The Old-School Liberal

“Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom” — Friedrich Hayek

Does the Constitution Also Scare Elizabeth Edwards?

Posted by Poorsummary on December 24, 2007

Gun ControlThe Economist quotes Elizabeth Edwards expressing her fear of Mike Huckabee and Republicans in general:

“[Mike Huckabee] doesn’t believe in evolution and has some nutty views about what it is we should do about ending violence in our inner city—we should make sure all of our young people are armed. Republicans scare me.”

While there are legitimate reasons to fear, or at least disagree with, Mike Huckabee (e.g. his tax reform legislation that doesn’t actually eliminate any existing taxes) and Republicans (e.g. their determination to make criminals of people who use or prescribe medical marijuana in accordance with state laws), the right to bear arms is not one of them. Reading Edwards’ quote above does make gun ownership seem like a silly answer to ending violence, but if one looks at the empirical evidence, there is little reason to believe that making it a crime to own a gun does anything but ensure that the only people who own guns are criminals. Consider the following examples of gun ownership deterring crime:

  1. In 1966 the police in Orlando, Florida, responded to a rape epidemic by embarking on a highly publicized program to train 2,500 women in firearm use. The next year rape fell by 88 percent in Orlando (the only major city to experience a decrease that year); burglary fell by 25 percent. Not one of the 2,500 women actually ended up firing her weapon; the deterrent effect of the publicity sufficed. Five years later Orlando’s rape rate was still 13 percent below the pre-program level, whereas the surrounding standard metropolitan area had suffered a 308 percent increase.
  2. During a 1974 police strike in Albuquerque armed citizens patrolled their neighborhoods and shop owners publicly armed themselves; felonies dropped significantly.
  3. In March 1982 Kennesaw, Georgia, enacted a law requiring householders to keep a gun at home; house burglaries fell from 65 per year to 26, and to 11 the following year.
  4. Similar publicized training programs for gun-toting merchants sharply reduced robberies in stores in Highland Park, Michigan, and in New Orleans; a grocers organization’s gun clinics produced the same result in Detroit.

Although the above anecdotes do not establish the case for unrestricted gun ownership, they should at least give reason to question what has sadly become the conventional wisdom regarding gun ownership.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the gun control debate is the frequent disregard for the constitution’s mandate that the government cannot restrict people from owning firearms:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Given the voice of the constitution on the matter, any advocate of gun control who has any respect for the constitution should be an advocate for amending the constitution, not simply ignoring it and banning guns anyway (which unfortunately, is what has happened in D.C.). Perhaps one of the primary reasons legislatures of the same persuasion as Elizabeth Edward choose to ignore the constitution and pass gun control legislation anyway is that the available evidence on the interaction between gun ownership and violent crime suggests that gun control laws do not prevent violent crime, for the simple reason that people willing to break laws against murder are more than willing to break laws against gun ownership in order to commit such murders. There are many good articles to read on the subject, but here’s a good one.

Perhaps the debate over how to reduce violent crime should focus more on our country’s misguided drug policies than on banning guns– particularly since we need only follow the constitution to realize that the feds have no more authority to enforce drug prohibition without a constitutional amendment than they did to enforce alcohol prohibition without a constitutional amendment.

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