Examining the History of Guns and Violence
 Friday, November 29, 2002 

   Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm of Bentley College deserves some sort of 
special prize for taking on the thankless task of talking sense on a 
subject where nonsense is deeply entrenched and fiercely dogmatic. In 
her recently published book, Guns and Violence, Professor Malcolm 
examines the history of firearms, gun control laws and violent crime in 
England. What makes this more than an exercise in history is its 
relevance to current controversies over gun control in America. 
    Gun control zealots love to make highly selective international 
comparisons of gun ownership and murder rates. But Joyce Lee Malcolm 
points out some of the pitfalls in that approach. For example, the 
murder rate in New York City has been more than five times that of 
London for two centuries -- and during most of that time neither city 
had any gun control laws. 
    In 1911, New York state instituted one of the most severe gun 
control laws in the United States, while serious gun control laws did 
not begin in England until nearly a decade later. But New York City 
still continued to have far higher murder rates than London. 
    If we are serious about the role of guns and gun control as factors 
in differing rates of violence between countries, then we need to do 
what history professor Joyce Lee Malcolm does -- examine the history of 
guns and violence. In England, as she points out, over the centuries 
"violent crime continued to decline markedly at the very time that guns 
were becoming increasingly available." 
    England's Bill of Rights in 1688 was quite unambiguous that the 
right of a private individual to be armed was an individual right, 
independent of any collective right of militias. Guns were as freely 
available to Englishmen as to Americans, on into the early 20th century. 

    Nor was gun control in England a response to any firearms murder 
crisis. Over a period of three years near the end of the 19th century, 
"there were only 59 fatalities from handguns in a population of nearly 
30 million people," according to Professor Malcolm. "Of these, 19 were 
accidents, 35 were suicides and only three were homicides -- an average 
of one a year." 
    The rise of the interventionist state in early 20th century England 
included efforts to restrict ownership of guns. After the First World 
War, gun control laws began restricting the possession of firearms. 
Then, after the Second World War, these restrictions grew more severe, 
eventually disarming the civilian population of England -- or at least 
the law-abiding part of it. 
    It was during this period of severe restrictions on owning firearms 
that crime rates in general, and the murder rate in particular, began to 
rise in England. "As the number of legal firearms have dwindled, the 
numbers of armed crimes have risen," Professor Malcolm points out. 
    In 1954, there were only a dozen armed robberies in London but, by 
the 1990s, there were more than a hundred times as many. In England, as 
in the United States, drastic crackdowns on gun ownership by law-abiding 
citizens were accompanied by ever greater leniency to criminals. In both 
countries, this turned out to be a formula for disaster. 
    While England has not yet reached the American level of murders, it 
has already surpassed the United States in rates of robbery and 
burglary. Moreover, in recent years the murder rate in England has been 
going up under still more severe gun control laws, while the murder rate 
in the United States has been going down as more and more states have 
allowed private citizens to carry concealed weapons -- and have begun 
locking up more criminals. 
    In both countries, facts have no effect whatever on the dogmas of 
gun control zealots. 
    In England, as in America, sensational gun crimes have been seized 
upon and used politically to promote crackdowns on gun ownership by 
law-abiding citizens, while doing nothing about criminals. American 
zealots for the Brady bill say nothing about the fact that the man who 
shot James Brady and tried to assassinate President Reagan has been out 
walking the streets on furlough. 
    Creators Syndicate 

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