Thursday, July 19, 2007

New Definition Of "Gun Control"

It’s a phenomenon that gives the term “gun control” a whole new meaning: community ordinances that encourage citizens to own guns.

Last month, Greenleaf, Idaho, adopted Ordinance 208, calling for its citizens to own guns and keep them ready in their homes in case of emergency. It’s not a response to high crime rates. As The Associated Press reported, “Greenleaf doesn’t really have crime ... the most violent offense reported in the past two years was a fist fight.” Rather, it’s a statement about preparedness in the event of an emergency, and an effort to promote a culture of self-reliance.

And it may not be a bad idea. While pro-gun laws like the one in Greenleaf are mostly symbolic, to the extent that they actually make a difference, it is likely to be a positive one.

Greenleaf is following in the footsteps of Kennesaw, Ga., which in 1982 passed a mandatory gun ownership law in response to a handgun ban passed in Morton Grove, Ill. Kennesaw’s crime dropped sharply, while Morton Grove’s did not.

To some degree, this is rational. Criminals, unsurprisingly, would rather break into a house where they aren’t at risk of being shot. As David Kopel noted in a 2001 article in The Arizona Law Review, burglars report that they try to avoid homes where armed residents are likely to be present. We see this phenomenon internationally, too, with the United States having a lower proportion of “hot” burglaries — break-ins where the burglars know the home to be occupied — than countries with restrictive gun laws.
Likewise, in the event of disasters that leave law enforcement overwhelmed, armed citizens can play an important role in stanching crime. Armed neighborhood watches deterred looting in parts of Houston and New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Precisely because an armed populace can serve as an effective backup for law enforcement, the ownership of firearms was widely mandated during Colonial times, and the second Congress passed a statute in 1792 requiring adult male citizens to own guns.
The twin purposes of self and community defense may very well lie behind the Second Amendment’s language encompassing both the importance of a well-regulated militia and the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. As the constitutional and criminal law scholar Don Kates has noted in the journal Constitutional Commentary, thinkers at the time when the Constitution was written drew no real distinction between resisting burglars, foreign invaders or domestic tyrants: All were wrongdoers that good citizens had the right, and the duty, to oppose with force.

Greenleaf’s ordinance is consistent with this approach. But it may also serve another purpose. Experts don’t think the Kennesaw ordinance, which has never actually been enforced, did much to change gun ownership rates among Kennesaw residents. And, given that Greenleaf’s mayor has estimated that 80 percent of the town’s residents already own guns, the new ordinance can’t make all that much of a difference. But criminals are likely to suspect that towns with laws like these on the books will be unsympathetic to malefactors in general, and to conclude that they will do better elsewhere.

To the extent that’s true, we’re likely to see other communities adopting similar laws so that criminals won’t see them as attractive alternatives. The result may be a different kind of “gun control".

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deerslayer said...

this ordiance seems to be a good one and should be put on the books of all the united states as it will undoudtely will drop the crime rates however anyone keeping a firearm even in their home should first get proper training on the use of the firearm they purchase and should have anyone in their home trained on how to properly use the firearm as well. This could cause terrible tragadies across the U.S.A. if our citizens are not properly trained. Other than that everyone should carry a firearm at all times provided they have a clean record allowing them too. Great report here Mr. Othmar.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Hi deerslayer, nice to see you back here again.
Most folks that are interested in owning guns are involved in hunting and the shooting sport and get informed about gun safety before purchasing a gun. I agree with gun safety courses as long as they’re not a mandatory prerequisite to owning guns.

-Othmar Vohringer-

Jon said...

Good post! We have a new law in Texas that allows persons traveling to carry a gun in their car without the benefit of a "Carry Permit". There are a few logical exemptions and, I firmly believe, that this will greatly lower our crime rate!

Othmar Vohringer said...

Jon – As a person born and grown up in Switzerland I know that armed citizen make for lower crime rates. Switzerland has a low crime rate for hundreds of years.

-Othmar Vohringer-

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