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Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
9 Feb 2016
Toxic Words

During this election year, we are destined to hear many words that are toxic in the way they misrepresent … Read More.

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After Iowa

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Do Gun Control Laws Control Guns?


The gun control controversy is only the latest of many issues to be debated almost solely in terms of fixed preconceptions, with little or no examination of hard facts.

Media discussions of gun control are dominated by two factors: the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment. But the over-riding factual question is whether gun control laws actually reduce gun crimes in general or murder rates in particular.

If, as gun control advocates claim, gun control laws really do control guns and save lives, there is nothing to prevent repealing the Second Amendment, any more than there was anything to prevent repealing the Eighteenth Amendment that created Prohibition.

But, if the hard facts show that gun control laws do not actually control guns, but instead lead to more armed robberies and higher murder rates after law-abiding citizens are disarmed, then gun control laws would be a bad idea, even if there were no Second Amendment and no National Rifle Association.

The central issue boils down to the question: What are the facts? Yet there are many zealots who seem utterly unconcerned about facts or about their own lack of knowledge of facts.

There are people who have never fired a shot in their life who do not hesitate to declare how many bullets should be the limit to put into a firearm's clip or magazine. Some say ten bullets but New York state's recent gun control law specifies seven.

Virtually all gun control advocates say that 30 bullets in a magazine is far too many for self-defense or hunting — even if they have never gone hunting and never had to defend themselves with a gun. This uninformed and self-righteous dogmatism is what makes the gun control debate so futile and so polarizing.

Anyone who faces three home invaders, jeopardizing himself or his family, might find 30 bullets barely adequate. After all, not every bullet hits, even at close range, and not every hit incapacitates. You can get killed by a wounded man.

These plain life-and-death realities have been ignored for years by people who go ballistic when they hear about how many shots were fired by the police in some encounter with a criminal.

As someone who once taught pistol shooting in the Marine Corps, I am not the least bit surprised by the number of shots fired. I have seen people miss a stationary target at close range, even in the safety and calm of a pistol range.

We cannot expect everybody to know that. But we can expect them to know that they don't know — and to stop spouting off about life-and-death issues when they don't have the facts.

The central question as to whether gun control laws save lives or cost lives has generated many factual studies over the years. But these studies have been like the proverbial tree that falls in an empty forest, and has been heard by no one — certainly not by zealots who have made up their minds and don't want to be confused by the facts.

Most factual studies show no reduction in gun crimes, including murder, under gun control laws. A significant number of studies show higher rates of murder and other gun crimes under gun control laws.

How can this be? It seems obvious to some gun control zealots that, if no one had guns, there would be fewer armed robberies and fewer people shot to death.

But nothing is easier than to disarm peaceful, law-abiding people. And nothing is harder than to disarm people who are neither — especially in a country with hundreds of millions of guns already out there, that are not going to rust away for centuries.

When it was legal to buy a shotgun in London in the middle of the 20th century, there were very few armed robberies there. But, after British gun control zealots managed over the years to disarm virtually the entire law-abiding population, armed robberies became literally a hundred times more common. And murder rates rose.

One can cherry-pick the factual studies, or cite some studies that have subsequently been discredited, but the great bulk of the studies show that gun control laws do not in fact control guns. On net balance, they do not save lives but cost lives.

Gun control laws allow some people to vent their emotions, politicians to grandstand and self-righteous people to "make a statement" — but all at the cost of other people's lives.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



7 Comments | Post Comment
It's tpo easy to think that every problem can be solved by making a law about it. Unfortunately, people who obey laws don't really need most of them, and people who don't obey laws are not going to pay attention to them. In other words, the problem is not the lack of a law, but the lack of people who obey laws.
I notice that one of the current suggestions to keep guns away from dangerous people is that doctors and therapists should ask their possibly dangerous clients if they have a gun. What are the odds that the client will tell the truth? (Or that a possibly dangerous person even agrees to treatment?)
Comment: #1
Posted by: partsmom
Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:06 AM
Solid work, again!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Bucky
Mon Jan 21, 2013 9:22 PM
Mr. Sowel,
By your logic, fully automatic guns and RPGs should be available because one never knows when the ability to spray 30 rounds a second or take out an attacking vehicle full of bad guys with an RPG would come in handy. Note, however, that banning fully automatic guns and RPGs has worked very well. These are simply almost never used in crime. Local gun control laws are not effective since the bad guys can just go to the nearest NRA safe haven state to buy all the banned action toys they want, so pointing out that this or that city law has been ineffective does not mean that a national law would not work a lot better. Yes. It may take a while for attrition to remove a nationally banned item, but that does not mean that our grandchildren might not be better off for our having made the effort, assuming that banning this or that will work.
Part of the problem is that we do not know and the NRA likes it that way. The ATF should be unshackled to work on the problem. They should be able to trace WHICH firearms dealers are responsible for most guns sales that end in crime. (If we could remove a few bad apples from being allowed to sell to protect the law-abiding dealers, who loses in this deal?) ATF should be able to require that dealers do regular inventories and report ALL missing guns to the ATF. They should be able to use computerized systems in background checks. They should be able to compile AND RELEASE data on exactly which weapons are more likely to be used in crime. Collected data should be made available. The CDC should be ordered to study the problem of gun violence. (Are the violent media images and games an important part of the problem? Zealots in the NRA clearly think so and they may be right. Lets do the science.) All things NRA does not want to happen.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Mark
Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:16 PM
Blaming guns for operator error or mis-use is akin to blaming vehicles for driving accidents. We are all aware of how successful driving laws are (not) yet we still believe laws are the solution. Perhaps we should outlaw automobiles as opposed to eliminating fines and really punish law breakers?
Comment: #4
Posted by: FstFrd
Tue Jan 22, 2013 6:24 AM
Re: Mark

Another clueless liberal with his head in the sand.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Derel Schrock
Tue Jan 22, 2013 6:40 AM
You have chosen a good model. Google FARS car death rate. In 1994 the fatality rate was 1.73 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This rate has been declining for many years. In 2010 it was 1.11 deaths per million vehicle miles driven. Why the difference? Aren't freeway speed limits higher? Government rules have steadily raised the bar for safety standards in vehicles manufactured, OVER THE OBJECTIONS OF THE AUTO INDUSTRY. The rules on drinking and driving have tightened greatly. Rules about young drivers have tightened. Legal drinking age has risen to 21 in all states. Seat belt use has become mandatory in all states. Child safety seats have become mandatory. Sorry. Increasing government regulation has worked quite well in this area.
How does this apply to guns? Government regulations limiting access of individuals who should not have them could reduce harm. Government regulations about safety changes could reduce harm. (required trigger locks = seatbelts?) Finding of liability to those who serve booze to drunk drivers who kill makes those who serve alcohol a bit more cautious. (Dad buying a keg for the teen boys big party was not that uncommon in my youth. Not so much now.) How about increased liability to those who habitually sell guns to criminals? Careful study of the problem by government agencies to fine-tune the rules of driving has worked well. Such study is not only allowed, it is fully funded and the findings are used to guide regulations. How about using the power of science to find effective measures in reducing gun violence?
I am under no illusions that banning this or that gun is going to solve this mess. It is a lot more complex than that. We are becoming a more violent people and gun violence is just part of the problem. It is time for the grownups to get to work.
Try to think clearly about this. Silly name calling is a poor substitute.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Mark
Tue Jan 22, 2013 7:59 PM
Australia had 13 gun massacres in the 18 years before the 1996 gun reforms, but has not suffered any mass shootings since.
Studies found a marked drop in gun-related homicides, down 59 percent, and a dramatic 65 percent drop in the rate of gun-related suicides, in the 10 years after the weapons crackdown.
Comment: #7
Sun May 5, 2013 2:56 AM
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