Have Not Dropped Gun Control Agenda
John R. Lott, Jr.
the gun control issue really disappeared? Some think that Democrats,
chastised by the loss of the presidency of 2000 and the loss of
the Senate in 2002, have learned the risk of supporting gun control
the hard way. Some even argue that there is a more fundamental change
in Democratic beliefs on gun control.
as Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi recently said, Democrats
will wait and revisit the guns "when the issue is ripe."
regulations are still being put forward, but legislation gets more
attention, both from the press and other legislators, when there
is a chance it will pass. There is surely no shortage of new gun
control proposals at either the federal or state level.
weapons ban. In Congress, House Democrats are pushing for a
vastly expanded ban (including all semi-automatic shotguns that
are widely used for hunting and skeet shooting) and, among other
features, gives future U.S. Attorney Generals the ability to
ban any semi-automatic rifle they classify as not for "sporting"
uses. Senate Democrats propose slightly expanding the ban only
because they acknowledge that their most desired legislation
would never get passed.
appointments. Just last week Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor,
a Republican, nominated by President Bush for a judgeship on
the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, was criticized by Senate
Democrats for supporting a court decision that requires judges
to hold a hearing before they can order a personís gun be taken
Senate Democrats threaten to filibuster legislation designed
to rein in abusive litigation targeting the firearms gun makers.
The suits threaten the very existence of gun makers; law suits
have already forced several gun manufacturers into bankruptcy,
some before they even had their day in court. While moderate
Democrats support the bill, most Democratic Senators appear
willing to fight against this to the very end.
regulations. In June, Sen. Jon Corzine and Rep. Patrick Kennedy,
both Democrats, put forward legislation giving the Department
of Justice sweeping powers to regulate the design, manufacture
and distribution of guns. Just at the end of May, Sen. Frank
Lautenberg proposed banning large caliber guns and other new
rules that regulate who can buy guns at gun shows.
regulations. From gun storage laws in New York to taxing gun
show transfers in Illinois to banning large caliber guns in
California to fining parents whose children play with toy guns
in Maryland, Democrat state officials across the country are
pushing for more gun control laws.
Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and most pro-gun rights
supporter among Democratic presidential candidates, wants to renew
the so-called semi-automatic assault weapons ban as well as regulate
the Bush administration has basically left most Clinton gun control
policies in place. True, Attorney General John Ashcroft decided
not to keep long-term records of gun sales and President Bush supports
important legislation to curb abusive lawsuits. But the Bush administration
has taken few other actions. Clinton administration policies have
simply been allowed to continue on everything from existing policies
banning the importation of guns to no longer requiring that ROTC
military training involve how to fire a gun.
when it comes to arming pilots, the administration has twice thwarted
congressional legislation. Now over 21 months after Sept. 11, the
administration has dragged its feet so that only 44 pilots out of
over 100,000 pilots are allowed to carry guns on planes and there
are no additional approvals in sight.
contrast, at the state level Republicans are slowly but steadily
rolling back gun regulations. During the last couple of months,
concealed handgun laws have been passed in Republican dominated
legislatures in Alaska, Colorado, and Minnesota. In Missouri, final
passage is uncertain and depends upon whether the Republican dominated
legislature can override the Democratic governorís expected veto.
The only exception to this Democrat/Republican divide was in New
Mexico, which also passed a concealed handgun law this year (albeit
an extremely restrictive one), and where Democrats completely control
the state legislature and governorship.
lopsided coverage of the costs and benefits of guns in the media
and the government ensures that the push for more regulations will
not go away. In 2001, the three major networks ABC, NBC, and
CBS devoted about 190,000 wordsí worth of national television
news stories on gun crimes but not one single story about someone
using a gun to defend themselves or someone else. Even those who
follow the news the closest are unlikely to know that when surveys
of crimes committed with guns are compared with studies of defensive
gun use, the best estimates indicate that people use guns defensively
to stop crime 4.5 times more frequently than guns are used to commit
crime. The only news network that carried any defensive gun stories
that year was the Fox News Channel.
the last decade it is simply impossible to find one study by either
the U.S. Justice Department or the Treasury that measures the benefits
from people owning guns. For example, every year the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms puts out a list of the top 10 guns used in
crime, but why not one time put out a list of the top 10 guns used
by people to stop crime?
congressional Democrats, the decision not to push new gun control
as a top agenda item is simply because Republicans control both
houses of congress. Their strong anti-gun sentiment has not abated.
Just two more Democratic senators and 13 more Democratic House members
and gun control legislation would go from fond dreams to reality.
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