase our safety. We know what doesn't. Arming good people does, in fact, reduce crime. Banning certain types of firearms, or the loading devices, does nothing to stop mentally ill people and criminals.

Focusing on the failed siren song of gun control diverts us from doing things that actually work, such as programs to secure firearms. Congress eliminated the funding for "Project Childsafe," a program created by the firearms industry to educate gun owners about safe storage and to distribute millions of gun locks.

We all want to do something, but it is foolish and wasteful to return to a policy with a clear record of failure.

Tom Gresham is the host of the nationally syndicated radio show Tom Gresham's Gun Talk. This op-ed originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch.

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