Rounding Up the Guns
What not to do


Lopez: Should we ban guns at civic events, to protect congressmen?

Lott: Another law banning guns from outdoor events would be ineffective — it would make no difference for somebody intent on committing murder. Actually enforcing such a law would require conducting events only in enclosed areas with guards checking for guns at the entrance. It would effectively ban the type of spontaneous contact that Congresswoman Giffords and others felt was so important. It isn’t very clear how one would provide extensive Secret Service protection to all 535 members of Congress.

Lopez: Could this attack have been prevented if there were a federal assault-weapons ban?

Lott: When the federal assault-weapons ban expired on Sept. 14, 2004, those favoring the ban predicted a massive violent-crime wave.

Massachusetts senator John Kerry, the Democratic party’s presidential nominee that year, warned it would make “the job of terrorists easier.” California senator Dianne Feinstein foresaw that deadly crime would soar because of the “pent-up demand for 50-round magazines and larger.” Gun-control advocates such as Sarah Brady, James’s wife, anticipated similar problems.

Six years have passed since the ban sunset, and none of those fears has been borne out. Indeed, every category of violent crime has fallen, with the murder rate falling by about 15 percent between 2004 and June 2010. The recently released third edition of More Guns, Less Crime found that the six states that have their own assault-weapons ban saw a smaller drop in murders than the 44 states without such laws.

There is no academic research by criminologists or economists that shows that either state or federal assault-weapon bans have reduced any type of violent crime. Clips are very easy to cheaply make, and a ban would mean that criminals, not law-abiding individuals, would have the advantage in any confrontation.

The civilian version of the AK-47, or other so-called assault weapons, may look like the guns used by militaries around the world, but they are quite different. The civilian version of the AK-47 is not a machine gun, and fires essentially the same bullets as deer-hunting rifles at the same rapidity (one bullet per pull of the trigger), and does the same damage. Of course, in this attack in Tucson, the weapon used was a very commonly owned handgun.

Lopez: What about some kind of ban on high-capacity magazines? Could that have cut down on the casualties?

Lott: Re-instituting the parts of the assault-weapon ban limiting magazine size won’t lower crime. No research by criminologists or economist found that the ban or magazine-size restrictions reduced crime. Magazines are just small metal boxes with a spring, and are very easy to make. The benefits of not exchanging the magazines accrue to law-abiding citizens, police, and criminals. If criminals still get the larger magazines, they’ll have the advantage.

Lopez: Is there anything new about the legislation Carolyn McCarthy is offering?

Lott: No, she is trying to reinstitute part of the federal assault-weapons ban.

Lopez: Why shouldn’t members of Congress be emotionally or politically pressured into supporting it?

Lott: Too often, knee-jerk reactions cause Congress to pass laws that actually make future crimes more likely. Creating gun-free zones is one such example. Banning guns from places such as schools might have seemed like a way of protecting children or college students, but instead it created a magnet for those intent on causing harm. The problem is that instead of gun-free zones making it safe for potential victims, they make it safe for criminals.

Criminals are less likely to run into those who might be able to stop them. Everyone wants to keep guns away from criminals. But the question is, who is more likely to obey the law?

A student expelled for violating a gun-free zone at a college is extremely unlikely ever to be accepted to another college. A faculty member fired for a firearms violation will find it virtually impossible to get another academic position. But even if the killer at Virginia Tech had lived, the notion that the threat of expulsion would have deterred the attacker when he would have already faced 32 death penalties or at least 32 life sentences seems silly.

Letting civilians have permitted concealed handguns limits the damage from attacks. A major factor in determining how many people are harmed by these killers is the amount of time that elapses between when the attack starts and when someone with a gun is able to arrive on the scene.