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More Gun Control Isn't The Answer

By John R. Lott Jr. (06/17/2004)

*Co-authored by John Lott, Jr. and Eli Lehrer

Gun control has not worked in Canada. Since the new gun registration program started in 1998, the U.S. homicide rate has fallen, but the Canadian rate has increased. The net cost of Canada's gun registry has surged beyond $1-billion -- more than 500 times the amount originally estimated.

Despite this, the Canadian government recently admitted it could not identify a single violent crime that had been solved through registration. Public confidence in the government's ability to fight crime has also eroded, with one recent survey showing only 17% of voters support the registration program.

So, if this hasn't worked, what's the solution? The NDP, which polls indicate may hold the balance of power in Parliament after June 28, has proposed a radical solution: "going across the border to the U.S. and actively engaging in lobbying to have gun -control laws in the U.S. strengthened."

This is part of an ironic pattern: When gun control laws fail -- as they consistently do, whether in Canada, the United States or other countries -- politicians seek to pass new laws rather than eliminate the old ones. In the United States, gun -control groups now claim that the 1994 Brady Act implementing background checks and assault-weapon bans failed to reduce crime only because they didn't go far enough; and that city bans on handguns in Chicago and Washington, D.C., failed only because other jurisdictions didn't follow suit.

The same logic applies overseas: With violent crime and gun crime soaring in the United Kingdom, where handguns are already banned, the British government is banning imitation guns. And in Australia, state governments are banning ceremonial swords.

Yet, the laws in Australia, Britain and Canada were adopted under what gun control advocates would argue were ideal conditions. All three countries adopted laws that applied to the entire country. Australia and Britain are surrounded by water, and thus do not have the easy smuggling problem that Canada claims with regard to the United States. The new attempts to ban toys or cast blame on the United States, reek of desperation.

Crime did not fall in England after handguns were banned in 1997. Quite the contrary, crime rose sharply. In May, the British government reported that gun crime in England and Wales nearly doubled in the last four years. Serious violent crime rates from 1997 to 2002 averaged 29% higher than 1996; robbery was 24% higher; murders 27% higher. Before the law, armed robberies had fallen by 50% from 1993 to 1997, but as soon as handguns were banned, the armed robbery rate shot back up, almost back to their 1993 levels. The violent crime rate in England is now double that in the United States.

Australia saw its violent crime rates soar after its 1996 gun control measures banned most firearms. Violent crime rates averaged 32% higher in the six years after the law was passed than they did the year before the law went into effect. Murder and manslaughter rates remained unchanged, but armed robbery rates increased 74%, aggravated assaults by 32%. Australia's violent crime rate is also now double America's. In contrast, the United States took the opposite approach and made it easier for individuals to carry guns. Thirty-seven of the 50 states now have right-to-carry laws that let law-abiding adults carry concealed handguns once they pass a criminal background check. Violent crime in the United States has fallen much faster than in Canada, and violent crime has fallen even faster inright-to-carry states than for the nation as a whole. The states with the fastest growth in gun ownership have also experienced the biggest drops in violent crime rates.

It is understandable that Canadians are focusing on crime as the election nears. Everyone wants to take guns away from criminals. The problem is that law-abiding citizens obey the laws and criminals don't. Even in the unlikely event that a Canadian government were to convince the United States to ban guns, that would provide no more of a magic solution to Canadian crime than its own failed gun registry.

First published in the National Post (Canada)


John Lott researches crime, antitrust, education, gun control, campaign finance, and voting and legislative behavior. He is the author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws.

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