Instapundit on Gun Ownership

by Don Boudreaux on January 16, 2007

in Crime

Instapundit’s own Glenn Reynold’s endorses gun ownership (and does so, of all places, on the op-ed page of today’s edition of the New York Times).

Reporting on Greenleaf, Idaho, which just passed a statute "calling for its citizens to own guns and keep them ready in their homes in case of emergency," Reynolds writes that

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.

While I oppose statutes that mandate gun ownership, these statutes do strike me as being more consistent with the ‘public-goods‘ rationale for state action than is most of what government does — and certainly more consistent with this rationale than are statutes that prevent peaceful people from owning guns.

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Tim Lambert January 16, 2007 at 7:43 am

Reynolds gets his facts wrong: crime in Morton Grove went down, while crime in Kennesaw didn't change. Click on my name for the details.

True_Liberal January 16, 2007 at 8:56 am

UPI disagrees with your assessment: See

In Morton Grove's case, crime was so low before the ban that one or two annual cases makes a big percentage change, so it hardly supports ANY conclusion.

Tim Lambert January 16, 2007 at 9:30 am

True Liberal, the UPI link only gives Kennesaw burglary rates for 1981 and 1999. This isn't enough to judge anything. I have graphs showing what happened for 5 years before and after the laws.

Morton Grove had about five times as many burglaries as Kennesaw (it's much bigger). If the numbers are too small to support any conclusion there, it's much more true for Kennesaw. Look at the graphs in my post.

triticale January 16, 2007 at 10:27 am

OK, Tim, let's go with a larger sample. Would you please generate similar graphs for the United States and Great Britain?

faultolerant January 16, 2007 at 10:44 am

OK, so two small/middle-sized towns aren't really statistically significant. Look at places like D.C. (with reprehensible gun laws) and virtually any city in TX or FL – where concealed gun ownership is guaranteed (except in certain limited cases).

I'd be willing to bet that even the worst areas of Miami, Dallas, Houston and Jacksonville fare better in B&E (Especially "hot" B&E) than D.C.

shecky January 16, 2007 at 10:56 am

Wouldn't limiting a comparison to D.C. be cherrypicking? Why not compare with other comparable cities where gun laws are restrictive?

Tim Lambert January 16, 2007 at 11:19 am

My post links to a national study on the topic: areas in the US with higher gun ownership tended to have more burglaries, and more burglaries where the residents were home

Flynn January 16, 2007 at 11:21 am

I live in Kennesaw. Most people here don't even KNOW about the ordinance, much less adhere to it.

Do you really think all the students at KSU are packing?

faultolerant January 16, 2007 at 12:08 pm


Any selection you make could be considered "cherry picking". So, yes, selecting D.C. is a "cherry pick" – but so would selecting any other city, good or bad, representative of one point or another. Your point is not without merit, but it's also not necessarily meaningful.

In the end, unless you compare ALL gun-prohibiting cities against ALL gun-owning cities (of comparable sizes), you're "cherry picking".

My point, which is the crux of the argument, is that you compare the WORST of the prohibitionist cities against the WORST of the non-prohibitionists and you'll see a marked difference. D.C. is, assuredly, among the worst gun-prohibiting cities (From a criminal-activity perspective), so it fits within the criteria of the argument, "cherry picking" concerns aside.

shecky January 16, 2007 at 12:55 pm

OK. So where is the comparison between the worst against the worst? Links? How about comparing the best with the best? Or ALL gun-prohibiting cities against ALL gun-owning cities, like you suggest?

The curious thing about Greenleaf, Idaho's statute is that it's simply a meaningless attempt at social engineering. I suppose "preparedness in the event of an emergency, and an effort to promote a culture of self-reliance" is good intention. More sensible would to call all citizens to stockpile food, water, survival supplies, etc. into absurdity. But for some reason, a firearm is a good enough symbol for self reliance, I guess. In case of emergency, you can eat a bullet.

What bothers me most is the justification for various rights on some, often ridiculous, practical grounds. I prefer not to justify my right to, say, assemble, or speak, or own a firearm, on the basis that it may do some kind of good for society, but rather because they are much more fundamental.

Alan January 16, 2007 at 2:11 pm

Citizens have a right to own a gun under the second amendment of our Constitution. If you don't like that arrangement, it requires an amendment. This is not impossible by any means, it's just kind of a drag for anti-gun folks.

Individ January 16, 2007 at 8:33 pm

Say Tim: Could you be a little more specific about which part of the word "infringed" you do not understand? Or are non-restrictive clauses your hangup?

Just wondering.

Flash Gordon January 18, 2007 at 1:07 am

Can anyone give a good reason for restricting gun ownership by law abiding citizens? [You can't say to reduce crime, because gun control laws don't do that.]

Matthew January 19, 2007 at 2:24 am

Kennesaw, GA has grown a lot since 1981 as an Atlanta suburb/exurb. The figures quoted by Tim seem to only show raw numbers, which would probably go up with more population keeping everything else the same.

Burglaries also dropped in 1982-1985, when the statute probably had the most affect in people actually owning guns, or burglars at least thinking they did.

Blonddbythelight July 29, 2007 at 11:27 am

In March 1982, 25 years ago, the small town of Kennesaw – responding to a handgun ban in Morton Grove, Ill.- unanimously passed an ordinance requiring each head of household to own and maintain a gun. Since then, despite dire predictions of "Wild West" showdowns and increased violence and accidents, not a single resident has been involved in a fatal shooting – as a victim, attacker or defender.

The crime rate initially plummeted for several years after the passage of the ordinance, with the 2005 per capita crime rate actually significantly lower than it was in 1981, the year before passage of the law.

Prior to enactment of the law, Kennesaw had a population of just 5,242 but a crime rate significantly higher (4,332 per 100,000) than the national average (3,899 per 100,000). The latest statistics available – for the year 2005 -show the rate at 2,027 per 100,000. Meanwhile, the population has skyrocketed to 28,189.

By comparison, the population of Morton Grove, the first city in Illinois to adopt a gun ban for anyone other than police officers, has actually dropped slightly and stands at 22,202, according to 2005 statistics. More significantly, perhaps, the city's crime rate increased by 15.7 percent immediately after the gun ban, even though the overall crime rate in Cook County rose only 3 percent. Today, by comparison, the township's crime rate stands at 2,268 per 100,000.

This was not what some predicted.

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