The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | A Few Clouds

Gun Control Legislation Ineffective In Reducing Crime

By Michael K. Chung

Opinion Editor

The recent passage of the Brady bill puts a five-day waiting period on the purchase of firearms. The time is to be used to do background checks on persons purchasing guns. If the buyer is found to be a convicted felon, mentally unstable, or otherwise dangerous, the gun will not be sold to him.

Also, this time is alleged to reduce the chances of �passion crimes� and suicides by providing a �cool-down� period for the would-be assailant. However, waiting periods for gun purchases are ineffective in reducing violent crime, and in no way attack the root of the problem.

Perhaps the most significant statistic in analyzing criminal gun use is the result of a 1985 Justice Department study. According to this report, �only 21 percent of felons� handguns were obtained through retail channels.�

If background checks are done, this figure will certainly decline as criminals who might ordinarily purchase guns from legitimate sources change their shopping habits. On television news, gang members across the nation commented that if background searches are put into effect, then there will still be numerous sources available to obtain guns on the black market.

The underlying premise of nearly every type of gun control is that crime will be reduced. This is not necessarily the case. Gun control inevitably delays the purchase of a weapon by honest people who need a gun for self defense. Sometimes extreme circumstances require quick response. For instance, several years ago, a serial killer was on the loose in Gainesville, Florida. Naturally, people who wanted to defend themselves chose to do so, be it with guns, knives, or baseball bats.

A 1985 National Institute of Justice report by professors James Wright and Peter Rossi found that �the armed citizen or the threat of the armed citizen is possibly the most effective deterrent to crime and the nation.� More than 1,800 prisoners were interviewed, and it was found that �85 percent agreed that the �smart criminal� will attempt to find out if a potential victim is armed; 75 percent felt burglars avoided occupied dwellings for fear of being shot; 53 percent did not commit a specific crime for fear the victim was armed, and 57 percent of �handgun predators� were scared off or shot at by armed victims.�

Many acts of violent crime, including rape and robbery, have been prevented through effective and proper use of a firearm. According to �Gun Rights Fact Book� by Alan Gottlieb, handgun use in self-defense was the best prevention against crime (66 percent rate) from results of Chicago robberies in the 1970s.

However, it is true that victims have used guns incorrectly: for instance, shot someone without proper justification, shot to kill when not necessary. It is therefore logical that anyone who purchases a gun should have his entire family go through a gun education and handling seminar series.

Whether the �rules of the family gun� are taught within the household or by an authority, it is vital that those around a gun know how it is to be used. Such programs surely would be an effective way of promoting gun safety and awareness, and a better use of public funds than paying for background checks.

The simple fact is that criminals will find a way to commit crimes. While it is a sound idea that background checks be made to determine whether a person is trustworthy of owning a gun, they do not justify the vast amounts of effort and money required to establish an effective system.

If an implemented system were ideal, the results would be obtainable instantly. This means that gun dealers or police stations would have established databases and advanced computing systems. In emergency cases, police officials would have authorization to allow gun purchases if the usual route of procedure is blocked.

However, if this ideal system were in place, criminals would become aware of it and obtain their guns elsewhere. In the unlikely case that all firearms in the world were confiscated, they would use different weapons or even fabricate their own guns.

There is little evidence that gun control is effective in curtailing crime. In fact, in the 1960s, New Jersey and Hawaii implemented strict gun control laws only to see murders, rapes, and robberies soar by staggering amounts - up to 326 percent over the following five years. Therefore, implementation and maintenance of waiting periods and background check equipment will cost large amounts of time, money, and taxpayers� money, only to result in an essentially useless network.

Such resources would be better used in punishing convicted criminals more severely so that further crime is prevented, as �60 percent of violent offenders were rearrested for a felony or misdemeanor,� according to James Wootton, president of the Safe Streets Alliance in Washington, DC.

Imposing a waiting period and raising license fees for gun dealers will be ineffective in reducing violent crime in the US.