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The Failed Experiment: Gun Control and Public Safety in Canada, Australia, England and Wales

Type: Research Studies
Date Published: November 1, 2003
Authors:
Research Topics:
Crime & Drug Policy
Widely televised firearm murders in many countries during the 20th Century have spurred politicians to introduce restrictive gun laws. The politicians then promise that the new restrictions will reduce criminal violence and "create a safer society." It is time to pause and ask if gun laws actually do reduce criminal violence.

Gun laws must be demonstrated to cut violent crime or gun control is no more than a hollow promise. What makes gun control so compelling for many is the belief that violent crime is driven by the availability of guns and, more importantly, that criminal violence in general may be reduced by limiting access to firearms.

In this study, the author examines crime trends in Commonwealth countries that have recently introduced firearm regulations: i.e., Great Britain, Australia, and Canada. The widely ignored key to evaluating firearm regulations is to examine trends in total violent crime, not just firearms crime. Since firearms are only a small fraction of criminal violence, the public would not be safer if the new law could reduce firearm violence but had no effect on total criminal violence.

The United States provides a valuable point of comparison for assessing crime rates because the criminal justice system there differs so drastically from those in Europe and the Commonwealth. Not only are criminal penalties typically more severe in the United States, often much more severe, but also conviction and incarceration rates are usually much higer. Perhaps the most striking difference is that qualified citizens in the United States can carry concealed handguns for self-defence. During the past few decades, more than 25 states in the United States passed laws allowing responsible citizens to carry concealed handguns. In 2003, there are 35 states where citizens can get such a permit.

The upshot is that violent crime rates, and homicide rates in particular, have been falling in the United States. The drop in the American crime rate is even more impressive when compared with the rest of the world.
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