Here’s the Research That Shows They’re Wrong.
How the right kind of regulations deter criminals from getting guns.Despite the fact that mass shootings are predominantly an American phenomenon, gun advocates are quick to insist that there is nothing we can do to prevent them. Instead, they suggest these murders could only be reduced by having more armed civilians — aka “good guys with guns” — roaming the streets, a solution that inevitably involves fewer gun regulations and more gun ownership. Reducing gun violence through straightforward policies of the sort implemented in virtually every other industrialized nation is regarded as a chimera by the National Rifle Association. After all, criminals don’t follow laws, so what would be the point?
John R. Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime, recently evoked a version of this slogan in a piece for The Daily Caller, arguing that closing the loopholes in the background check system would not have stopped the Charleston mass shooting from happening. The alleged killer’s record included an admission of drug use that should have blocked the purchase when he bought his Glock from a licensed dealer, but an FBI examiner didn’t catch it in time and the sale was allowed to go through by default. Even if had been denied, Lott reasoned, “[i]t seems hard to believe that he couldn’t have figured out some way of obtaining a gun.”
What makes this line of reasoning especially pernicious is that it extends beyond mass shootings, deployed by pro-gun activists and politicians as an indictment of any laws regulating firearms. As Rubio, a Republican pretender candidate, likes to say, “My skepticism about gun laws is criminals don’t follow the law. They don’t care what the law is, you can pass any law you want and criminals won’t follow it.”
It turns out, however, that the scientific evidence suggests precisely the opposite: criminals routinely respond to incentives, and policies such as background checks and permit-to-purchase requirements demonstrably save lives by reducing criminal access to firearms. The problem, these studies show, isn’t that criminals don’t follow laws, but rather that criminals aren’t dissuaded by weak laws. And gun laws in all but a few states are decidedly weak.