I’m a gun policy expert. And as a gun policy expert, I’m often asked questions by policymakers that make my head spin.
As I explain in a recent legal memorandum for The Heritage Foundation, it seems that far too many of the people tasked with formulating good public policy on violent crime fail to understand violent crime. As a result, they end up pushing for laws that are ill-designed to address actual problems and that, even worse, sometimes exacerbate them.
Here’s what we know.
Most gun crimes are perpetrated by a small and predictable number of serial offenders. Because of their past offenses, these people are already prohibited from buying or possessing guns.
Nonetheless, they obtain their weapons through illegal channels.
This is true in city after city, irrespective of geography, demographics or politics. And this is why one of the best ways to reduce violent crime rates is to increase the certainty that these repeat violent offenders will be swiftly arrested, detained, prosecuted and punished.
Lawful gun owners, on the other end, are not the driving force behind criminal gun violence. The overwhelming majority of them will never use their guns to harm themselves or others. At the same time, these lawfully armed civilians play a significant but underappreciated role in promoting public safety.
Nearly every study on the issue has found that Americans use their guns defensively between 500,000 and several million times a year.
In 2021, the most comprehensive survey on American gun ownership and use ever conducted further corroborated Americans’ widespread reliance on their Second Amendment rights, estimating an annual average of 1.6 million defensive gun uses. Many other studies provide evidence that not only are lawfully armed Americans effective at thwarting crimes in progress, they are also responsible for deterring untold numbers of crimes from occurring in the first place.
In other words, guns are not, in and of themselves, the problem. In fact, in the hands of law-abiding citizens, they may be part of the solution. On the other hand, guns are incredibly problematic in the hands of repeat offenders who don’t believe themselves likely to be caught and convicted.
Given these realities, if policymakers want to curb the increased violence that has plagued so many communities in recent years, they should begin by focusing on these realities, which leave a variety of effective options at their disposal. Consider some of the following:
- Invest in more resources and personnel for police departments around the nation that are demoralized, understaffed, and struggling to keep up with increased criminal activity.
- Return to the widespread use of proactive, officer-initiated policing strategies that are designed to disrupt patterns of gun violence and illegal gun trafficking.
- Prioritize the robust enforcement of existing laws that target both violent offenders and those who illegally traffic guns to them.
- Repeal overly lenient bail policies that force judges to release even serial violent offenders back into the community, where they commit more violent acts.
- Hold uber-progressive prosecutors accountable for “de-prosecution” tactics that routinely fail to deter offenders and that are responsible for hundreds of excess homicides every year.
- Remove unnecessary and onerous burdens on the ability of peaceable citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right to armed self-defense, including in public spaces.
Any of these strategies would, on its own, be far more effective at combating violent crime than, for example, imposing additional broadly applicable gun control laws that largely target peaceable citizens or passing laws that allow gun control advocates to harass the lawful gun industry with frivolous but expensive lawsuits.
But taken together, these policies promise to give back to the American public something that many have not experienced in several years: a feeling that their communities are generally safe from violent crime.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times