Politics & Policy

A Light Goes On At The Cdc

No escaping gun-control reality.

In a marvelous moment of candor, a federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) committee has reported that it cannot find any evidence that gun-control laws reduce violent crime. American gun owners spent most of the 1990s telling the CDC that gun control is ineffective at best and harmful at worst. So it’s gratifying that the lesson is finally sinking in.

A task force convened by the CDC issued its report after two years of poring over 51 scientific studies of gun laws. The group considered only research papers that met strict criteria for scientific soundness. The CDC distances itself with a disclaimer, but it’s pretty clear that it supports the task force’s conclusions. The report contains no dissenting position or minority view from CDC managers.

Covered in the review were gun-ban laws, restrictions on acquiring a gun, waiting periods for buying a gun, firearm-registration laws, firearm-owner licensing laws, concealed-carry permit laws, zero-tolerance laws, and various combinations of firearm laws. Most Americans who haven’t tried to buy a gun lately are blissfully unaware of just how many laws there are. In Washington, D.C., for example, it’s impossible for a regular citizen to legally own a firearm (although criminals seem to have no problem getting one). In other cities the legal hoops a gun buyer must jump through are almost as much a barrier to ownership as an outright ban.

One would think that at least some good would come from all these laws. Researchers should be able to prove that the laws prevent at least a few murders, rapes, and robberies. Amazingly, they can’t. And even more amazingly, they have admitted that they can’t.

But what about the violent crimes that gun-control laws have allowed by preventing victims from defending themselves? This well-known downside to gun-control laws keeps showing itself over and over again. For example, during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, frantic Angelenos rushed to gun stores to arm themselves against marauding thugs. Many were outraged to discover California’s 15-day waiting period for buying a gun.

A woman stalked by a homicidal ex-husband is left completely vulnerable by waiting-period laws. These supposedly provide a “cooling off” period for impulsive people who would buy a gun and in the heat of passion, commit a crime with it. Such a patronizing law cruelly imperils a stalked woman, who desperately needs the protection that only a firearm can give her.

And looking at Washington, D.C.’s reputation as the violent-crime capital, how could we think that its gun ban law was ever worth anything? Does anyone really believe that justice is served by disarming good citizens when violent criminals so obviously ignore the ban? Barring gun ownership by good people is worse than useless. It perverts justice by enabling violent felons while turning into outlaws people who dare to own a gun for legitimate self-protection.

America has laws that ban handguns. We have laws that ban big, expensive guns and other laws that ban small, cheap guns. We have laws that condemn some guns as illegal simply on the basis of their appearance. Other laws force average people to be fingerprinted to carry a firearm for self-protection, even though years of experience show such demeaning measures to be unnecessary.

The laws are so numerous and so dauntingly complex that in some cases even law enforcement authorities can’t figure out what they mean. Such a confusing web of legal traps can easily ensnare an honest citizen.

In all, America has 20,000 laws that endanger, humiliate, criminalize, or otherwise burden good citizens who exercise their constitutional right to own a gun. Now the CDC, a government agency not known for its friendliness to gun owners, reports that it cannot find any evidence that the laws are effective.

We should take warning from the closing comments of the CDC task force’s report. They are reminiscent of the agency’s glory days of gun-control advocacy. America is described as an “outlier” in gun-crime rates among industrialized nations. The report insists “research should continue on the effectiveness of firearms laws as one approach to the prevention or reduction of firearms violence and firearms injury.” In other words, keep researching until we find the conclusion we prefer–guns are bad and they should be banned.

Liberal reformers who would curb the freedom of others are obliged to prove the efficacy of gun-control laws. They have failed to do so. Gun owners have always known that gun-control laws aimed at them instead of criminals are futile and unjust. Now that everybody else is finally getting it, perhaps it’s time for a moratorium on new gun laws.

Timothy Wheeler, M.D. is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Claremont Institute.


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