Gun control myths
November 26, 2002
Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm of Bentley College deserves some
sort of special prize for taking on the thankless task of talking sense on a
subject where nonsense is deeply entrenched and fiercely dogmatic. In her
recently published book, "Guns and Violence," Professor Malcolm examines the
history of firearms, gun control laws and violent crime in England. What
makes this more than an exercise in history is its relevance to current
controversies over gun control in America.
Gun control zealots love to make highly selective international comparisons
of gun ownership and murder rates. But Joyce Lee Malcolm points out some of
the pitfalls in that approach. For example, the murder rate in New York City
has been more than five times that of London for two centuries -- and during
most of that time neither city had any gun control laws.
In 1911, New York state instituted one of the most severe gun control laws
in the United States, while serious gun control laws did not begin in
England until nearly a decade later. But New York City still continued to
have far higher murder rates than London.
If we are serious about the role of guns and gun control as factors in
differing rates of violence between countries, then we need to do what
history professor Joyce Lee Malcolm does -- examine the history of guns and
violence. In England, as she points out, over the centuries "violent crime
continued to decline markedly at the very time that guns were becoming
England's Bill of Rights in 1688 was quite unambiguous that the right of a
private individual to be armed was an individual right, independently of any
collective right of militias. Guns were as freely available to Englishmen as
to Americans, on into the early 20th century.
Nor was gun control in England a response to any firearms murder crisis.
Over a period of three years near the end of the 19th century, "there were
only 59 fatalities from handguns in a population of nearly 30 million
people," according to Professor Malcolm. "Of these, 19 were accidents, 35
were suicides and only three were homicides -- an average of one a year."
The rise of the interventionist state in early 20th century England included
efforts to restrict ownership of guns. After the First World War, gun
control laws began restricting the possession of firearms. Then, after the
Second World War, these restrictions grew more severe, eventually disarming
the civilian population of England -- or at least the law-abiding part of
It was during this period of severe restrictions on owning firearms that
crime rates in general, and the murder rate in particular, began to rise in
England. "As the number of legal firearms have dwindled, the numbers of
armed crimes have risen," Professor Malcolm points out.
In 1954, there were only a dozen armed robberies in London but, by the
1990s, there were more than a hundred times as many. In England, as in the
United States, drastic crackdowns on gun ownership by law-abiding citizens
were accompanied by ever greater leniency to criminals. In both countries,
this turned out to be a formula for disaster.
While England has not yet reached the American level of murders, it has
already surpassed the United States in rates of robbery and burglary.
Moreover, in recent years the murder rate in England has been going up under
still more severe gun control laws, while the murder rate in the United
States has been going down as more and more states have allowed private
citizens to carry concealed weapons -- and have begun locking up more
In both countries, facts have no effect whatever on the dogmas of gun
control zealots. The fact that most guns used to murder people in England
were not legally purchased has no effect on their faith in gun control laws
there, any more than faith in such laws here is affected by the fact that
the gun used by the recent Beltway snipers was not purchased legally either.
In England as in America, sensational gun crimes have been seized upon and
used politically to promote crackdowns on gun ownership by law-abiding
citizens, while doing nothing about criminals. American zealots for the
Brady bill say nothing about the fact that the man who shot James Brady and
tried to assassinate President Reagan has been out walking the streets on
©2002 Creators Syndicate, Inc.