Monday, May 9, 2011

Guns are efficient killing machines requiring stricter regulation

Vijay K. Mathur

Published in Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, May 9, 2011

The late Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate in economics and the strongest defender of freedom to choose and free enterprise, once remarked, "Every friend of freedom ... must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and an army of enforcers to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence."

Guns, especially handguns, in the hands of people, are the most efficient killing machines ever invented. Like any other machines in industry, they are very productive, if one intends to use it to kill or commit violent acts.

Let me first lay out the facts about the productive power of guns. The National Institute of Justice's data show that in 2005 there were 8,478 homicides by handguns; three times higher than for guns and for other weapons, four times higher than for knifes, and 12 times higher than for blunt objects. The institute's data also show that from 1975 to 2005, 77 percent of homicide victims who died from gun violence were between the ages of 15 and 17. This data not only shows that guns are more efficient killing machines than other weapons, but also are used to kill those who will become the most productive members of society.

What about gun ownership and violence? Data from the Violence Policy Center, a non-profit educational foundation, shows that five states (Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi, and Nevada) which had the highest gun ownership rates (ranging from 31.5 percent in Nevada to 60.6 percent in Alaska), and lax gun laws, also had the highest per-capita gun death rates as compared to the national rate. The states with the lowest gun death rates also had much lower gun ownership rates. The policy center characterizes lax gun laws as those that "add little or nothing to federal restrictions and have permissive concealed carry laws allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns."

A major study by Harvard School of Public Health in 2007 also revealed higher homicide rates among children, women and men of all ages in states where more households had guns. A statistically sophisticated and detailed study by Professor Mark Duggan, published in the Journal of Political Economy in October 2001, also found that, both at the state and county levels, and controlling for other effects on homicides, gun ownership has a significant positive effect on homicide rates. In addition, carrying concealed weapons laws in counties -- where states passed such laws and had the highest pre-CCW gun ownership rates -- had an imperceptible deterrent effect on violent crimes; therefore, "...suggesting either that existing gun ownership did not increase the frequency with which they carried their guns or that this carrying had a negligible impact on the behavior of criminals."

The data indisputably shows that prevalence of guns significantly increases violent crimes. The constitutional protection under the Second Amendment " keep and bear Arms..." in the context of "...A well regulated Militia..." does not deny states and/or federal government the right to regulate this right. The question is why are gun lobbies, including the NRA, always fighting stricter handgun control regulations? Why are gun rights different than other rights specified in the Constitution? Like freedom of speech, gun rights are not an absolute right. It stops where it impinges on others' rights for safety and security.

The usual argument that carrying a gun adds more security from crime is not supported by evidence. In addition, if this argument is carried to its logical extreme, it implies that each person is responsible for his or her own security; the role of collective security provided by the police force becomes redundant. It is the responsibility and gun lobby's self-interest to promote stricter handgun laws to keep guns out of the hands of untrained, and violent and/or crime-prone people, and to disrupt legal and/or illegal supply chains that feed criminal elements of the society. One can see the effect of uncontrolled guns-supply chain on the violence in Mexico.

The emphasis on the right to keep and carry guns without sensible regulations to prevent present and future monetary and human costs associated with gun violence does not serve the broad interests of the society, including the gun lobby. In 2001, Professors Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig estimated the cost of gun-related violence, injuries (intentional or unintentional) and suicides to be around $100 billion per year. To put this cost in perspective, the authors stated that $100 billion could cover health care costs of two-thirds of uninsured people or pay college tuition for 27 million people in good public universities. A freedom-loving and democratic society, which focuses only on the right to bear arms, and ignores huge human and financial costs, and loss of freedom from internal safety and security threats to the civilian population, ignores them at its own peril.

Mathur is former chair of the economics department and professor emeritus of economics, Cleveland Sate University, Cleveland, Ohio. He also posts original blogs for the Standard-Examiner at /

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