The go-to expert on foolish rushes to further restrict guns after a shooting is John R. Lott Jr. An economist and foxnews.com contributor, he is author of the authoritative More Guns, Less Crime, now in its third edition. National Review Online talked to him about the Tucson attack.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Are you outraged that Jared Lee Loughner was not marked a “prohibited possessor” when he went to Sportman’s Warehouse to buy a gun on November 30?
John R. Lott Jr.: No, I am not. While about 90 percent of murderers have a violent criminal history, not every murderer does. It is impossible to flag everyone who might possibly become a criminal. While Loughner had an arrest record and exhibited strange behavior, he was not a convicted criminal, and had not been involuntarily committed, and had not been deemed as a risk to himself or others. Do people really want to forbid gun ownership to law-abiding individuals who have never been convicted of a crime?
Background checks are actually very ineffective to begin with and are mostly an inconvenience for regular people. Unfortunately, many law-abiding citizens end up being erroneously flagged. People intent on horrific crimes are not going to be deterred if they cannot get the guns legally. They can easily enough get guns illegally.
The statistics are clear on this issue: Virtually the only people inconvenienced by background checks are law-abiding citizens. Just as law-abiding citizens accidentally get their names on the government’s “no-fly” list, Americans without a criminal record also find themselves prevented from buying guns.
In 2008, 1.5 percent of those having a Brady background check were forbidden from purchasing a gun. Unfortunately, virtually all these cases represent so-called “false positives.” In 2006 and 2007 (the latest years with detailed data), a tiny fraction — just 2 percent — of those denials involved possible unlawful possession; and just 0.2 percent of the denials were viewed as prosecutable — 174 cases in 2006 and 122 in 2007. Even when the government decided that the cases were prosecutable, at least a third of them failed to result in convictions. And even the few convictions were often for people who simply made mistakes — they hadn’t realized that they were prohibited from purchasing a gun.
The Brady background checks have done virtually nothing to prevent people with criminal intent from getting guns. Given that, it isn’t too surprising that no academic studies by economists or criminologists have found that the Brady Act or other state background checks have reduced violent crime.
Lopez: Does anyone need a nine-millimeter Glock, the gun he used?
Lott: Nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistols are by far the most common handguns sold in the U.S. Handguns are particularly useful for self-defense in enclosed spaces such as inside a house. Indeed, there is a safety reason for using handguns. The bullets fired by handguns travel more slowly than those fired by rifles and are thus less likely to harm people outside of the home.
As to the type of handgun that works best for people — that depends on everything from the size of the person’s hands and strength to how much stopping power he needs.
Lopez: Isn’t that gun made “to kill people,” as I’ve heard on MSNBC?
Lott: Well, guns do make it easier to kill people, but guns also make it easier for people to defend themselves. The defensive argument is especially important for people who are weaker physically — women and the elderly — and for those living in crime-infested neighborhoods, such as poor blacks in urban areas. Criminals are overwhelmingly young males who are physically stronger than their potential victims. Police are extremely important in deterring crime, but they understand that they almost always arrive on the scene after the crime has been committed. Simply telling people to behave passively or to defend themselves in some other way is not very good advice. Having a gun is by far the safest course of action for those left to confront a criminal alone.