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Gun Control: Separating Fact from Myth
November 15, 2000
Gary Kleck, David B. Kopel

My name is Alex Tabarrok, I am the Vice President and Research Director at The Independent Institute. I know that many of you have been here before. For those of you who have not, the Independent Institute is a non-partisan, public policy research organization. In conjunction with scholars across North American and Europe, we produce many books, a quarterly journal, The Independent Review this one [holding up journal], and our policy forums, such as the ones we are here at tonight. The Institute’s publications and policy forums cover a wide variety of issues. Some of recent books, for example, examine the American health care system, monetary policy and theory, the economics of high tech industry and other topics.

I do want to draw your attention tonight, however, to a couple of publications of specific interest to tonight’s forum. The first is our book, That Every Man Be Armed , by noted constitutional lawyer, Stephen Halbrook. That Every Man Be Armed analyzes the constitutional history of the Second Amendment from its common law origins in England, through to the founding period, and on through to modern developments.

I think it’s fair to say that Halbrook and That Every Man Be Armed, in particular, have been influential in the debate over the Second Amendment. In fact, in helping to put the Second Amendment back on solid legal ground, so that today, it is widely recognized among constitutional scholars that the Second Amendment does protect an individual right. A finding, which was controversial, even scoffed at, when the first edition of That Every Man Be Armed came out.

I’d also like to point to our monograph, Fire & Smoke, which is by George Mason University law professor Michael Krauss. This monograph offers what is frankly a devastating legal analysis of the government recoupment suits, so called recoupment suits for tobacco, and against tobacco and gun manufacturers. Anyone concerned with democracy and the Rule of Law will be interested in Fire & Smoke.

Tonight’s forum, however, is not about the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. It is about the effect of guns and gun control on our society. What is the relationship between guns and crime? What is the relationship between gun control and crime? Does gun control work? What sort of gun control? Is gun crime increasing? What about accidents? What about children and guns? What does the international evidence tell us?

I’m very pleased today to be introducing two of the most highly regarded and prominent researchers on firearms to help us answer these questions and other questions.

Gary Kleck is professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University. He is the author of dozens of scholarly papers in the field of criminology, and several books including, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. The American Society of Criminology called Point Blank the most outstanding contribution to criminology in the preceding three years when it awarded that book a medal in 1993. Targeting Guns, available tonight, is an update and extension of Gary’s prize winning Point Blank.

David Kopel is the research director for the Independence Institute which is located in Colorado. Somehow he also finds time, I’m not sure how, to be an associate policy analyst with the Cato Institute; director of the Center on the Digital Economy at the Heartland Institute; and also an adjunct professor of law at the New York University School of Law, not exactly near to Colorado. Before joining the Independence Institute, he was assistant attorney general for the state of Colorado. And he is the author of many scholarly articles and books, including, The Samurai, the Mountie and the Cowboy, which was named the 1992 book of the year by the American Society of Criminology. He is also the author of Guns, Who Should Have Them?, which contains a really wonderful set of essays on all aspects of guns and gun control. We are indeed very lucky and pleased to have such superb scholars with us tonight. Let me begin by turning it over to Gary Kleck.

Gary Kleck

Thank you all. All right, the secret is out, I’m not Ted Nugent. [Laughter] Tried to pass myself off as Ted Nugent, but I don’t have the hair for it.

I am a criminologist. I’m not a political figure, but I’m an academic in an incredibly politicized area, which means I can hardly be unaware of the political implications of what I say. But although it really doesn’t sound like much of a distinction, I actually try to make an effort to start with evidence and move to conclusions rather than the other way around. [Laughter] But in fact, most people in this area, basically they start with a set of conclusions, and then—it’s invariably easy to find—some evidence that supports almost any knuckleheaded conclusion you want to arrive at. It’s just a reflection of the fact there is a lot of bad evidence out there. So my task is really separating the good evidence from the bad evidence and I think it can be done on purely technical grounds.

It’s boring for people who are not methodologists. It’s kind of boring even for people who are methodologists. I think the best guide to knowing, for example, whether guns cause violence, or more gun control would reduce violence, is by making the soundest technical judgments about how good the research was that generated the evidence. And if you don’t do that, basically what you’ll find is, first of all, 90% of everything is crap; 90% of the research is crap, which means, if all you’re going to do is—if you’re not willing to make the technical judgments—I mean, everybody has to fall back on vote counting. Well, if there are nine studies that say “yes,” and one that says “no,” well, that’s a consensus. There are a lot of people who say “yes.” And of course, my stance would be, if the best available evidence is in that one study that says “no,” the answer is “no.”

So I’d like to give you a brief overview of what I think we know about the subject of guns and violence and gun control. Starting with the simplest of all insights, and this one leads to just about very other insight, which is that guns are instruments of power. They increase people’s ability to do whatever they want. That, of course, means that people who want to murder people have an enhanced ability to do that. Guns enable people who are small and weak to kill people who are large and strong. They allow you to kill people at a distance. A gun may not be essential to killing, but at a 1,000 yards, it’s a heck of a help. [Laughter] This is one of the common observations.

But, on the other hand, if you are the weaker, smaller party and you are being victimized, guns conversely have the exact opposite effect. They prevent violence because basically, well the aggressor wants somebody to be hurt, the victim obviously does not want to be hurt. And in fact, usually doesn’t even want to hurt the person who is aggressing against them.

So, for example, many issues in the debate over guns and violence, they’re not so much are they’re certain effects of having guns, it’s a matter of how much. It boils down to a quantitative issue. All but the most fanatical advocates of one position or another will concede that guns both help criminals do crime and help victims defend against it. It’s just a matter of how often that happens.

I’m probably most frequently cited for one little, small part of the research I do, which is on defensive gun use. In fact, if most of you have heard my name, it’s probably in connection with one single number. One little number. They’re going to put it on my tombstone when I’m dead. [Laughter] “Two and a half million defensive guns uses per year.” And you’d think that was the only research I ever did. That’s actually one survey. It was a national survey, and it was really about the simplest piece of research you could imagine. It’s just using standard sampling techniques to get a representative sample of Americans. And then asking them: “in the past year, have you used a gun for self protection?” And we’d ask a series of questions to find out exactly what it was they thought was a defensive gun use, and a lot of it wasn’t, and you rule out that stuff. And just like Gallop projects how many people are going to vote for a particular political candidate based on their representative sample, we do the same thing. Admittedly a lot harder to call the [current] election than it was to call the number of defensive gun uses, but—


You are from Florida, right?

Gary Kleck

Yep. I’m from Tallahassee, as a matter of fact, which is the center of the political universe right now.

Well, the long and the short of it is, probably the highest estimate of the number of crimes committed in any one year with a gun is about a million, versus about two and half million defensive gun uses. Which means, most of the time when somebody’s using a gun in connection with a crime, it’s a victim. But when a victim does it, of course, obviously, the offender doesn’t want the cops to know about it, but neither, normally, does the victim, because it’s just going to get you in trouble. Nobody’s going to give you a medal for using a gun in self-protection, even if what you did was legal. And it could get you arrested, maybe eventually cleared, but it could get you arrested in the meanwhile. So it’s sort of an invisible phenomenon, and basically the only way you could get at it is by doing anonymous confidential surveys where at least some of those people who had that experience were willing to tell you about it. But I routinely assume that in surveys, people hold back a lot of stuff that they consider to be risky to tell a stranger on the phone about. So, I assume as a routine matter of course that, in fact, the actual numbers are larger. Those are minimum baseline figures.

When a criminal has a gun, on the other hand, its significance is not that it increases how many people will go out and commit crimes. Its main significance appears to be that it just makes the consequences more lethal. Meaning for every 100 assaults that are committed with a gun, you have a larger fraction that will end in a death than if you had 100 people get into a fight without any weapons or with a knife, and so on.

That is the core of the case for gun control. And it’s true as far as it goes. It’s valid as far as it goes. The core surrounds homicide. If you’re going to do any good with gun control, it’s in reducing homicide. And basically, you’re going to accomplish it by lowering the fatality rate of assaults. There will be the same number of people getting mad at one another, and attacking one another, but a smaller fraction of the victims will die.

And indeed, if that were the only use that’s made of guns, then the issue would be solved. The issue would be resolved right there. We ought to restrict guns and, indeed, the more we could restrict them, the better. Especially if you don’t place any value, as millions of Americans do, on target shooting or hunting, and so forth. In fact, it would make sense to take everybody’s guns away. If the only effect of guns was that they increase the number of people who die in homicides. Then you’d want to take everybody’s guns away on the off-chance they might get stolen from a law-abiding person, and then used in a crime, or passed on hand-to-hand until they finally end up in the hands of somebody who kills with it.

But that’s not the only thing that guns are used for. Even leaving aside recreational uses, and I think most gun control advocates would sort of dismiss that as trivial anyway. I mean, how can the pleasure of hunting compare with the loss of a human life? So, I think if you’re going to make a strong case for gun control, you basically have to argue that those benefits of saving some lives by reducing the fatality rates of assaults exceed any costs that comes from taking guns away from victims who would have used them for self protection. That’s why there’s just so much heat about this issue of how often and with what effect do people use guns for self-protection. Because it’s sort of the trump card of the anti-control, or pro-gun folks. Just as raising the [Inaudible] of assaults in the trump card of the pro-control folks.

As to when victims use guns, they have basically the opposite effects of when offenders use them, for the simple reason that victims have opposite goals. They want to avoid injury. And indeed, people who use guns for self-protection are less likely to be injured. They are also, in robberies, less likely to lose property. In burglaries, they’re less likely to have the burglary committed against them. Surveys suggest that women rarely use guns in rape attempts against them. It’s probably true, that it is fairly unusual simply because gun ownership is much lower among women than men. Or maybe partly the usual unwillingness of women to talk about rape experiences in general, and also doubly unlikely to want to discuss the use of a deadly weapon that itself might be legally questionable.

As to what the overall effect is, you got some good effects of victims using guns, and you’ve got some bad effects of criminals using guns. The net effect appears to be zero. It’s a wash. That is, if you don’t distinguish between good guy ownership and bad guy ownership, where there are more guns, it has zero net effect on the overall amount of homicide, suicide, robbery, aggravated assault, and so forth.

Now actually, in terms of public policy, what we really want to do is make a distinction between good guys and bad guys. Because, really the optimum, to the extent that you can accomplish it is, take guns away from as many bad guys as you can manage to do without significantly reducing those valuable defensive uses among non-criminals. And it’s easy enough to say, “well, that’s how you distinguish good guys from bad guys,” but of course, the law has done it for centuries. There are really typically two groups of people in the world. There are those who have been convicted of a crime in the past, and those who haven’t. Does that perfectly divide the world into good guys and bad guys? No. Because there are bad guys who escape justice, and there are good guys that are falsely convicted, but it’s a pretty workable distinction. The folks who do have a criminal conviction are way more likely to do an act of violence in the future than the folks who don’t and so it’s a practical value in making that distinction.

And so, of course, any licensing law, or any background check law, is based on making that distinction. If you want to get a gun now, under the Brady Law you have to go into the gun store and be identified. And they do a telephone records check to find out if you have a disqualifying characteristic, mainly a criminal conviction, and if you don’t, you get the gun. If you do have that disqualifying attribute, you’re denied. Nothing else happens to you typically. Although theoretically you could be arrested for the crime of attempting to purchase a gun when you’re a convicted felon, but in fact, nothing happens to you. And of course you’re right to be skeptical about the value of a law that simply tells a criminal they can’t get a gun from a gun store. They didn’t get it from the gun store. Well, there are lots of other places to get guns. In fact, even for non-criminals, there are lots of other places. Any of us can look in classified ads and find them in most states, anyway. We can ask a friend who already has a gun, but is willing to sell one. We can do a number of things, and of course criminals have yet another option, which is stealing.

And stealing is a real hard nut to crack in controlling guns. Starting with the fact that we’ve got on the order of 270 million guns in private hands; roughly half of the households that you might randomly pick to burglarize have a gun in them. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be easy to get at it, some people have them really secure. But if on the other hand, you’re in the kind of neighborhood where you are most likely to be burglarized, then for that very reason, you’re not likely to have the gun so secure, because you want to have it available quickly for self-protection. So in precisely the places where gun theft is highest, that’s where people, in effect, believe they can’t afford to keep their guns secured against theft, because it also would imply keeping it inaccessible for defensive purposes.

So as a result, you have probably, at minimum, three-quarters of a million guns being stolen every year in the U.S. That’s at minimum. That’s almost certainly higher than that. That’s one of those abstract numbers that doesn’t mean anything, but to put it in perspective, that’s almost certainly larger than the number – the highest estimates of the number of gun crimes committed in recent years. Which means you could literally seize every gun from every criminal in the entire country today, and a year’s worth of theft would easily re-arm them within a single year. Just through theft alone. And it’s not necessarily that criminals always have to steal them themselves, they just buy them from somebody else that knows who stole it. Or they buy it from a guy, who bought it from a guy who stole it. Probably most of the guns that end up in criminal hands were stolen somewhere along the line, and thereafter they just circulate among criminals.

So does that mean any and all gun control is hopeless? No, it just places serious limits on what it can accomplish. There are, undoubtedly, some minimally motivated criminals who are going to get into a fight somewhere along the line. They’re going to commit an impulsive act of violence, and if they have a gun available, it’s likelier they’ll kill somebody. Yet at the same time, they are not regularly stealing [guns] themselves, thus wouldn’t come across a gun in a burglary and don’t know a lot of other criminals. And, thus don’t have the same contacts to acquire guns. Are there a lot of such individuals? Probably not. But on the other hand, what pro-gun control folks always say, “if it can just save one life,” it’s a mantra, “if we can just save one life.”

Well, that is true as far as it goes. If the only effect of a particular regulation was it was going to save a life, who could vote against it? Everybody would vote to save that life. But of course, really what you want to accomplish is to save a life, or two, or hopefully at least a few dozen. While at the same time not costing lives by denying guns to people who would use them for self-protection to save their lives, which people undoubtedly do.

Although, like all preventative measures, having a defensive gun on the premises, it’s difficult to establish its value, because say I did use a gun in self-protection. Say the guy who was menacing me looked like a terrible human being who really wanted to kill me. Say he even told me he was going to kill me, and then I used the gun to intimidate him, and he runs off. Or I capture him for the police, or whatever. I still don’t know for sure that I saved a life. Even if he promised he was going to kill me. [Laughter] I still don’t know for sure, it’s inherent in the nature of preventative measures of all sorts. You can never be absolutely certain that in this particular instance your preventative measure worked.

But part of the evidence that there is that kind of preventive thing going on is the fact that if you take otherwise identical criminal incidents and in some of them the victims used guns for self-protection, and in others they did not; they’re less likely to be hurt in the ones they used guns for self-protection. It is not true that on net, using a gun for self-protection provokes the criminal into attacking the person. Maybe there are individuals who at the sight of a gun are provoked into violence against the person holding it, but [Laughter] it’s a little more common that they’re basically frightened as any rational person would be.

What does this imply for good gun control? Well, number one, you basically do want to make that distinction between the good guys and the bad guys, which means, you make distinctions like: “did they pass a background check,” and if so, they can have a gun, and if not, they can’t. In other words, I think the Brady Act was on the whole, if it doesn’t go any further than it does, is all right. It’s a modest step. But, you’ll often hear its supporters say it’s a step in the right direction, which has an ominous sound to it, because what it means is that’s not really all they want. In fact, it’s not necessarily even primarily what advocates want. Reporters will typically say you’re paranoid if you think what Hand Gun Control, Inc. (HCI) is really after prohibition. And I don’t think there’s anything paranoid about that at all.

It’s not like they have a secret plan on file at headquarters. Although, on the Internet, somebody was circulating this fake memo on HCI letterhead. I don’t know if you ever ran across that one. But it looks pretty plausible. It could have been HCI, but it, in fact, wasn’t because it would be foolish for them to have any written document outlining long-term plans. And I think they could honestly say they don’t have any long term plans to push for prohibition, because they don’t have any long term plans of any sort. It’s basically catch-as-catch-can agenda of the moment, largely defined by the mass media. If the mass media publicizes a school yard shooting with an AK-47 imitation in Stockton, California, then suddenly there’s an assault weapons push from HCI. Even though the folks at HCI never heard of an assault weapon, or an AK-47, the day before it happened. Suddenly, it’s a part of their agenda, and then when the media lose interest, so does HCI.

But, having said that, I also think the logic of the gun controls movements’ arguments imply you do have to go after all of the guns eventually. Even if it’s not a matter of them having a detailed plan right now, it’s something they would like to see happen. And if you could inject the board of directors of HCI full of truth serum, and get them on a polygraph, and ask them, “Do you support—would you vote for—if it were up to you, would you vote for banning all the guns?” They’d say yes in a heartbeat.

Now I think the wrong implication to draw from that, which is basically the NRA’s implication, is therefore we shouldn’t do anything, because doing anything can lead to going too far. Supporting any kind of even moderate gun control will lead to total prohibition. And I think if that logic were actually followed to it’s logical conclusion, we would never be able to do anything about anything. I mean, why would we have punishment for murder, because that might lead to having punishments for really trivial stuff, sneezing out of turn, and who knows where that could lead? If we have the death penalty for murder, pretty soon we’ll have it for petty shoplifting; and then we’ll have it for parking violations; and then we’ll have it for speaking an angry word to your neighbor. And of course, gun control – death penalty advocates never really follow that logic out to a conclusion that says we should not have the death penalty even for murder.

The sensible thing is, well you do something as long as it will do some good, and then when it ceases to do any good, stop. There’s nothing inevitable about a slippery slope, it is what handgun control and the other major gun control organizations would like to achieve, but it’s not necessarily what they will achieve. They can only achieve it to the extent that the citizenry allows them to achieve it.

On the other hand, you’ve got the NRA’s alternative to gun control, and it really just boils down to the general conservative strategy of controlling crime, which is more punishment. And really it’s even more specific than that. It’s longer prison sentences. And longer prison sentences is as knuckle-headed in it’s conservative way as gun control, or at least the loony versions of gun control are in their liberal way.

The basic downside with the longer prison sentence alternative is even if you’re a believer in both the justice of severe punishment and its value for crime control; you really ought to think twice about advocating mandatory minimums, mandatory add-ons, or 10/20 life bills. There are 1,000 varieties of them all over the place, three strikes and you’re out. They all have exactly the same thing in common. They tend to lengthen the average prison sentence served.

Well, the problem with that is there is a trade-off between certainty and severity of punishment. If you have each prisoner serving a more severe, that is a longer prison sentence, it really means over any given length of time, given a fixed prison capacity, you can lock fewer, different criminals up, meaning a smaller fraction of criminals get punished. What you’ve done is you’ve sacrificed certainty to get greater severity. And criminologists are agreed that if you have to pick one of the two, you’d rather have higher certainty of punishment. In other words, you’d rather have a higher percentage of crimes resulting in punishment, than having a few people punished, but punished very severely. It’s just deterrence. It works better when you maximize certainty rather than severity, and you cannot maximize both.

And by the way, it doesn’t matter if you double or triple the prison capacity, you’re still faced with the exact same trade-off, only now you just have more prison spaces to play with. But it’s still the same trade-off. You can’t increase the average prison sentence length without reducing the number of criminals that, over any given period of time, you can punish. It’s just like how many hotel guests can you have if every guest decides they’re going to stay for 10 years. You’d be basically have whatever the capacity of the hotel is, and that’s who you’d have for ten years.

It’s also kind of a dumb alternative to gun control basically because crime is a young man’s game. It’s not sexist to say that. It’s a young man’s game, and the vast majority of crime is basically committed by people roughly between the ages of 13 and 25, or 29 if you want to push it. And if you really actually manage to convict and incarcerate a criminal much before the age of 18—I mean, it really has to be a hardcore juvenile offender to get sent to prison, or even to be recognized as somebody serious enough to lock up—which basically means, what you do is, by the time you find out he’s somebody serious enough that want to use a prison space to lock him up, and gain what criminologist call an incapacitative effect, it just means, he’s physically incapable of doing a crime against the general public, because he’s locked up. By the time you find out he’s somebody serious enough to put away like that, he’s already 18. He’s already at or past the peak of his crime-committing career, because it’s a kid thing. He’s on the downslide of his criminal career. So, OK, you lock him up for five years, he would have been pretty close to his peak, doing a lot of crime from the ages of 18 to 23. Lock him up for 10 years, well, now you’ve got him locked up from age 18 to age 28, and in those last five years he wouldn’t have been doing nearly as much crime had he been on the streets. And if you keep him in for 20 years, until he’s in his late 30s, he would have been doing hardly any crime at all. You’re preventing practically no crime keeping him those last 10 years.

And you might say, “well, all right, preventing some crime is better than none. Whatever crime we can prevent, great.” But we are operating at 100% capacity in the prison system, so locking a guy up means there’s somebody else you could’ve locked up, that you can’t now. And guess who that is? Who’d be likeliest that you’d want to lock up if you had that prison space? Some hot young stud who’s doing a lot of crime because he’s in those high crime years? So, you lock up the old farts, and basically, what it means is there’s no space for the folks who are really doing the crime. And that is the trade-off. Longer the prison sentence, the more you keep people in prison until they’re into old fart range rather than the hot young stud range. And that’s why the long prison sentence option is not good, even if you’re a believer in punishment as the key to crime control.

As to some of the wackier gun control strategies—I said some of them were especially knuckle-headed—that probably accounts for popular alternatives in recent years. But I guess if I had to mention some in particular, certainly the most popular is strictly speaking, not even legislative gun control. It’s suing gun companies, which is just gun control by other means. And I find this to be one of the indications of prohibitionists’ intent among groups like Hand Gun Control which is the principal organizer and provider of intellectual recreational for the suits against gun companies. It basically says “we’re going to sue you because you didn’t make a gun that was accident proof, or theft proof, or whatever.” And they’re actually willing to sue the companies for not having introduced technologies that don’t even exist. Or if they exist, or they’re unreliable, they’re just something on a test bench, or a blueprint or whatever.

I’d be more worried about this if I didn’t know that really is not going to go very far. America’s elite is worried about this one, because they can basically see how that logic could be applied to other industries, not just unpopular ones like tobacco and guns. It could easily be applied, probably first to alcohol and then to the motor vehicle, which is a real obvious one and is responsible for far more deaths than guns. And certainly you can argue the same thing, all sorts of safety technology could be introduced. You could have a governor that doesn’t allow you go any faster than 30 miles an hour. I think everybody in the room ought to sue the automobile manufacturers for not having limited the speed of automobiles to 20 or 30 miles an hour. Of course, it would tend to defeat the purpose of having a car. But that would slow us all up from some profitable litigation.

To some extent, the most popular methods of gun control are partly popular just because they’re “nothing measures.” A “nothing measure” would be like a waiting period. Most people who get guns and then use them in acts of violence don’t get them at the last minute, partly because what criminologists know about the people mostly responsible for crime is they’re chronic. And they do lots of crime, not just one. And if they had a reason for getting a gun specifically for criminal purposes, they’re likely to have had it years ago, long before they end up finally using it to commit a homicide.

I guess the NRA’s variant of the more punishment strategy is mandatory add-ons for committing crimes with guns. I mean, if you’d normally get 10 years for a robbery, you’d get another two or five or whatever for doing it with a gun. And all sorts of people like that one. I mean, that’s a winner. 85% to 90% of the American public will support that. Prosecutors love it, cops love it, and it’s stupid. [Laughter]. I don’t love it. And really nobody actually responds to these objections. The objections, of course are all those that I laid out about lengthening prison sentence, plus a lot of other stuff. It tends to divert, pervert enforcement priorities.

The smart way to control a crime is basically to focus on high frequency offenders, but basically, if you’re going to tell prosecutors you will get a stiffer sentence, you will have a stiffer punishment to impose if you go after these guys who’ve done robberies with guns and so on, prosecutors love that. They sort of define their sense by how punitive, how many really long sentences they can impose.

And they may do that, even though this particular offender doesn’t have any other priors. It’s his first and only offense. Meanwhile, he’s got a guy who did a robbery without a gun, and he’s got a rap sheet as long your arm. From a crime control standpoint, you don’t want to go after the guy who allows you, as a prosecutor, to impose the longest sentence. You basically want to go after the guy who seems to be the one likeliest to offend again if you don’t prosecute him and convict him and put him in prison. And really, I would not like to see any further inducements for prosecutors to go after less serious offenders.

Well, you can go through some of the more inane options for gun control, but I don’t want to hog all the time, and I’m sure Dave has a fine set of examples of his own. Thank you.

Alex Tabarrok

So we’ll now hear from David Kopel of the Independence Institute, and there will be plenty of time for questions after his remarks.

David Kopel

Thanks, and since I am from the Independence Institute, we did have the name first, I urge you to come to our website, which you can get from running Independence Institute through a Web browser, or go to, .net, .com. We’ve decided to be more aggressive about buying all possible versions of our name. It’s all one word, just, and when you’re there, we have vast amounts of material on all kinds of subjects, school choice, taxation, on and on and on, which we are delighted to give away and hope we can give away to you. Including plenty of stuff on the right to keep and bear arms issues, lots of law journal articles, short articles, medium articles, medium-large articles, sort of small articles, and a newsletter which we do a couple of times a month on Second Amendment issues of new editorials, new links for important research around the web. And again, that’s free, so please come and check us out on the web.

What I’d like to do is sort of take one of the themes that Gary talked about, which is self-defense, and look at it through a variety of different angles, as we’ve seen in the politics and evolution of gun control policy right now. And since we are in election overtime right now, let me give you what I think is the real truthful sense of what happened in this election on the gun issue.

There were lots of close states. Basically, a line of states from Michigan down through Iowa on to Mississippi—or to Missouri and Arkansas—that were very closely fought, and plenty of states out here in the West, too. New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State. Al Gore wants some of those, George Bush wants some of those, but we’re still counting in Florida, and Hand Gun Control put out a press release saying, “look, Gore won Pennsylvania and Michigan, so that proves the NRA is not worth anything as a political force.” And I suppose if somebody was for the right-to-work lobby, they could put out some kind of brochure saying, “look the AFLCIO worked really hard for Gore in Missouri and Tennessee, and he lost those states. That proves that organized labor is of no use as a political force.”

But really what the truth is, that both the AFL and the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association worked very hard in this election. Put in a huge amount of money, tremendous independent expenditures on both the advertising level, coupled with very heavy grass roots support—deep, deep penetration, strong grass roots – they worked very hard. And both sides were successful. They did a wonderful job of getting their base out.

And the core of that sort of worries me because if you look at gun owners who don’t belong to a union, they were overwhelming for Bush. If you look at union members who don’t own guns, they went overwhelming for Gore. And if you look at union members who have guns, they end up splitting about 50-50. And both forces in that had a very successful season, and I think are recognized by the political classes. You had the Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer, not normally inclined to write puff pieces about the NRA, doing front page stories saying how gun control had turned into a political liability for Gore and he was trying to hide from that issue as much as possible.

And you had in the closing days of the campaign, Joe Lieberman, who, as a senator, had written letters saying, “I certainly respect the Second Amendment, but the Second Amendment only means that you can have a gun while you’re in the National Guard,” and now Joe Lieberman’s out on the stump in Michigan saying, “Al Gore will never take away your Second Amendment rights. Al Gore deeply believes in your Second Amendment.” And I don’t know if he had his fingers crossed behind his back, and said, “so right, if you’re in the National Guard, you’re safe, we’re not coming after your guns.”

So what’s the result if Al Gore manages to get himself elected, sort of, President? [Laughter] Until we have some sensational massacre of epic proportions that gets on all the national news, I think you will see Gore laying low on guns. Maybe having proposals introduced with his official support in Congress, but not pushing it as a major issue. In the regulatory area, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms regulations, Department of Justice discretionary issues, where the most important differences exist, and I think you’d find very great differences between Gore and Bush on those issues, but it will be less an issue in Congress.

The biggest difference you’ll see in Congress, though, Gore will push for lots more federal gun controls, at least nominally, Bush I think would do the same. He would push for somewhat more federal gun controls, raising the age of handgun possession to 21, for example. But the big difference is that you can tell from looking at George Bush on television. He has some issues he’s “sort of” talking about, because he’s got to talk about them if he wants to be President. And there’s others that he is genuinely passionate about, really thinks about a lot, and has his heart in them. And one is his love of school children. And he has done a good job, even as he had made the Texas state school system obsessed with test taking. He has not done a good job improving the quality of education for the top 60% of students, because they spend all day learning how to take tests. But from the bottom 40% of students in the Texas public schools, he really had done a good job. Because he’s taken a lot of students in dysfunctional schools with teachers who had no expectations for them at all, and had them meet the standards of those test, even though it is not ideal, he really has raised the bar for them. And I think you’d see that same kind of strategy nationally.

Besides being really likely to help students in the worst public schools, another thing that George Bush, I think, really cares about in his heart is he despises trial lawyers. And that comes from his days [Laughter]—that’s from his days in the oil business, you will see that Congress has already passed—it’s been happening for a few years now, major nationwide product liability reform legislation. President Clinton has vetoed it, President Gore, who is also the president of the trial lawyers in practice, would veto it as well. President-elect Bush would sign it enthusiastically, would lobby as it was moving through Congress to make it stronger rather than weaker, and we would get a major product liability reform bill out of a Bush presidency. And that would certainly include something to deal with these abusive lawsuits. And as Gary points out, it is something that the business community at large has been activated on, because they realize if you can sue the gun manufactures, who after all, are basically the most regulated industry in the United States.

From the moment the product leaves the factory, as it goes to the wholesaler and to the retailer and then is sold, you have government registration and paperwork taking place, the whole process. And when the retailers sell the product, he calls the FBI to get permission through the National Instant Check System to sell the product. Now I don’t see automobile dealers calling up the FBI to see if the guy’s got a drunk driving conviction. I don’t see liquor stores calling to see if the guy’s on some state alcoholic database.

If the level of regulation which applies to guns – more so than any other product in the country with the possible exception of regulated pharmaceuticals – if that level of regulation isn’t enough to protect them from lawsuits for criminal misuse of the product, several stages after it’s been sold lawfully at retail, then no product is safe. And that’s exactly why the Chamber of Commerce and all those kinds of groups that maybe don’t even like guns, or the kind of people who they think own them, are very active on this issue and supportive of reform.

When Al Gore in those debates was talking about what a pro-gun guy he was, and was trying to reassure people about all those kinds of things, there was still something he couldn’t say. He couldn’t get it out of his mouth, which was self-defense. He would say, “I’m not going to take your hunting guns away, I don’t want to take guns away from a target shooter.” And as close as he could get was to say, “or someone who has a gun in their home.” Well, which is where hunters would normally keep their guns rather than hiding them in the barn, or in the trunk of their car or something like that. But he couldn’t even then say self-defense, because that is the taboo. That’s the ultimate sin in the view of the anti-gun movement. And if he could embrace that, then and say, “I’m really not going to interfere with self-defense either,” it would have added a lot of credibility, but I think a lot of folks could tell that something was missing from that statement by him. And self-defense really is the pivot on which this whole gun issue hinges. Not just in terms of what criminologists would want to study, but in terms of the politics of it.

A couple years ago, I guess in ’98 or ’99, I co-write an article called “All The Way Down the Slippery Slope.” And it’s about gun prohibition in England and how they got it. And it was in the Hamline Law Review, it’s also available on the World Wide Web at our website and other places. What you see in England; where they’ve prohibited handguns entirely (confiscated them, and have an extremely repressive licensing system for the remaining long guns that are legal); and what’s going on in Australia where they’ve confiscated all semi-automatic, self-loading long guns, moving to a very strict registration system, outlawing gun possession for self-defense there; and in Canada, where they have outlawed 58% of handguns, although they’re grandfathered in. Current possessors can keep them, they just have to turn them into the government when the current possessor dies. And that are also imposing a nationwide registration system for all long guns that’s costing billions and billions of dollars and is a total failure and the bureaucrats are in favor, it makes them like it all the more.

What you see in all those cases is there’s a tremendous instability on the gun issue. Back in March, 1968, President Johnson spoke in favor of national gun registration in the United States. And in an address to the American people after the assassinations and the violence that had been racking American 1968 and previous years, he said, “look in these other countries they’ve got reasonable gun laws, and there the hunter and the sportsman thrive.” And he was absolutely right. You could point to England or Canada, or Australia or lots of other countries, and say, “they do have more gun laws than we do in the United States, but people are still going out hunting and shooting and fishing, and all those kinds of things. And so what’s the big problem?”

It was an accurate statement for President Johnson to say in 1968, it is no longer true in those countries. Very clearly, gun ownership had been targeted by those governments for extinction. You have the Prime Minister of Canada, the head of Canada’s Department of Justice, saying the only people who should have guns are the military and police. And transparently in all those countries, where greater controls are being imposed, they are only way stations towards prohibition.

The problem in all these countries, and in England where it is most severe, and they’re sort of the most advanced in this pathology, is when you have gun owners who say, “My gun, you should just think of like a golf club or a Frisbee. We don’t want to actually kill anything, except animals and they don’t count. It’s just a sporting tool. Think of it as cricket bat or something like that. Don’t get all this thought that guns kill people. We don’t think of them for that. We’re just using them for sports. We’re sportsmen. Just think of it as a fishing rod.” And then on the other hand, you have the anti-gun lobbies and law enforcement Chiefs of Police, and so forth who say, “Well look, we have guns being used in crime. And obviously injuring people. Killing people sometimes.” Now you can even be as England was a few years ago, it’s gotten much worse in terms of gun crime over the past decade, but it’s the same as England was 1985, you could say, “gun crime in this country is very, very hard, rare. We have hardly any compared to the United States.” Well, you have some, and as long as you have some, you have a very persuasive argument to make that if we had more gun control, well, the control would either work, which would reduce all these victims of gun crimes, or it wouldn’t. So we may be worse off, and the only harm in gun control is in its inconveniences, or maybe even destroys, the activities of sports.

Well, think about it this way. What if bowling balls could also be used as grenades, and bowling balls had explosive properties when misused. And you had 99% of the people into bowling just throw the balls down the lane to knock the pins over, but 1% of the people stole bowling balls from bowling alleys and went out and killed people. You would probably say, “Well, even if we have to outlaw bowling entirely, then that’s a reasonable trade-off to save these people who are getting killed by misuse of this product.” I think there’d be a pretty persuasive case for that. Even despite the suffering that would be inflicted on people who have their sport taken away from them.

Well, that’s the situation you have in these commonwealth countries where there is no argument about the defensive value of guns. Now what makes the American gun debate entirely different is you have lives being saved on both ends. On the one had, the gun control advocates say, “Yes, if we had more control, we would save lives, and the Brady Bill would even if it saves one life,” all this kind of stuff. But on the other side, in America, the gun rights advocates point out guns in the right hands save lives. We have less burglary in the United States, home invasion burglaries, as detailed in Targeting Guns and also in an article I’m writing, because American homes are protected by guns and burglars don’t know which homes have the guns. We have John Lott’s research finding, a drop of roughly 8% in violent crime after states enact mandatory shell issue handgun licensing laws. We have Gary Kleck’s evidence about the number of defensive gun uses and whether you think that instead of two and half million times, it’s a hundred times too high, that’s still 25,000 times a year. That’s something notable and substantial in terms of protecting people. So in America, a politician who’s in the middle has to say, “On the one hand we have possible lives saved here. On the other hand, we have possible lives saved over here.” That’s a very different policy dynamic than simply trading-off, saving lives versus sports.

And by the way, I’d urge you folks to check out that slippery slope article, not just for the lesson it teaches about gun control, of how you get from moderate gun control. It was everything in England which has always been moderate gun control. They’ve never taken any extreme steps, because even when they got up to confiscation, that was the only thing they could do. There was no place else to go to make the licensing system any stricter. They’ve never proceeded in England by taking large steps. It’s always by taking medium to small steps, and then once you’ve gone that far, then you go to the next level, and the next level and the next level. And that’s how England went from a place with essentially no gun crime in 1900 and no gun laws.

Far, far less than Utah today, and which was an extremely safe place to be; to a place that is now overwhelmed with rising gun crime, and has an extremely severe licensing system that is well on its way to prohibition. It’s a useful lesson to look at, not just for guns, but also for other kinds of civil liberties and to think about what kind of institutional and political factors make a country likely to go down the slippery slope on a particular civil liberty, and which ones don’t.

The abusive lawsuits which, hopefully, a Bush administration will get rid of, tell us something else important besides the rapacity of trial lawyers, which shouldn’t be anything new. And by the way I should say the trial lawyers have also done a very positive job, the majority of them. It’s like gun owners. Probably 99% of them are very—I’m a lawyer myself [Laughter]—do a good job. You go the supermarket and there’s a banana peel that’s been carelessly left on the floor, and you slip on the banana peel, and you fall and you sue the store for you medical costs, and that encourages the grocery store to clean up banana peels more frequently. It’s a very appropriate use of tort law. And there’s been tons of improvements and greater safety in the United States that have come through the positive responsible use of tort law by the 99%, I think of the Plaintiff’s tort bar, that is responsible. But unfortunately there is a rapacious and irresponsible 1% pushing these ridiculous cases.

And one of the differences between the gun cases and tobacco cases is the tobacco companies could pay litigation costs forever. They may not have verdicts to pay $8 gajillion from a Florida trail jury in punitive damages. But they certainly have all the money in the world to pay their litigation costs forever, and have it not even be noticeable in terms of their bottom line. In contrast, if you took every gun company in this country, rolled it into a single Guns ‘R Us—one consolidated company—even then that company wouldn’t be in the Fortune 500. So these litigation costs are absolutely crippling to the [gun] companies, even though—I think you’re right—we’ll never get to a case that actually results in a verdict against the gun companies. They are frivolous, abusive lawsuits, but the harm they do is in the litigation costs.

All the theories of these cases about what the gun company should have done to invent guns a different way, or market them, or sell them a different way or have different devices on them, every single one presume that guns for defense don’t count. For example, there’s a thing called a magazine disconnect, which means if a semi-automatic handgun doesn’t have the magazine—the ammunition clip in it—it can’t fire, even though it might still have a bullet left the firing chamber. Now, if you’re only going to use a handgun when you were on a target range, it makes sense. It might prevent an accidental discharge once in a while and there’d be no downside to it. But on the other hand, if the gun’s also going to be useful for self-defense, then you might have a situation which if you were involved in a gun fight with somebody’s who trying to kill you and you switch magazines – maybe you drop the magazine or it doesn’t slide in properly or whatever—you want to have that one shot left for the one round that remains in the chamber. And that is why law enforcement officers who buy guns tend to insist that they not the guns with have magazine disconnects. Or if they buy a gun that does, they take a pair of scissors and snip the magazine disconnect off.

And all these lawsuits and then laws for whatever kind of smart guns we should have and this and that; every single one of them exempts police as does the California law against junk guns. You have the California General Assembly saying, “we’re pro-gun. We’re like Roy Rogers and John Wayne. We want people to have good guns. We just don’t want them to have these kind of junk that are no good, and in fact, if you had to shoot a criminal with it, it wouldn’t be accurate enough and it might blow up in your hands. And we’re just trying to help you use guns defensively by outlawing these inexpensive guns which poor people could have for defensive purposes.”

And that’s at least plausible on its face, but then we find in the law there’s an exemption for the police. You’ve got to back up and ask the sponsors, “Why do you want the police to have bad guns? Do you want them to have unreliable guns that will blow up in their hands?” Of course not. But if they made the laws apply to the police, then the police would oppose them and they’d never get through the legislature, and the police, in fact, know that these guns are reliable and useful. They’re frequently used as backup guns. Maybe carry it on an ankle holster.

The, as what Gary called, the fanatical advocates of gun control—I think I differ in a sense—I think there are some people at Hand Gun Control Inc. who once they got the rigorous licensing system, they would prefer for sporting guns, and what Sarah Brady in her 1993 interview in the New York Times let slip, and she described as a needs-based licensing system as her ultimate goal where you can have a gun when you go to the police, and they give you permission to have the gun because they think you need it. I think they would find it acceptable if somebody in rural California could say, “I would like a rifle to go deer hunting with,” and they would check the guy out, and he would take the safety class, and have to buy a $2,000 safe, but they’d let him have the gun. If he went back and said, “I’d like a second gun,” they’d say, “no, you have a gun, that’s enough.” But I think they would allow within some kind of strict regulatory regime, sporting gun possession.

But what morally offends them is defensive gun uses. And that’s why their lawsuits don’t take into account that argument that guns cost the municipal government so much money; don’t even take into account how much guns save through their defensive uses. It’s why they engage in such an intense vilification campaign against John Lott; making all these lies, like his research is paid for by an ammunition manufacturer and claiming that Gary Kleck is against him, which is not, in fact, the case. Although they have a good time citing Gary Kleck for that. But these concealed carry laws are, after all, what you think the anti-gun groups claim they’re for. These are laws where you go get a license. You get fingerprinted, you have safety training, you go through all the rigmarole and the paper work, and then you get a permit to carry the gun for lawful purposes.

If they were for moderate reasonable licensing laws, they ought to say, “hey, this is great. You bet. Go do this and in fact, let’s apply this law to gun possession in the home. And then we’ll be happy and we’ll go away.” But the idea that somebody would be carrying a gun on the street, they obviously can’t really seriously claim that this leads to more crime, because we have it in 31 states. And whether it’s reducing crime, or it had no net effect, clearly, is not harmful and the facts are obvious on this. And their stance on pretending otherwise, is really, I think rooted in the fact that they find defensive gun use to be morally offensive. It is an affront to the authority of the state. That what the government of England said when they were outlawing defensive gun use; that if you say that you’re going to use a gun for protection it means the government is not protecting you, and that’s an insult to the government. And these guys, I think, are very offended by that, and offended more generally by the principals of individualism and individual responsibility and autonomy, which are implicit in that. And so that’s why the gun issue fits in not only as the thing that’s important in saving lives, but it really is an important part of the whole constellation of liberty, which The Independent Institute is doing such a good job of protecting. And it is why I hope as you all go out and discuss the right to bear arms issue with your friends, remember you’re not just on the pro-choice side of this issue, you’re also on the pro-life side of this. Thank you. [Laughter, applause]

Alex Tabarrok

[Inaudible] it’s not too long to help other people in the audience. Carl, how about the tall fellow in the back.

Audience Member #1

The question is directed to either gentleman. Are there any works or any articles in the body of literature that talks about the national security implications of an armed population and how it might actually effect national security, and how a potentially invading country may say, well it’s too tough to control or conquer the civilian population? Thank you.

David Kopel

There’s been nothing that talks about that in great length in modern times. There’s been a good deal of stuff on 20th century genocide and how 20th century genocide has always been preceded by disarming the civilian population. But we’re talking more about something committed by a government against it’s own people, rather than by invaders. No, that was obviously a major part of the right to keep and bear arms back in the 18th and 19th centuries when we kept getting invaded by Britain. And it comes up most recently in World War II when Japan seized some Alaskan islands, and there were important efforts to mobilize civilians for self-defense in Oregon, Virginia, Maryland and Hawaii. And you kind of find discussions of those sort of very deep in the literature, but it’s one of the things that, if any of you folks out there want to write an article that will make a contribution on this issue, would be a contribution to consolidate all that and put it all together in a single place.

Alex Tabarrok

Yes, over here with the hat.

Audience Member #2

Yes, beside Bill Gates, which individuals, organizations, and other players are behind the gun control movement? The prohibitions in the Civil War—the abolitionists, excuse me—were mainly religious groups, and are there major religious groups in our country behind gun control?

Gary Kleck

Now among billionaires, George Soros finances an organization called the Open Society Institute which has basically been pushing gun control initiatives. And as to religious organizations, the most long standing open advocate of handgun prohibition was, in fact, largely created by the Methodist Church and was mostly a coalition of religious organizations with a few secular organizations. I’d say it’s not necessarily across the full spectrum of religious organizations, though, because it tended to be heavily liberal Protestant and Jewish. The more conservative Protestant denominations and the Catholic had very little to do with it.

David Kopel

If you go to the NRA website,, continually update a list of the major contributors to the so-called Million Mom March, and other anti-gun organizations. That’s a good source for the folks who are most active on the anti-Second Amendment side. And by the way, what Bill Gates did was once only. I think in 1998, he contributed money to an initiative in Washington state. A so-called safety initiative which was, of course a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and much more Draconian than it claimed to be. It got defeated overwhelming. I think it is unlikely you’ll see that happen again. First of all, I think it was mainly because his father, who’s a long time Seattle corporate lawyer, asked him to do it, that he did, so rather than Gates cares that much about the issue. But I think, secondly, just like a conservative is a libertarian who’s been mugged [laughter], I think Gates is making some progress from being a fairly simplistic liberal to appreciating the value of the libertarian position now that he’s been mugged by the Department of Justice. [Laughter]

Gary Kleck

Bill Gates is an issue that was also opposed by an organization of his own employees. It was Microsoft Gun Owners for the Second Amendment or something that opposed him, which has a little more political muscle when they are dotcom millionaires. These are not factory workers. It was a heavy-duty organization.

Audience Member #3

Yes. I have a question. Well, how quickly over the next four years, if Gore gets in, could national security be harmed by the U.S. military simply not having any domestic sources for small arms? A lot of people were worried about Clinton and Gore being bought and paid for by the Chinese. Is it possible that the systematic destruction of the American arms industry could actually harm American military muscle?

Gary Kleck

I’d say small arms are probably a pretty trivial proportion of our capability for national security, anyway. When they do analyses, the number of casualties inflicted in wars, it’s a negligible fraction by small arms. And they also have somewhat embarrassing data on the number of small arms wounds inflected by our troops, on our own troops. Shot in the back by people further back. So, no, I don’t think it’s going to be a particular significant concern especially given that the restrictions are aimed at handguns and handguns are an even more minor weapon for military.

And we’ve got a huge stock of Berretta 9-millimeters that are basically the side arm of choice at this point for the military. And they’ve got a pretty fair stock of that. And the guns last as long as you maintain them, basically.

Audience Member #4

Is there an issue of the administration using military contracts to twist the arm?

Gary Kleck

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Oh, yeah. They’re using all the muscle they can get. They try to induce many gun companies to basically sign an agreement that said “yes, we’re going to observe all of these spurious standards about making a so-called safe gun, introducing accident prevention technology,” and so on. And they tried to coerce a lot of people with inducements and or threats. You will or you will not get this or that kind of contract. And I suspect, and this is just suspicion, maybe, there are some hints about what the IRS would or would not do and so on. There are an awful lot of tools in the federal government’s arsenal. But only one company knuckled under to that set of inducements, it was Smith & Wesson. And the inducement, probably the biggest inducement was the feds were putting pressure on local police to adopt Smith & Wesson side arms for their police forces, which a large fraction of them already did.

David Kopel

The Smith & Wesson deal has been such a disaster for Smith & Wesson. And that was something that didn’t come from the companies. If you had one Ed Schultz, was the then the president of Smith & Wesson. I think he was the only guy at Smith & Wesson who actually supported it. They were ordered to do it by Tompkins PLC, which is the British conglomerate that owns them, and it has been such an obvious disaster for the company. They had to shut down their factories for a couple months. They just laid off 15% of their workers. They’ve gotten very few additional government contracts. Their consumer sales have been plummeting. I think, the risks that any other gun company is ever going to sign on to that deal are basically nil given that Smith & Wesson turned out to be its own death warrant.

Alex Tabarrok

Moving up here, a little bit, Carl.

Audience Member #5

Thank you. First, David, is it Kopel or Koppel?

David Kopel


Audience Member #5

Kopel, thank you.

Alex Tabarrok

Horizontal. Hold the microphone horizontal. Yeah, perfect.

Audience Member #5

OK. Question for the both, or either of you. The difference between the crime increase or decrease between a place like Kennesaw, Georgia, versus Morton Grove, Illinois because of their—?

David Kopel

This gentleman is referring to a small suburb of Atlanta where they required people to own guns, theoretically anyway, versus a small town in Illinois which banned handguns. It was kind of symbolic gesture in Kennesaw, anyway, because actually you could opt out if you didn’t want to own a gun. You could be a conscientious objector to it. So nobody was really forced to own a gun. And in any case, this was a small Georgia town, and they were armed to the teeth to begin with, so. [Laughter] They hardly needed a local ordinance to force them into owning guns. So the reality is, there probably wasn’t much of a change in gun ownership. You can’t go much above 100%.

But nevertheless, although there was no actual change in gun ownership, there was simply a lot of publicity reminding potential offenders about what was an ongoing reality, maybe unchanged by the law, which was tons of folks had guns, and if you broke into their house, you could get shot. And the result was there was very abrupt 80% drop in burglary in Kennesaw. [Laughter] And you might say, “well, gee, why did criminals need to be reminded of it” But, apparently they needed to be reminded of it and when they were reminded of it, there was this drop.

The bad news is it was a very transient change, because it depends on people having this memory fresh in their minds. And there was a lot of publicity about it, national publicity, probably international about a town requiring people to have guns. But it faded, and of course, so did the deterrent effect of reminding people. That doesn’t mean burglars cease to be worried about it. Rather, it had been temporarily elevated above its usual level by all the publicity. And then it probably went down to its usual baseline level. So burglars who do think about it, continued to think about it, but the ones who had to have a daily headline to remind them of it, the effect faded with them because the publicity ceased. So short term effect, no long term effect, probably, although you could always just re-stimulate a deterrent effect by another wave of publicity, I suppose.

As to Morton Grove, in a way it was like Kennesaw, in that it didn’t have any gun crime problems, so there wasn’t any capacity to reduce it. It was a town that had, in a typical year. Zero gun homicides. And so, all right, you ban handguns, and so what? There was no change, no significant change there.

I think probably burglars recognized that there wasn’t much enforcement of it. They weren’t sending cops into people’s houses. So in reality, a lot of people just continued to own the handguns they always had. It wasn’t a high number, because this is a northern suburb, and there isn’t much handgun ownership. They were like the exact opposite of Kennesaw. And secondly, burglars very likely recognize that even those who would obey the handgun ban and actually get rid of one, you’re talking about keeping it in your home. There’s nothing at all to prevent you from substituting a shot gun, which is more lethal, and you don’t have to care about whether it’s concealable, it’s in your own home. And if they believed that people were making that fairly rational substitution, it was even scarier to a burglar. So it may have canceled any harmful effect of those offenders who actually thought, “well now there’s some people who don’t have guns at all, so it’s safe to do a burglary.” But again, they didn’t have much burglary either. They had more burglary than murder, but they didn’t have much burglary, so there wasn’t a lot of room for huge amounts of change there either.

Alex Tabarrok

Gentlemen in the red.

Audience Member #6

This is addressed to both of you. I’ve seen on TV, debates about the gun issue. And you’ll see someone who’s pro-Second Amendment, and they’ll be citing both of your works. And the opponent will just simply stifle the entire thing by saying, “that’s been discredited.” And then they’ll move on. And you don’t get to say, “well who discredited it? What was their rational? What were their works?” But anyway, it just discredited with a single sentence. How do you counter that?

David Kopel

Well, you can point out exactly what they mean by discrediting. Usually that means someone has speculated about flaws in the research that led to those conclusions that they didn’t like. And they speculate in a very one-sided fashion. They basically speculate only about flaws that kind of would have helped out a conclusion they disliked and ignore the flaws that worked in the opposite direction. But the problem is, it is speculation.

Yeah, it’s possible. Every piece of evidence you ever cited on any position on any issue is completely erroneous. It’s possible, but it’s not a very rational way to go about life. You make decisions on the basis of whatever the best available evidence is, and if you’re smart, you know it’s flawed evidence, and not only that, you know it’s incomplete. You’re going to have more somewhere down the road, and it might be contradictory to what you have, but still, this is today. This is now. You have to make decisions, and you make the decisions on the basis of the incomplete and flawed evidence, but the best available incomplete and flawed evidence.

So selectively sighting flaws, and worse yet, possible flaws on evidence and only doing that is pointless to me. Basically you have to tell people the sensible way to do it is consider the full array of flaws for evidence on both sides, and then ask yourself what does the best available evidence say? So the best available evidence says there’s a lot of defensive gun uses. There’s some crappy research that indicates there aren’t very many at all. For example, they’ll like to say, “we’ve discredited the large estimate of defensive gun uses by citing a federal government survey which supposedly said, ‘well, there’s only 100,000, not two and half million.’” And what they won’t tell you is, that survey did not directly ask anybody whether they had a defensive gun use. They didn’t ask that. They asked a generic question about the crime like, “during this crime you told us about, did you do anything for self-protection?” And because they don’t specifically ask about using a gun, people will not bring it up. They’re reluctant enough to mention it anyway, but they’re certainly not going to mention it if they don’t even have to lie to withhold it. They don’t even have to tell a lie it didn’t happen, they aren’t directly asked the question at all.

So this alternate source of information is basically useless for estimating how often a certain kind of event occurred, because they didn’t ask anybody whether they had involved. So, if you’re in a position to reply to this, “well it’s all been discredited,” you can say things like this, but more usually you won’t have two sides, or not two equally well-informed sides so that the evidence can be defended in that way. Instead, you’ll have some talk show host, or whatever, who will say, “well that’s been discredited because of yada, yada, yada.” And with John Lott, they also have an ad homonym claim. They have this outlandish lie about his research being financed by the gun industry. There was never a word of truth to it, but the Associated Press itself disseminated it to every newspaper that subscribes to that news service. And so now it’s out there, anyway. And of course, you can get on the Web and look under John Lott’s name, and you’ll find all sorts of continuing circulation about this. And so that’s an even worse way of discrediting relevant evidence. It’s ad homonym, and in this case a completely baseless ad homonym.

Alex Tabarrok

One row back [Inaudible].

Audience Member #7

Hi. This is for Mr. Kleck. Basically, a few months ago the San Jose police managed to catch a thief red-handed as he was removing some snazzy cast aluminum wheels from a neighbor’s car. And after bumbling around for about an hour, they tracked him down, and as they were interviewing the owner of the car about the value of the wheels, they were saying, “are these worth more than $400?” And as I understand it, that’s the cut-off in California for felony grand theft. Now, basically, I’m sort of referring back to the Brady law. If we can’t trust a felon to own a gun for self-defense, why do we trust him to be out of prison? I mean, there’s such a broach spectrum of felonies. Somebody who’s dumb 18 and half year old kid trying to rip off some wheels that happen to be worth more than $400, versus a mass murderer. And then that also leaves the government open to redefine the felony boundary downward, and snare even more people into denial of the right to self-defense.

Gary Kleck

Well that’s absolutely true. The rationale is basically having a distinction between good guys and bad guys is better than having none at all. But it’s like any borderline in the law. If you set the borderline, people are going to try to push it one way or another. But to me it’s not decisive counter argument, it’s just the reason why you’ve got be cautious about people who are going to fiddle with the borderline. You try to make it as sensible as possible, and I think they probably the cleanest distinction you can make is between those who have a conviction and those who don’t. If you are anti-gun, basically you’d want to extend it to anybody who’s been arrested. And then anybody who’s even had a traffic ticket and then, been accused of a crime, but not arrested, and so on. Obviously, you can abuse the border, but that’s true of any borderline. I mean, have the border, and then guard the border and maintain it so it’s a sensible division.

Alex Tabarrok

Yeah, at that back there.

Audience Member #8

Yeah. Thank you. This is for Mr. Kleck. I have two data questions and one policy question. The data questions are, do we have data about what percentage of private guns are stolen, and what percentage of guns used in crime are stolen? Those are the data questions. And the policy question is: why, as you described the relative uselessness of longer sentences, why is it a good idea to talk about crime as a whole, as opposed to violent crime? It seems to me that incarcerating violent criminals for longer sentence protects the public quite well.

Gary Kleck

Well, I’ll answer the last question first. There’s a sacrifice in keeping those offenders in for those last few years of a long sentence. We’re running a zero sum game here. One more guy in means one more guy out.

Audience Member #8

But not the same kind of guy.

Gary Kleck

Well that’s exactly the point. There are all sorts of criminals out there, and the kind you’d rather have locked up are the ones who, at that time, would be doing a lot of crime if they weren’t locked up. But if you lock a guy up for 10 years rather than 5, the last 5 years are going to be at an older age when he’s doing fewer offenses. We already do our best to pick out the ones we think are the real heavy-duty offenders. It’s basically one result of preferring to give a prison sentence to somebody with one or two prior convictions rather than none. We’re lenient towards first offenders, not just because we think we ought to be as a matter of justice and give them a second chance and so on. But it also makes sense from a crime control standpoint, because they’re less likely to be heavy-duty repeat offenders if you left them out on the street. The implication of long prisons sentences is basically you’re going to keep people well into their low-crime committing years. And here’s the point, it’s keeping somebody else out of prison and still out on the streets, because there is that space that cannot be used for him. And multiply that by 100,000 old farts taking up space in prisons that wouldn’t be doing much of anything out on the streets.

Audience Member #8

What about the [Inaudible] of violence of other kinds?

Gary Kleck

Well, criminologists would say that issue of specialization is probably a red herring, because, in fact, the most serious offenders are very diverse in what they do.

Audience Member #8

Right, but I think the point is—I don’t think you would disagree—that if we had to have a choice of putting a marijuana user in jail for 10 years, or a violent criminal in jail for 10 years, we’d rather, on exactly the same argument that you made, we’d rather put the violent offender in jail.

Gary Kleck

Generally, yeah, we certainly would. All other things being equal. But in reality, the same folks who do the more serious offenses, let’s say violent rather than non-violent, are also the ones who do a lot of them, and who also do, on average, the more serious ones. Seriousness and a diversity of criminal acts and high frequency all go together in the same persons.

Audience Member #8

Do you want to deal with the data questions?

Gary Kleck

The data question, what percent of private guns are stolen? There are probably around 270 million private guns in civilian hands, maybe three-quarters of a million stolen each year. So I guess that works out to be a fraction of 1%. Maybe a quarter of 1% are stolen in each year. But it doesn’t really have to be a large percentage to supply all the criminals who use guns, because, again, there are only a few hundred thousand different human being criminals who use guns each year. So we’ve got an ample amount of gun theft to supply the criminal population, as it is. And as to what fraction of guns used by criminals that are stolen, we suspect it’s probably most of them. It’s probably like a bare majority.

The short answer of where criminals get guns is everywhere. There are so many places you can get them. They get them from just about everywhere. But being criminals, they not only do a lot of stealing themselves, but they know a lot of other criminals who will also do steal. Do theft. And really it’s kind of a good thing to get a gun by theft, if you’re a criminal, because obviously, it’s harder to trace. There’s no written record. You bought it on December 8, at ABC Gun store. And it’s likelier to be cheaper too. [Laughter] It’s not only cheap, by the way, for the guy who steals it, but it tends to be cheap even for guys who buy it from the thief, because there’s usually a heavy discount there.

Audience Member #8

And you don’t have to pay taxes on it either.

Gary Kleck

Not only that, but hey, there’s a great variety to choose from if you’re a fairly active thief, or if you know a lot of another people who are active thieves. It’s not as good as your local gun store, but you’ve got variety and low cost, and untraceability. It’s really idea.

Alex Tabarrok

I want to get a couple more questions in.

Audience Member #9

Mr. Kopel, do you have some figures on the effects of the confiscatory laws in Canada, Britain, and Australia?

David Kopel

Crime is up in Australia since those laws were enacted. The NRA website has material on that, although that doesn’t necessarily prove cause and effect. Crime has generally been rising significantly in Canada, and it was a couple of decades ago, actually, after their first major wave of national gun control when the Canadian burglary rate surpassed the U.S. burglary rate. Total violent crime, if you take the four major crimes in England—the four major violent crimes of assault, robbery, rape and homicide—the total English violent crime rate is now higher than the total American violent crime rate. That’s a long-term trend. Nobody’s done studies—any serious Gary Kleck—hard quantity way directly connecting those particular rises in crime to particular gun laws. But clearly, all of those countries are places where sharply rising crime has been accompanied by increasingly repressive gun control. And all of those countries were much safer, 50 or 75 or 100 years ago when they had very few gun laws and very little crime.

Audience Member #10

This question is for Mr. Kopel. It kind of bothers me when the candidates and politicians basically talk about splitters privileges on control of guns versus the individual right. Between the entertainment given for the elections in the last seven days, I’ve reviewed some of the Madison’s minutes on conventional Constitution, and also some of the arguments [Inaudible] for ratification, not ratification. If you take a look at the minutes, they considered it an individual right. If you take a look at the editorials, like Federalist Paper 46, and even the editorials against, Federalist Papers, 18 to 20, and a few others, you take a look at the state conventions, they talked about as an individual right. And during the first assembly of the Constitution—or the first assembly of the representatives in the Senate, nowhere does it talk about as a collective right. Nowhere does it talk about it as a state right, always an individual. Do you think the candidates are basically ignorant of these facts, or are they trying to misrepresent it? And how can we educate candidates or the general public about this?

David Kopel

Well it’s always a good step to start with educating yourself. And one of the great benefits of the explosion of Second Amendment scholarships that takes place over the past 25 years is there’s now a lot more material out there for people to want to read. If you really want to get a good one—all the original documents on the origins of the Second Amendment and also discussions about the militia debate and so forth in the founding era, are in a book called, Origin of the Second Amendment, edited by guy named David Young. It is published by an extremely obscure press in Michigan, but you can get it through, and it is well worth having. I use it frequently as a reference. And it has every known document from the 1787 to roughly 1793 period.

I think George Bush doesn’t need to read that. I think George Bush believes, and most Republicans and a bunch of Democrats, too, believe in the Second—and about 80% of the American population believe that the Second Amendment—guarantees an individual right to arms. There is a fraction of the public that does not believe, but they believe that because they don’t want it to be true, and it’s morally offensive to them. And there is roughly 3% of the population that believes in the collective, or states right theory, but is actually open to evidence on the subject. Nat Hentoff, for example, a columnist for the Village Voice, now syndicated, Sanford Levinson, and a professor at the University of Texas Law School. So there are folks out there in the intelligentsia who are actually open to reason. And the more you can get the good research in front of them, the better it is.

And that also includes people who write newspaper editorials and editorial boards of the various newspapers. Some of them are just fervent in their beliefs on whatever subject and couldn’t care less about contrary evidence. But a lot of the folks who write for newspapers really are genuinely curious people who are open to contrary evidence, because when they’re being good journalists that’s what they’re all about, looking at all sides of the issues. So if you could send them articles, reprints, and things like that, including the kind of materials The Independent Institute puts out, if you send out 20 copies of, for example, Stephen Halbrook’s That Every Man Be Armed, you won’t get all 20 people in newspapers to read it and some who will. And some subset of them will be convinced. So you can do a lot of good by writing people. Respectful, nice letters and sending them supporting documentation.

Alex Tabarrok

We have time for one more question. Maybe up front here, Carl.

Audience Member #11

Is there any credible research, either for or against the proposition, that waiting periods either reduce crime or reduce or improve one’s ability to defend themselves in a criminal situation?

David Kopel

Yeah, there’s credible evidence and it’s largely negative. One example I gave that’s sort of nothing legislation. Enormously popular. Ninety percent of the American public will say, “yeah, sure let’s have waiting periods.” It’s not enthusiastic or intense support, but there’s support. There are two kinds of evidence. One is simply how often do people who ended up murdering someone [do so] with a handgun, how often did they get it from the sort of source that would have to observe a waiting period, like a licensed dealer, as opposed to stealing it or getting it from their brother-in-law. And that evidence indicates that virtually nobody gets it from a regulatable source within a short period of time of the killing. In other words, murderers are not last minute shoppers. [Laughter] The premise of the waiting period law is basically false, that somehow the cooling-off value of it, if you could only delay them a few days, that would make a difference. Basically, they already have guns long before they get around to the point where they’re willing to kill somebody with it.

The other evidence is basically complicated comparisons of crime rates trying to control for other factors between places that have the waiting periods and those that don’t. And that research indicates that you don’t have any less crime or violence in places that have the waiting periods then in places that don’t. So generally the evidence, well not generally, uniformly, the evidence is negative on waiting periods. By the way, I’m not doctrinaire about that for any and all gun control. I think background checks, for example, do have a modest crime reducing effect. But waiting periods don’t have any effect. Nor does registration, which is one reason why I think the advocates of registrations are really after prohibition. It’s a wonderful mechanism for implementing mass confiscation of guns. But there is not documented value of it for reducing crime by itself, registration.

Audience Member #12

[Inaudible] the class of people that are exempt for the registration laws are the villains.

David Kopel

Because of the 1968 Supreme Court case, and that’s right. It would be compelled self-incrimination for you to have to fill out a 4473 form, that says, “yes I’m a prohibited person.” But John Lott, when he came out with the first version of his book on concealed carry [More Guns, Less Crime], and the initial objection raised to it by some people was, “well it’s true you did find crime count falling, but you didn’t account for the Brady Bill, and probably the Brady Bill was the reason that crime fell.” So he went back and added in both the Brady Bill and state waiting periods, which were implemented at different times, as variables. And what he found is, in general, no effect on most crime rates with two exceptions. Assaults against women and rape had a rise of approximately 2% after the enactment of the Brady Bill, which presumably would be that the people who are stalking victims and the like, couldn’t get guns for defensive purposes immediately.

Alex Tabarrok

OK. Brief announcement. We do not have an Independent Policy Forum scheduled for December, because of the holidays. But we will start them up again in the new year. Some of the speakers we have lined up are John McMorter on black civil rights and freedom, and Thomas Szasz on the therapeutic state, as well as a number of others. If you’re interested in any of them, make sure you get on our mailing list. You can sign-up upstairs, or leave your email address, and we’ll get that information to you.

If you would like to purchase any of the books [Targeting Guns, Guns: Who Should Have Them] and have then signed, now is your opportunity, as well. I’m sure that Gary and David could stay a little while longer and answer any questions you may have. If you’ll join with me and thank our speakers. [Applause]


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