December 27, 2012

WSJ Op-Ed: Gun-Banning Efforts in the UK, Australia ‘Haven’t Made People Safer’ (In Fact, They’re Less Safe)

It doesn’t take much of an effort to find plenty of establishment press reports (just four such examples are here, here, here, and here) about the reaction to the Newtown, Connecticut coming out of Dunblane, Scotland, the site of a 1996 school massacre where sixteen children and one adult were murdered before the gunman committed suicide.

Most reports note that strict gun legislation was passed in the wake of the massacre, but don’t cover the laws’ impact. One of the four reports just cited, from CNN’s Peter Wilkinson, called “How UK school massacre led to tighter gun control,” waits 19 paragraphs before discussing results, and then fudges (bolds are mine throughout this post):

What effect did the ban have?

According to bare statistics, the ban initially appeared to have little impact, as the number of crimes involving guns in England and Wales rose heavily during the late 1990s to peak at 24,094 offenses in 2003/04.

Since then the number has fallen in each year. In 2010/11 there were 11,227 offenses, 53% below the peak number, according to the official crime figures. Crimes involving handguns also fell 44% — from 5,549 in 2002/03 to 3,105 — in 2010/11.

Despite this, the effectiveness of Britain’s gun laws has been repeatedly questioned. The most high-profile mass shooting happened in 2010 when a lone gunman killed 12 people in a four-hour shooting spree in rural Cumbria, northern England. After a huge manhunt, the body of 52-year-old taxi driver Derrick Byrd was found alongside two powerful rifles, one equipped with a telescopic sight.

Criminologist Peter Squires said the real picture shows a slight but significant decline in the use of firearms since Dunblane. The figures don’t tell the whole story, he said, but “the murder rate has fallen and all the indicators are moving in the right direction.”

Squires, professor of criminology at Brighton University and a member of the Gun Control Network, said he believed the fall in crimes where guns were used was due to new legislation coupled with better policing against gangs.

“Any weapon can be misused in a crime. Gun control will never be a complete solution to events like the mass shooting we saw in Connecticut. The swamp of gun use has not been fully drained and while tighter gun control removes risk on an incremental basis, significant numbers of weapons remain in Britain.”

It seems like somebody wants to (as he sees it) drain the “swamp.”

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Joyce Lee Malcolm, professor of law at George Mason University Law School, is somewhat more specific in defining what Wilkinson’s vague “rose heavily” really meant:

The results have not been what proponents of the act wanted. Within a decade of the handgun ban and the confiscation of handguns from registered owners, crime with handguns had doubled according to British government crime reports. Gun crime, not a serious problem in the past, now is. Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time. Moreover, another massacre occurred in June 2010. Derrick Bird, a taxi driver in Cumbria, shot his brother and a colleague then drove off through rural villages killing 12 people and injuring 11 more before killing himself.

So if handgun crime doubled despite the legislation and then fell 53% from its peak, that would mean it’s barely below where it was in 1996, i.e., the draconian gun laws have accomplished very little while reducing everyday citizens’ abilities to defend themselves.

Malcolm also cites examples of ordinary citizens tripped up by draconian “thou shalt not possess” statutes which have to be read to be believed — and even then it will be difficult.

As to overall crime in the UK, as Malcolm noted at Reason in November:

(Gun control legislation) has left law-abiding citizens at the mercy of criminals who are confident that their victims have neither the means nor the legal right to resist them. Imitating this model would be a public safety disaster for the United States.

Malcolm’s WSJ op-ed today also looks at Australia, where the record isn’t as clear-cut, but still contains a disturbing corollary stat:

(In 1996) Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement, banning all semiautomatic rifles and semiautomatic and pump-action shotguns and imposing a more restrictive licensing system on other firearms. The government also launched a forced buyback scheme to remove thousands of firearms from private hands. Between Oct. 1, 1996, and Sept. 30, 1997, the government purchased and destroyed more than 631,000 of the banned guns at a cost of $500 million.

To what end? While there has been much controversy over the result of the law and buyback, Peter Reuter and Jenny Mouzos, in a 2003 study published by the Brookings Institution, found homicides “continued a modest decline” since 1997. They concluded that the impact of the National Firearms Agreement was “relatively small,” with the daily rate of firearms homicides declining 3.2%.

In 2008, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported a decrease of 9% in homicides and a one-third decrease in armed robbery since the 1990s, but an increase of over 40% in assaults and 20% in sexual assaults.

Overall, she concludes that “The two major countries held up as models for the U.S. don’t provide much evidence that strict gun laws will solve our problems.” Indeed.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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1 Comment

  1. “Slight but significant?” Huh?

    Anyway, that first report does indeed fudge the facts. It makes a big deal of how UK gun crime incidents fell from their peak after the ban but glosses over how, despite that fall, crimes committed with guns are still above what they were before the ban. They also gloss over how Britain now has the highest crime rate in Europe and a higher rate than America, but they hide that but obsessing over only crimes involving guns. Nice try, CNN.

    Comment by zf — December 27, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

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