Tactics on Guns and Terror
John R. Lott, Jr.
could oppose laws preventing terrorists from getting guns? Obviously
no one. But it would be nice if the law accomplished something more
than simply making it more difficult for Americans to own guns.
week, the Congressional Research Service issued an alarming report
claiming that international terrorists can easily exploit U.S. gun
laws. Senator Lautenberg had requested the report. Unfortunately,
the report simply lists possibilities that are often impossible
or only remotely plausible.
report points to loopholes in existing laws such as allowing "official
representatives of a foreign government … possession of a firearm
if necessary to their official capacity." Similar loopholes
are pointed out for other "officials of foreign governments"
who have the permission of their governments, need it for their
official duties, and who have been residents in a state for at least
course, such attacks using government agents is not what al Qaeda
has been doing nor is there any evidence that foreign government
officials are currently planning such attacks. But if a foreign
government plans on using diplomatic cover to engage in terrorism,
surely just banning such officials from buying guns in the US won’t
stop them from getting access to guns. What is the solution? Full
body searches of foreign diplomats entering the US? Searches of
all diplomatic pouches?
report mentions threats from "semi-automatic assault weapons"
and 50-caliber "sniper rifles." Yet, these banned semi-automatic
assault weapons are not machine guns. They function exactly the
same as other semi-automatic guns and fire one bullet per pull of
the trigger. The banned guns are the same as other non-banned semi-automatic
guns, firing the exact same bullets with the same rapidity. Forcing
gun makers to change the name of their gun or changing cosmetic
features, such as a bayonet mount, have nothing to do with terrorism.
assault weapons ban has been in effect for almost a decade, but
there is still not one study showing that it reduced any type of
violent crime. There are also no
studies to indicate that similar state laws, such as New Jersey’s
1990 law, have also not reduced violent crime.
years gun control groups have tried to ban fifty-caliber rifles
because of fears that criminals could use them. Such bans have not
been passed these guns were simply not suited for crime.
Fifty-caliber rifles are big, heavy guns, weighing at least 30 pounds
and using a 29-inch barrel. They are also relatively expensive.
Models that hold one bullet at a time run nearly $3,000. Semi-automatic
versions cost around $7,000. They are purchased by wealthy target
shooters and big-game hunters, not criminals. The bottom line is
that no one in the US has ever been killed with such a gun.
link to terrorism supposedly provides a new possible reason to ban
fifty-caliber rifles. But the decision to demonize these particular
guns and not say .475-caliber hunting rifles is completely arbitrary.
The difference in width of these bullets is a trivial .025 inches.
What's next? Banning .45-caliber pistols? Indeed that is the whole
point to gradually reducing the types of guns that people can own.
alarm raised by the report about terrorists getting guns at gun
shows is just as misleading. As evidence of this threat the report
cites a Florida newspaper story claiming that "members of Hezbollah
were convicted of a variety of firearms violations for attempting
to smuggle firearms purchased at a Michigan gun show out of the
country." Unfortunately, none of the laws being advocated by
the Senator would actually have been relevant here. A Lebanese citizen
did try to illegally ship two shotguns to Lebanon. However, the
guns were purchased by the Lebanese citizen’s brother, a naturalized
American citizen not a foreign terrorist. While shipping
the two shotguns broke export regulations, the supposed link with
Hezbollah was never made.
that gun shows account for such a trivial share of guns obtained
by criminals, less than one percent, and that there is not even
anecdotal evidence that the laws would have stopped terrorism, the
proposals seem to be all costs and no benefits. Empirical work that
I have done indicates that the types of regulations advocated by
the report would reduce the number of gun shows by between about
14 and 24 percent.
terrorism is a noble cause, but the laws we pass must have some
real link to solving the problem. Absent that, many will think that
Senator Lautenberg is simply using terrorism as an excuse to promote
rules that he previously pushed. Making it difficult for law-abiding
Americans to own guns should not be the only accomplishment of new
Lott [send him mail], a resident
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of the
newly released The
Bias Against Guns, which examines the evidence on multiple
© 2003 John Lott