Gun Control: We May Never Know

A paragraph from a 1996 article on gun ownership:

Like moral and legal claims about gun owners' rights, the practical consequences of widespread gun ownership are highly debatable. No one can say with any certainty whether it increases violence or decreases crime. Don Kates speculates that magically reducing the approximately 200 million firearms in circulation to five million would have virtually no reductive effect on the crime rate: according to a 1983 National Institute of Justice-funded study by James D. Wright, Peter H. Rossi, and Kathleen Daly, about one percent of privately owned firearms are involved in criminal activity, suggesting that eliminating 99 percent of the nation's guns would not ameliorate crime. Or would it?

Philip Cook, an economist at Duke University and a leading researcher on gun violence, considers Kates's speculation about the uselessness of reducing the number of guns "patently absurd."We can't predict which guns will be used in crimes, he says, even if a relatively small number are used feloniously overall. Reducing the availability of guns would raise their price and therefore reduce their accessibility, to adult felons as well as juveniles. And even if a drastic reduction in the number of guns wouldn't necessarily decrease crime, it would decrease fatalities. Guns are particularly lethal, Cook has stressed: the "fraction of serious gun assaults that result in the victim's death is much higher than that of assaults with other weapons." Since not all gun homicides reflect a clearly formulated intent to kill, Cook reasons, access to guns can increase the lethality of assaults. A decrease in the use of guns, however, might lead to an increase in nonfatal injuries. Robberies committed with guns tend to involve less violence than other robberies because the victims are less likely to resist.