By John R. Lott Jr. 

John Lott Jr., the John M. Olin law and economics fellow at the University of
Chicago School of Law, is the author of  "More Guns, Less Crime."   

America may indeed be obsessed with guns, but much of what passes as fact
simply isn't true. The news media's focus on only tragic outcomes, while
ignoring tragic events that were avoided, may be responsible for some

Horrific events like the recent shooting in Arkansas receive massive news
coverage, as they should, but the 2.5 million times each year that people use
guns defensively are never discussed--including cases where public shootings
are stopped before they happen.

Unfortunately, these misimpressions have real costs for people's safety.

Many myths needlessly frighten people and prevent them from defending
themselves most effectively.
Myth No. 1: When one is attacked, passive behavior is the safest approach. The
Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey reports that the
probability of serious injury from an attack is 2.5 times greater for women
offering no resistance than for women resisting with a gun. Men also benefit
from using a gun, but the benefits are smaller: offering no resistance is 1.4
times more likely to result in serious injury than resisting with a gun.

Myth No. 2: Friends or relatives are the most likely killers. The myth is
usually based on two claims: 

1) 58 percent of murder victims are killed by either relatives or
acquaintances and 
2) anyone could be a murderer.  With the broad definition of "acquaintances"
used in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, most victims are indeed classified as
knowing their killer.

However, what is not made clear is that acquaintance murder primarily includes
drug buyers killing drug pushers, cabdrivers killed by first-time customers,
gang members killing other gang members, prostitutes killed by their clients,
and so on. 

Only one city, Chicago, reports a precise breakdown on the nature of
acquaintance killings: between 1990 and 1995, just 17 percent of murder
victims were either family members, friends, neighbors and/or roommates.
Murderers also are not your average citizen. For example, about 90 percent of
adult murderers have already had a criminal record as an adult. Murderers are
overwhelmingly young males with low IQs and who have difficult times getting
along with others. Furthermore, unfortunately, murder is disproportionately
committed against blacks and by blacks.

Myth No. 3: The United States has such a high murder rate because Americans
own so many guns.
There is no international evidence backing this up. The Swiss, New Zealanders
and Finns all own guns as frequently as Americans, yet in 1995 Switzerland had
a murder rate 40 percent lower than Germany's, and New Zealand had one lower
than Australia's. Finland and Sweden have very different gun ownership rates,
but very similar murder rates. Israel, with a higher gun ownership rate than
the U.S., has a murder rate 40 percent below Canada's.

When one studies all countries rather than just a select few as is usually
done, there is absolutely no relationship between gun ownership and murder.
Myth No. 4: If law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed handguns,
people will end up shooting each other after traffic accidents as well as
accidentally shooting police officers.
Millions of people currently hold concealed handgun permits, and some states
have issued them for as long as 60 years. Yet, only one permit holder has ever
been arrested for using a concealed handgun after a traffic accident and that
case was ruled as self-defense. The type of person willing to go through the
permitting process is extremely law-abiding. In Florida, almost 444,000
licenses were granted from 1987 to 1997, but only 84 people have lost their
licenses for felonies involving firearms. Most violations that lead to permits
being revoked involve accidentally carrying a gun into restricted areas, like
airports or schools. In Virginia, not a single permit holder has committed a
violent crime. Similarly encouraging results have been reported for Kentucky,
Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee (the only other
states where information is available).
Myth No. 5: The family gun is more likely to kill you or someone you know than
to kill in self-defense.
The studies yielding such numbers never actually inquired as to whose gun was
used in the killing. Instead, if a household owned a gun and if a person in
that household or someone they knew was shot to death while in the home, the
gun in the household was blamed. In fact, virtually all the killings in these
studies were committed by guns brought in by an intruder. No more than four
percent of the gun deaths can be attributed to the homeowner's gun. The very
fact that most people were killed by intruders also surely raises questions
about why they owned guns in the first place and whether they had sufficient
How many attacks have been deterred from ever occurring by the potential
victims owning a gun? My own research finds that more concealed handguns, and
increased gun ownership generally, unambiguously deter murders, robbery, and
aggravated assaults. This is also in line with the well-known fact that
criminals prefer attacking victims that they consider weak.
These are only some of the myths about guns and crime that drive the public
policy debate. We must not lose sight of the ultimate question: Will allowing
law-abiding citizens to own guns save lives? The evidence strongly indicates
that it does.

Copyright (c) 1998, Chicago Tribune


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