It seems obvious: Restrict gun access, and people will be safer.
Indeed, in all four presidential debates, Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine have pushed for background checks on private transfers of guns. Clinton says this will “keep guns out of the hands of those who will do harm.” But theory and practice don’t always match. Too often, gun bans or background checks don’t stop criminals and instead disarm law-abiding citizens, particularly poor minorities. This only makes life easier for criminals.
There are already 300 million guns in circulation, and more than 12 million enter the market each year. With 3-D metal printers, more people will be able to make weapons that are indistinguishable from those purchased in stores. It would be almost impossible to remove those weapons from circulation. Getting rid of these weapons would require a door-to-door campaign by law enforcement officials, and even that would be of only limited effectiveness.
It’s also not clear that it would help. When countries like England, Wales, Ireland and Jamaica banned guns and handguns, they saw a subsequent increase in murder rates. Even these island nations, which have relatively easily monitored and defendable borders, have faced fivefold or sixfold increases in murder rates after guns were banned. Some of the biggest spikes in murder rates corresponded with increases in drug gang violence.
Some think that background checks are the answer. Indeed, after each mass public shooting, President Obama calls for background checks on the selling of guns through private transfers. But these new rules wouldn’t have stopped the attackers. Since at least 2000, all of America’s mass shooters obtained guns without going through private transfers. Some of the attacks occurred in states that already have these background check laws.
As I show in my book, “The War on Guns,” there is no evidence that expanded background checks reduce rates of violent crime including mass public shootings, suicide, murder of police officers or domestic violence against women. (Gun-control groups contest this claim.)
And these background checks are costly. In D.C., checks on private transfers add $125 to the cost of a gun. That fee can put guns out of reach for the most likely victims of violent crime: poor blacks living in high-crime, urban areas.
Other gun laws, like gun-free zones, can create targets for mass shooters. One need only listen to the wiretapped recording of an Islamic State supporter who was planning an attack this spring. His target was one of the biggest churches in Detroit. In the recording, Khalil Abu-Rayyan explains: “A lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church. Plus it would make the news.” Fortunately, the man’s father alerted the FBI. Mass public shooters often perpetrate violence in public places where permitted concealed handguns are banned.
Since at least 1950, every single one of Europe’s public mass shootings has occurred in a place where general citizens are banned from carrying guns. In America, there have been four exceptions to that rule.
In late 2013, the secretary general of Interpol — essentially a global version of the FBI — proposed two ways of preventing mass shootings: “One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves [should be] so secure that in order to get into the soft target, you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.”
But Noble warned, “You can’t have armed police forces everywhere.” He also suggested that it is essentially impossible to stop killers from getting weapons into these “secure” areas. He concluded by posing the question, “Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past, with an evolving threat of terrorism?” The answer is an emphatic yes.