Are stricter gun controls the answer?

By James Aaron Mangun, as originally posted at the Philippine Online Chronicles, Blog Watch

As the year began, there were several reports of deaths from indiscriminate firing of guns during New Year’s Eve celebrations. A month earlier, there were reports of the NAIA3 shootout that resulted in the death of a Zamboanga mayor, his family and a few others the shooting of attorney’s wife in Las Pinas. And most recently, a Chinese national was arrested in the parking lot of a Pasay casino when police found illegally acquired high powered firearms.

The violent nature of these news reports has brought feelings of shock, worry and fear to many citizens. Many fear that the continued proliferation of firearms will cause more crimes and violence. As a response, public leaders like Nancy Binay have called for stricter gun controls.

Earlier this month, the PNP has implemented Republic Act 10591, also known as the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act. The new law aims to curb the proliferation of illegal firearms through implementing much stricter requirements in applying for gun licenses. The law has also implemented three different types of licenses for those who wish to own firearms. First, one must secure a licensee to own even before buying a gun. Second, the firearm needs to be registered. Then if the applicant qualifies, a Permit to Carry (PTC) must be secured to allow them to carry their firearms outside their residence. The law also imposes stiffer penalties for those who fail to renew their licenses on time.

Heated public debates on gun ownership and crime rates have ensued between proponents of stringent gun controls and advocates of private gun ownership. The former believe that the proliferation of firearms is the major cause of increased crimes. They believe that by implementing stricter gun controls, if not an outright ban on firearms will reduce crime rates and violent crimes. But does reduced gun ownership reduce overall crime rates?

An independent researched paper published in 2007 by the Harvard Journal of Public Law titled “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide” takes a look into this claim. The study, conducted by constitutional lawyer Don B. Kates and criminologist and professor Gary Mauser Ph.D. to examine if there was a correlation between gun ownership and crime rates. The researchers gathered and compared statistical data from different countries around the world and compared the murder and crime rates of countries with high gun ownership versus countries with lower gun ownership.

The study showed that countries that have stricter gun controls or that totally ban gun ownership do not necessarily have lower crime rates. Among the developed countries listed on the study, countries that had the highest crime rates were Russia (30.6%), Estonia (22.2%), Latvia (18.2%), Lithuania (11.7%) and Belarus (10.4%). The countries aforementioned have very stringent laws on gun ownership. On the other hand, the United States, where gun ownership laws are more liberal, has a murder/crime rate of 7.8%, lower than other countries listed

A comparison was also made on the same study between countries in Western Europe. Norway, which has Europe’s highest gun ownership rates have a murder and crime rate of 0.81%, the region’s lowest. On the other hand, a country like the Netherlands, where gun ownership is restricted, has a crime and murder rate of 1.2%. And Luxembourg, where there is a complete ban on gun ownership, has a crime and murder rate of 9.01%.

The researchers further concluded that the study shows “observed correlations that nations with stringent gun controls tend to have much higher murder rates than nations that allow guns.” The statistics and data would make one wonder why doesn’t gun control have the desired effect of deterring crime and diminishing crime rates.

Another example of a country with failed gun control policy is Australia. As a response to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, the Australian parliament passed a resolution implementing strict gun controls and a gun buyback program. The National Firearms Buyback Scheme of 1996 took over a total of 660,959 long arms, mostly semi automatic rifles and pump action shotguns. But crimes have also increased since 1996, such as armed robberies (69%), home invasions (21%) and assaults (28%).

The answer simply lies in the fact that a criminal is less likely to attack a person ready to defend himself than one who isn’t. A robber is less willing to break into someone’s home or property if he knows that the owners can defend themselves. In an environment of stringent gun controls, even criminals can gain access to firearms illegally despite such strict laws. But the average law-abiding citizen on the other hand is left defenceless, therefore making it easier for criminals to strike their victims.

Imposing heavier restrictions on gun ownership for law abiding citizens will not deter the proliferation of illegal firearms. Adding more red tape and bureaucracy to the process will make people less motivated in following due process for firearms registration. One way the PNP can deter illegal firearm ownership is by implementing much more efficient registration process. Full computerization for registration makes the process faster and allows the PNP to track legal firearms through its database. A more efficient control processes for law abiding citizens is far more effective in deterring crime and loose firearms, not more draconian controls.

Photo by Gregory Wild-SmithSome rights reserved