In answer, consider the following statement by Gary Kleck, one of the leading researchers in this area: "Up until about 1976 or so, there was little reliable scholarly information on the link between violence and weaponry. Consequently, everyone, scholars included, was free to believe whatever they liked about guns and gun control. There was no scientific evidence to interfere with the free play of personal bias. It was easy to be a "true believer" in the advisability of gun control and the uniformly detrimental effects of gun availability (or the opposite positions) because there was so little relevant information to shake one's faith. When I began my research on guns in 1976, like most academics, I was a believer in the "anti-gun" thesis, i.e. the idea that gun availability has a net positive effect on the frequency and/or seriousness of violent acts. It seemed then like self-evident common sense which hardly needed to be empirically tested. [Emphasis not in the original.] However, as a modest body of reliable evidence (and an enormous body of not-so-reliable evidence) accumulated, many of the most able specialists in this area shifted from the "anti-gun" position to a more skeptical stance, in which it was negatively argued that the best available evidence does not convincingly or consistently support the anti-gun position. This is not the same thing as saying we know the anti-gun position to be wrong, but rather that there is no strong case for it being correct. ... [Subsequent research] has caused me to move beyond even the skeptic position. I now believe that the best currently available evidence, imperfect though it is (and must always be), indicates that general gun availability has no measurable net positive effect on rates of homicide, suicide, robbery, assault, rape, or burglary in the U.S. This is not the same as saying gun availability has no effects on violence--it has many effects on the likelihood of attack, injury, death, and crime completion, but these effects work in both violence-increasing and violence-decreasing directions, with the effects largely canceling out. ...Gun availability does affect the rates of gun violence (e.g. gun homicide rate, gun suicide rate, gun robbery rate) and the fraction of violent acts which involve guns (e.g. the percent of homicides, suicides, or robberies committed with guns); it just does not affect total rates of violence (total homicide rate, total suicide rate, total robbery rate, etc.)." (See Gary Kleck, "Address to the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Panel on the Understanding and Prevention of Violence," April 3, 1990. Cited in Kates, Schaffer, Lattimer, Murray, and Cassem, 1994, pp. 516-17; full reference given in section 4 below.)
Kates, Schaffer, Lattimer, Murray, and Cassem (p. 517.) go on to argue that "scholars engaged in ...criminological research into "gun control" have found themselves forced, often very reluctantly, into four largely negative propositions. First, there is no persuasive evidence that owning guns causes ordinary responsible, law-abiding adults to murder or to engage in any other criminal behavior--though guns can facilitate crime by those who were independently inclined toward it. Second, the value of firearms in defending victims has been greatly underestimated. Third, gun controls are innately very difficult to enforce... The fourth conclusion ... is that while controls carefully targeted only at the criminal and/or irresponsible have a place in crime-reduction strategy, the capacity of any type of gun law to reduce dangerous behavior can never be more than marginal." Can this possibly be the case? Can the commonsense approach be so wrong? Read on.
2. OVERVIEWS: For a good overview of the literature related to gun control see:
Kleck, Gary, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1997. This book is one of the best on this topic and is an updated version of Kleck's earlier work Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1991.
Other good basic presentations can be found in the following:
Cook, Philip J. and Mark C. Moore, "Gun Control," in Crime, edited by James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia, San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1994, pp. 267-94. An interesting article written by advocates of gun control.
Kates, Don, B., Jr., "Handgun Banning in the Light of the Prohibition Experience," in Firearms and Violence: Issues of Public Policy, edited by Don B. Kates, Jr., San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1984, pp. 139-65.
Nisbet, Lee, ed., The Gun Control Debate: You Decide, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1990. This important work is a compilation of scholarly papers that discuss many different aspects of the gun control debate.
Ohsfeldt, Robert L. and Michael Morrisey, "Firearms, Firearms Injury, and Gun Control: A Critical Survey of the Literature," Advances in Health Economics and Health Services Research, 13 (1992), pp. 65-82.
Polsby, Daniel, D., "Equal Protection," Reason, 25:5, October 1993, pp. 34-38.
Polsby, Daniel D., "The False Promise of Gun
The Atlantic Monthly, March 1994, pp. 57-60, 62-64, 68-70.
Two good essays by Polsby using the ideas of the rational criminal and deterrence.
Wright, James, Peter Rossi, and Kathleen Daly, Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime, and Violence in America, Hawthorne: Aldine de Gruyter, 1983. This is an exhaustive review of the entire social science literature on weapons, crime and violence and is one of the best books ever done on the issue (Kleck's is another). Under the Gun is meticulously researched, carefully argued, and superbly organized.
Zimring, Franklin and Gordon Hawkins, Crime is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. But see University of Colorado Law Review, 69:4 (Fall 1998) for a symposium on Zimring's book. See also my bibliography on the economics of crime.
Two webpages representing a more pro-gun control approach may also be of interest. First, see Tim Lambert's Archive of Gun Control postings at:
For other material on gun control see Lambert's webpage at:
3. CDC/PUBLIC HEALTH APPROACH: The CDC/Public Health approach to gun control and related topics can be found in the following:
Kellerman, Arthur and Donald Reay, "Protection or Peril? An Analysis of Firearm Related Deaths in the Home," New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), 314 (1986), pp. 1557-60. The source of the famed statistic that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.
Kellerman, Arthur, Frederick Rivara, Norman Rushforth, Joyce Banton, Donald Reay, Jerry Francisco, Ana Locci, Janice Prodzinski, Bela Hackman, and Grant Somes, "Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home," NEJM, 329 (1993), pp. 1084-1091. Followup on 1986 article and considered to be the definitive study showing that firearms are not effective in self-defense in the home.
Loftin, Colin, David McDowall, Brian Wiersema, and Talbert Cottey, "Effects of Restrictive Licensing of Handguns on Homicide and Suicide in the District of Columbia," NEJM, 325 (1991), pp. 1615-1620.
Sloan, John, Arthur Kellerman, and Donald Reay, "Handgun Regulations, Crime Assaults, and Homicide: A Tale of Two Cities," NEJM, 319 (1988), pp. 1256-62. The original Seattle-Vancouver study attributing differences in homicide rates in the two cities to the existence of gun control in Vancouver.
Sloan, John, Frederick Rivara, Donald Reay, James Ferris, and Arthur Kellerman, "Firearms Regulations and Rates of Suicide," NEJM, 322 (1990), pp. 369-73. Attributes differences in suicide rates between Seattle and Vancouver to the existence of gun control in Vancouver.
NOTE: There are two serious problems with these studies. First, the authors refuse to release the data so that independent confirmation or disconfirmation can occur. John Lott, by contrast, has been very willing to share his data with anyone who wants to check it. Second, the methodological approaches used in these articles are very unsound, as detailed below. These problems do not invalidate the anti-gun approach to public policy in this area; they merely invalidate the particular policy recommendations made in these articles.
4. CRITIQUES OF THE CDC/PUBLIC HEALTH APPROACH: Critiques of the CDC/Public Health approach can be found in the following:
Kates, Don B., Jr., Henry E. Schaffer, John K. Lattimer, George B. Murray, and Edwin Cassem, "Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda?" Tennessee Law Review, 61 (1994), pp. 513-596.
This paper details a number of important errors in the articles above. But, it uses an ad hominem argument ad naseum, attributing bad motives to the authors of the above studies in an attempt to discredit them. As such, it is a model of how not to critique an opposing view.
Kleck, Gary, "Chapter 2: Illegitimate Practices in Summarizing Research on Guns and Violence," in Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, 1997, pp. 31-62. An excellent summary of the methodological problems with CDC/Public Health type studies.
Kleck, Gary, Chester Britt III, and David J. Bordua "A Reassessment of the D.C. Gun Law: Some Cautionary Notes on the Use of Interrupted Time Series Designs for Policy Impact Assessment," Law and Society Review, 30:2 (1996), pp. 361-380.
Kleck, Gary, 1998 "What are the Risks and Benefits of Keeping a Gun in the Home?" Journal of the American Medical association, 280:5 (1998), pp. 473-475.
Kopel, David B., "The 43:1 Fallacy," Independence Feature Syndicate Opinion-Editorial, Independence Institute, 1998, pp. 1-2. This article can be found on-line at:
Payne, Dean, "Evaluation of the Loftin (et. al.) District of Columbia Study," June 24, 1994, pp. 1-5. This article can be found on-line at:
Polsby, Daniel D., "Firearms and Crime," Independent Policy Report, Independent Institute, 1997, pp. 1-30. Reviews and critiques articles appearing in the NEJM.
Polsby, Daniel D. and Dennis Brennen, "Taking Aim at Gun Control," Heartland Institute Policy Study No. 69, October 30, 1995. Similar to above with additional section on the economics of gun control. This article can be found online at:
Polsby, Daniel D., "Firearms Costs, Firearms Benefits, and the Limits of Knowledge," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86 (1995), pp. 207-220. See also the discussion in the same journal pp. 221-230.
Schaffer, Henry E., "Serious Flaws in Kellerman, et. al." December 1993, pp. 1-9. To download this article you must actually type in the address below because I could not establish a hyperlink to this paper.
NOTE: Replies to these critiques are very difficult to find, so that if anyone does find such a reply let me know and I will add it to the list.
5. THE CONCEALED HANDGUN DEBATE: Some of the best articles on the Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns Laws can be found in the following:
Black, Daniel A. and Daniel S. Nagin, "Do Right-to-Carry Laws Deter Violent Crime?" Journal of Legal Studies, 27:1 (January 1998), pp. 209-220. Only critique of John Lott's work published in a major journal.
Cramer, Clayton E. and David B. Kopel, "Shall Issue: The New Wave of Concealed Handgun Permit Laws," Tennessee Law Review, 62:3 (Spring 1995), pp. 679-757. This paper can be found on-line at:
Kleck, Gary, "Chapter 6: Carrying Guns for Self-Defense," in Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, 1997, pp. 191-214. A nice survey which includes a section on gun violence in school.
Lott, John R., Jr. and David Mustard, "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns," Journal of Legal Studies, 26:1 (January 1997), pp. 1-68. This is the article by Lott that set off a storm of controversy. To date, Lott has defended his work quite well from critics attacks. (See below.) It can be found on-line and downloaded using an Adobe Acrobat Reader at:
Lott, John R., Jr., "The Concealed Handgun Debate," Journal of Legal Studies, 27:1 (January 1998), pp. 221-43. (Excellent rebuttal to Black and Nagin's critique.)
Lott, John R., Jr., More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. See especially "Chapter 7: The Political and Academic Debate," pp. 122-57 where Lott reviews and replies to critiques of his work.
Lott, John R., Jr. and William M. Landes, "Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws: Contrasting Private and Public Enforcement," Chicago Working Paper Series (John M. Olin Law & Economics Working Paper No. 73-2nd series), pp. 1-52. This article can also be found on-line at (click on No. 73 when page comes up):
Snyder, Jeffrey R., "Fighting Back: Crime, Self-Defense, and the Right to Carry a Handgun," Policy Analysis No. 284, Cato Institute, Oct. 22, 1997, pp. 1-64. See especially pp. 25-33 where Snyder reviews the Lott-Mustard study and critiques of it. His conclusion: "It is remarkable that while critics of concealed-carry laws argue that they will result in more deaths, more accidents, and greater mayhem, the social scientists criticizing the Lott-Mustard study are arguing that the concealed-carry laws have no measurable or provable effect on crime-that is, neither a positive effect nor an adverse effect. That, as Lott himself has noted, is a major turning point in the debate over the social utility of firearms." (Snyder, p. 33.)
NOTE: For those who wish to explore the technical minutiae of this controversy go to David Friedman's webpage at http://www.best.com/~ddfr/ and scroll down to the Lott/Mustard controversy and click on "here". You will find links to (1) A critique of Lott's work by Stephen Teret and Lott's response, (2) A critique of Lott's work by Daniel W. Webster and Lott's response, (3) Lott's published response to Black and Nagin (see above), (4) David Friedman's comments on this controversy, (5) David Friedman's summary and critique of Black and Nagin, (6) An Australian critique of Lott and Mustard by Tim Lambert can be found at:
6. DEFENSIVE GUN USE: The issue of defensive use of guns (DGU) is one of the most controversial in this area. The basic way to determine such use is through a survey instrument but disputants disagree over which instrument is appropriate. Kleck and others have designed the NSDS (National Self-Defense Survey) which yields a rather large number of annual DGUs (in the range of 2.5 million). Proponents of gun control prefer the NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey) because it gives much lower numbers of annual DGUs (in the range of 60,000). Kleck argues that the NCVS is an inappropriate instrument because many DGUs do not involve a crime victim. Professor Marvin Wolfgang, a long-time advocate of gun control, has commented at length on this controversy: "I am as strong a gun control advocate as can be found among criminologists in this country. ...I would eliminate ALL guns from the civilian population and maybe even from the police. I hate guns--ugly, nasty instruments designed to kill people. ... Nonetheless, the methodological soundness of the current Kleck and Gertz study is clear. I cannot further debate it. ...The Kleck and Gertz study impresses me for the caution the authors exercise and the elaborate nuances they examine methodologically. I do not like their conclusions that having a gun is useful, but I cannot fault their methodology. They have tried earnestly to meet all objections in advance and have done exceedingly well." See Marvin E. Wolfgang, "A Tribute to a View I Have Long Opposed," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86 (1995), p. 188. The basic references in this area can be found in:
Kleck, Gary, "Chapter 5: Guns and Self Defense," in Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, 1997, pp. 147-90. A nice summary of the literature concerning DGU. Kleck argues that "there has probably been more outright dishonesty in addressing the issue of the frequency of DGU than any other issue in the gun control debate. Faced with a huge body of evidence contradicting their low-DGU position, hard core gun control supporters have had little choice but to simply promote the unsuitable NCVS [National Criminal Victimization Survey] estimate and ignore or discount everything else." (Targeting, p. 154.)
Kleck, Gary and Marc Gertz, "The Illegitimacy of One-Sided Speculation: Getting the Defensive Gun Use Estimate Down," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 87:4 (1997), pp. 101-117. Argues that speculating about survey errors that might inflate estimates of DGU without also speculating about survey errors that tend to deflate estimates of DGU is not a legitimate basis for rejecting a survey result.
Kleck, Gary, Tomislav Kovandzic, and Marc Gertz, "Defensive Gun Use: Vengeful Vigilante Imagery vs. Reality: Results from the National Self-Defense Survey," Journal of Criminal Justice, 26:2 (1998), pp. 1-8.
Kleck, Gary and Marc Gertz, "Carrying Guns for Protection: Results from the National Self-Defense Survey," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 35:2 (1998), pp. 193-224.
Kates, Don B., Jr., "The Value of Civilian Arms Possession As Deterrent or Defense Against Crime," American Journal of Criminal Law, 18 (1991), pp. 113-167.
Kates, Don B., Jr., "Guns, Murder, and the Constitution: A Realistic Assessment of Gun Control," Pacific Research Institute Paper, February 1990, pp. 1-63.
NOTE: (1) Kleck's conclusions here are worth quoting at length: "To briefly summarize, defensive gun uses by crime victims are three to four times more common than crimes committed with guns, and victim gun use is associated with lower rates of assault or robbery victim injury and lower rates of robbery completion than any other defensive action or doing nothing to resist. ... available evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that civilian ownership and defensive use of guns deter violent crime and reduce burglar-linked injuries. ...Because very little serious violent crime is committed by persons without previous records of serious violence (Chapter 7), there are at best only modest direct crime control benefits to be gained by reductions in gun possession among noncriminals. Consequently, one has to take seriously the possibility that prohibitionist gun control measures could decrease the crime-reducing effects of noncriminal gun ownership more than they would decrease the crime-causing effects of criminal gun ownership. For this reason, more narrowly targeted gun control measures aimed at selectively reducing gun ownership among criminals are preferable." (Targeting, pp. 185-186.) (2) I am in the process of tracking down published versions of the articles criticized by Kleck et. al. above.
7. GUN CONTROL LAWS AND GENOCIDE: Some general approaches to the relation between gun control laws and genocide can be found in:
Kopel, David B., "Lethal Laws: A Review of Lethal Laws by Jay Simkin, Aaron Zelman, and Alan Rice, 1994," New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law, 15 (1995), pp. 355-98. This article can be found on-line at:
Polsby, Daniel D., and Don B. Kates, Jr., "Of Holocausts and Gun Control," Washington University Law Quarterly, 75:3 (Fall 1997), pp. 1237-70. This article can be found on-line at:
8. GENERAL REFERENCE: Some books which cover a wide range of issues related to the topic of gun control can be found in:
Kates, Don B., Jr., and Gary Kleck, eds., The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence, San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1997.
Kates, Don B., Jr., Firearms and Violence: Issues of Public Policy, San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1984.
Kates, Don B., Jr., ed., Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out, Croton-on-Hudson, NY: North River Press, 1979.
Kopel, David B., ed., Guns: Who Should Have Them? Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995. An interesting and scholarly collection of essays which are generally critical of gun control.
Kopel, David B., The Samurai, The Mountie, and The Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Control of Other Democracies?, Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1992. A very good review of foreign gun control laws.
9. KIDS, GUNS, AND VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS: Some material on kids, guns, and violence in schools can be found in the following:
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, Inc. (JPFO), "Proven Solutions to Ending School Shootings: An Exclusive Interview with Dr. David Schiller," n.d., pp. 1-5. An interesting and provocative interview which can be found on-line at:
Then click on the title of the article under Contents at the left of the page.
Kopel, David B., "Children and Guns," in Guns: Who Should Have Them?, edited by David B. Kopel, Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995, pp. 309-406. Contains an excellent analysis of the problems of guns and children, especially in the context of school. Also contains a wide variety of recommendations about what can be done about the problem ranging from good to poor.
Sheley, Joseph F. and James D. Wright, In the Line of Fire: Youth, Guns, and Violence in Urban America, New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995.
10. OTHER PRIVATE RESPONSES TO CRIME: For a variation on the theme of private deterrence visited in the Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns debate above see:
Benson, Bruce L., "Guns for Protection and Other Private Sector Responses to the Fear of Rising Crime," in Firearms and Violence: Issues of Public Policy, edited by Don B. Kates, Jr., San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1984, pp. 329-56.
Benson, Bruce L., "Privatization in Criminal Justice," Independent Policy Report, Independent Institute, 1996, pp. 1-63.
11. PRIVATE REGULATION OF VIOLENCE IN THE OLD WEST: Many people think that the absence of any legislatively established laws would produce chaos. But a significant and growing literature in economics documents how order and law can spontaneously arise because people value them. (A corollary to this idea explains how social and economic mechanisms can evolve spontaneously to control dangerous goods. See Daniel B. Klein, ed., Reputation: Studies in the Voluntary Elicitation of Good Conduct, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997 for a collection of essays dealing with this topic among others. ) One interesting application of this approach examines violence in the Old West and finds that people living there spontaneously evolved informal systems for the regulation of their affairs, including the problem of violence. For a flavor of this approach see:
Anderson, Terry L. and P. J. Hill, "An American Experiment in Anarcho-Capitalism: The Not So Wild, Wild West," Journal of Libertarian Studies, 3 (1979), pp. 11-29.
Bruce Benson, "Appendix to Chapter 12: Violence and Vigilante Justice in the American West," in The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1990, pp. 312-23.
McGrath, Roger D., Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Umbeck, John R., A Theory of Property Rights With Application to the California Gold Rush, Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1981.
12. ADDRESSING THE CAUSES OF VIOLENCE: Many of the critics of gun control argue that the attempt to lower violence or crime rates by using gun controls distracts our attention (and resources) from more important tasks: an understanding of the causes of crime and the implementation of policies to deter criminal behavior. For example, Gary Kleck concludes: "It should be stressed that neither this strategy [the strategy of developing politically acceptable and practically implementable strategies that can reduce gun availability among high risk individuals at acceptable cost] nor any other gun control policy is likely to have a dramatic impact on violence in America. Because gun availability, even among high risk individuals, seems to have at most a modest impact on violence rates, gun control only nibbles at the edges of the problem rather than striking at its core." In Targeting Firearms, 1997, p. 396. Also see the references in my bibliography on the economics of crime for further illumination on this subject.
13. SHOULD GOVERNMENT REGULATE DANGEROUS THINGS/ACTIVITIES?: To say that government should regulate guns because it already regulates other dangerous things is question-begging. The question should be, quite simply, "Should government regulate anything that is dangerous so as to protect its citizens from harm?"A reveiw of the economic literature in this area reveals a general consensus that government does a rather poor job of regulating risks. There are two reasons for this result. The first involves the problem of moral hazard. Such a problem arises when individuals are insured against an accident occurring which reduces their wealth. The insurance causes some (many?) individuals to reduce their level of care and hence increase the likelihood of the accident occurring. Second, individuals tend to choose their desired level of risk so that mandating safer cars, for example, will cause some (many?) to drive faster or take more risks. But economists are more divided when recommending solutions: some argue that government efforts in this area can be reformed to provide more safety more effectively while others argue that private parties will be much more effective in this important task. For a sampling of this literature, see the works below and my bibliographies on the economics of risk listed under my Intermediate Labor Economics course (OSHA) , my Economics and the Environment course (EPA and Superfund), and my Introduction to Microeconomic Theory course (FDA) on my webpage.
Klein, Daniel B., Reputation: Studies in the Voluntary Elicitation of Good Conduct, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
Klein, Daniel B., "Quality and Safety Assurance: How Voluntary Social Processes Remedy Their Own Shortcomings," The Independent Review, 2:4 (Spring 1998), pp. 537-56.
Wildavsky, Aaron, Searching for Safety, New
Transaction Publishers, 1988. A superlative exposition of the economics
of safety with good supporting evidence. Argues that (1) the two basic
ways of coping with risk are anticipation and resilience and (2) richer
is safer. In effect, we expend tremendous resources trying to avoid (or
anticipate) risks that never occur or are so small that the benefits of
such avoidance are likewise small. Result: fewer resources to expend on
actually making people safer. Resilience can be more effective in
coping with problems after the fact (learning what went
the way we learn about the problems with new technology) and conserving
society's resources so that we can achieve more safety. Richer is safer
means that as people in a society become more affluent, they demand
safety (without the promptings of government agencies). In contrast,
in poorer societies will demand less safety because they deem other
(like a job that enables them to put food on the table) more valuable.