Guest Essayist: Dr. John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, third edition, 2010).

“The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”

To an overwhelming percentage of Americans, the constitutional question over DC’s and Chicago’s gun bans seemed simple enough.  The plain meaning of the amendment was clear, and the Supreme Court agreed.  In 2008 and 2010, Supreme Court decisions struck down gun bans and gunlock laws and decided that Americans have a right to self-defense. These were contested decisions, both being decided by close 5 to 4 votes.  The four dissenting liberals claimed that there exists no individual right to “self-defense,” and even if such a right existed, it could be overridden by the public interest of reducing gun crimes and suicides.

In his 2008 dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer claimed that the “thought of self-defense primarily in terms of outbreaks of fighting with Indian tribes, rebellions such as Shays’ Rebellion, marauders, and crime-related dangers to travelers . . . .” is unrelated to the fears that Americans face today from crime in urban areas.  He claims that the proposition that “householders’ possession of loaded handguns help to frighten away intruders” as “a question without a directly provable answer.”  And that “none of the studies can show that [handgun bans are] not worthwhile.”

But a simple word count shows how Breyer’s fear over letting law-abiding Americans own guns fills his dissent.  Just the words “crime,”  “criminal,” “criminologist,” “death,” “homicide,” “murder,” “life-threatening,” “injury,” “rape,” “robbery,” “assault,” “safety,” and “victim” were used a total of 163 times in 44 pages.  The terms “accidents” and “suicide” by themselves were mentioned an additional 13 times each.  While other words could be included, these words alone averaged 4.3 per page of his dissent.

Many others shared Breyer’s concerns that murder and violent crime rates would soar after the Supreme Court struck down the Washington, D.C. and Chicago gun control laws. Politicians predicted disaster.  “More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence,” Washington’s Mayor Adrian Fenty warned the day the court made its decision.  Chicago’s Mayor Daley predicted that we would “go back to the Old West, you have a gun and I have a gun and we’ll settle it in the streets . . . .” The New York Times even editorialized this month about “the Supreme Court’s “unwise” decision that there is a right for people “to keep guns in the home.”

Yet, Armageddon never happened. Indeed, in the year after the 2008 Heller decision, the murder rate fell two-and-a-half times faster in DC than in the rest of the country. It also fell more than three as fast as in other cities that are close to DC’s size.

And murders in DC have continued to fall.  If you compare the first six months of this year to the first six months of 2008,  the same time immediately preceding the Supreme Court’s late June Heller decision, murders have now fallen by 34%.

To top it off, gun crimes fell more than non-gun crimes.  Robberies with guns fell by 25%, while robberies without guns have fallen by 8%.  Assaults with guns fell by 37%, while assaults without guns fell by 12%.  Just as with right-to-carry laws, when law-abiding citizens have guns some criminals stop carrying theirs.

Similarly, the experience with crime data for Chicago shows that, as in DC, murder and gun crime rates didn’t rise after the bans were eliminated — they plummeted. They have fallen much more than the national crime rate.  On this topic, the national media has remained completely silent.

In the first six months of last year, there were 14% fewer murders in Chicago compared to the first six months of last year – back when owning handguns was illegal. It was the largest drop in Chicago’s murder rate since the handgun ban went into effect in 1982. Meanwhile, the other four most populous cities experienced a total drop at the same time of only 6 percent.

The benefit could have been even greater.  Getting a handgun permit in DC and Chicago is an expensive and difficult process, meaning only the relatively wealthy go through it.  Only a few thousand people had handguns registered in Chicago by the middle of last year.  That limits the benefits from the Supreme Court decisions since it is the poor who are the most likely victims of crime and who benefit the most from being able to protect themselves.

For DC, the biggest change was the Supreme Court striking down the law making it illegal to possess a loaded gun.  Over 70,000 people have permits for long guns that they can now legally used to protect  themselves.

Lower crime rates in Chicago and DC by themselves don’t prove that gun control increases murders, even when combined with the quite familiar story of how their murder rates soared and stayed high after the gun bans were imposed.

But these aren’t isolated examples.  Around the world, whenever guns are banned, murder rates rise.  Gun control advocates explained the huge increases in murder and violent crime rates Chicago and DC by saying that those bans weren’t fair tests unless the entire country adopted a ban.  Even island nations, such as Ireland and the UK — with no neighbors to blame — have seen increases in murder rates. The same horror stories about blood in the streets have surrounded the debate over concealed handguns. Some said it was necessary to ban guns in public places.  The horror stories never came true and the data is now so obvious that as of November, only one state, Illinois, will still completely ban law-abiding citizens from carrying concealed handguns.  Forty-one states will have either permissive right-to-carry laws or no longer even require a permit.

The regulations that still exist in Chicago and DC primarily disarm the most likely victims of crime. Hopefully, even the poor in these areas will soon also have more of an opportunity to defend themselves also.

Dr. John Lott is the co-author with Grover Norquist of the just released book: Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future.  He has held research positions at academic institutions including the University of Chicago, Yale University, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Rice, and the University of Maryland, College Park and at the American Enterprise Institute.  Lott was the chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission during 1988 and 1989. He has published over 100 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals related to his research areas, and has authored seven books, including “More Guns, Less Crime”, “The Bias Against Guns” and “Freedomnomics.”  He is a contributor and columnist for Fox News.  Lott earned his Ph.D. in economics from UCLA in 1984.


11 replies
  1. Linda & Halley
    Linda & Halley says:

    These indisputable facts are amazing. What an insightful essay! Self defense is such an inportant part of the Second Amendment. We heard this morning about a man in Maryland who was denied a permit to own a handgun, as he had not proven on his application that his life was in peril. This man had apparently been robbed at a prior time. Thankfully, the supreme court in Maryland struck down his denial. There are, likely, such cases all over the United States, incrementally trying to abridge this right. As my granddaughter says, “Hey, Let’s hear it, for Amendment Two. I can own a gun, and so can YOU”. At the time we began our study of the Amendments, I wanted to condense them to “just the facts” to make it easier for an 8 year old to grasp. Sadly, many adults do not yet grasp the chipping away of their rights. Thank you, Dr. Lott, for providing this insightful essay!

  2. Marc W. Stauffer
    Marc W. Stauffer says:

    I look at country’s that their citizens are unarmed or poorly armed and I see fear and control from the criminal element. I believe that a RESPONSIBLE, well armed and TRAINED citizenry, is the best deterrent to crime and control of “The People” through fear.

  3. Mag
    Mag says:

    What the more stringent gun control porponents fail to understand is that criminals are already committing crimes (breaking laws) that is why they are CRIMINALS. Passing more laws to remove guns from citizens is NOT going to make those criminals suddenly say “hey, I guess maybe I’ll follow THIS law”. It only serves to perpetuate crime since those already breaking the laws know that they will find less and less resistance from the law abiding citizens.

    • Ralph T. Howarth, Jr.
      Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

      In time past, the criminal element often formed a cartel with officials inside the local government; which made the plight of commoners doubly worse.

  4. Charles_Alice
    Charles_Alice says:

    One of the worst things that could happen in a free country like America is for the government to take away the right to personal gun ownership from the people. A first step to tyranny is for a government to silence the citizenry and remove power from the people by disarming them — by taking away their weapons.

  5. Matilda Anders
    Matilda Anders says:

    The Maryland law was overturned by a Federal Judge.

    Fat chance of getting such a decision from the Court of Appeals (our ‘Supreme Court’).

    Waltzin Matilda

  6. Barb Zakszewski
    Barb Zakszewski says:

    If you disarm the people, there is nothing preventing the government from becoming a tryanny. Government should fear the people, not people fearing the government. IT’s more basic than crime rates and murder rates and what rates and stats are sited. Disarm the people and they are POWERLESS against a tyrannical government. IT’s that simple. We MUST defend our 2nd amendment rights that were recognized by the Framers, along with other rights in the Bill of Rights, as given to us by our Creator, not by the government. If government is allowed to bestow rights, they most certainly can and will take them away, leaving the people powerless. and our Nation will be lost forever!

  7. Lawrence Basco
    Lawrence Basco says:

    Interesting article. Gun bans are not for public safety, but rather to assage the fears of our Government and the White House. How well do you think a Rebellion would have a chance of success if the populace is unarmed? What type of absolute control do you think a Government would have over the populace if the citizens were unarmed? How long do you think that the American Public will sit still, once they learn that they are being “Played” or duped by our Political Parties? How Long?????


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  1. […] from Thomas Jefferson Constituting America More Guns, Less Crime Well Regulated Militia Being Necessary to the Security of a Free State A Revolutionary People at […]

  2. […] Some insightful perspectives on crime in D.C. before and after the gun ban and the Heller decision.  Chicago never went back to the “Old West” days, as had been predicted.  The facts are here… […]

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