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Wednesday

Gun Control By The Numbers

In the wake of recent school shootings, there have been more than a few people who had knee-jerk reactions. Sadly, their first inclination was to say that stricter gun laws are needed. Gun ownership must be further limited, and we must make it extremely difficult to own and/or carry a firearm.

It amazes me that these individuals never consider the possibility that strict gun laws, and the vilifying of those who carry firearms, are the reason that these events were allowed to take place.

Criminals are much more likely to carry out an attack on a group of people that they know will not be armed. Accordingly, they are less likely to carry out an attack if they believe that their potential victim is also carrying a firearm.

Evil preys upon the weak and defenseless. It fears those who fight back.

Case in point…Michigan.

Six years after new rules made it much easier to get a license to carry concealed weapons, the number of Michiganders legally packing heat has increased more than six-fold.

According to anti-gun zealots this change would undoubtedly result in an exponential increase in gun violence. Workplaces would be turn into war zones due to disgruntled employees packing heat. The streets would be transformed into rivers of blood by enraged drivers with itchy trigger fingers. More people carrying guns inevitably means that more people are going to die.

Yet, it didn’t happen.

Dire predictions about increased violence and bloodshed have largely gone unfulfilled, according to law enforcement officials and, to the extent they can be measured, crime statistics.

The incidence of violent crime in Michigan in the six years since the law went into effect has been, on average, below the rate of the previous six years. The overall incidence of death from firearms, including suicide and accidents, also has declined.

"I think the general consensus out there from law enforcement is that things were not as bad as we expected," said Woodhaven Police Chief Michael Martin, cochair of the legislative committee for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. "There are problems with gun violence. But ... I think we can breathe a sigh of relief that what we anticipated didn't happen."

John Lott, a visiting professor at the University of Maryland who has done extensive research on the role of firearms in American society, said the results in Michigan since the law changed don't surprise him.

Academic studies of concealed weapons laws that generally allow citizens to obtain permits have shown different results, Lott said. About two-thirds of the studies suggest the laws reduce crime; the rest show no net effect, he said.

But no peer-reviewed study has ever shown that crime increases when jurisdictions enact changes like those put in place by the Legislature and then-Gov. John Engler in 2000, Lott said.

Anti-gun zealots would have us believe that such changes to gun laws will return us to the days of “Wild West.”

We should be so lucky:

• In 1880, wide-open towns like Virginia City, Nev., Leadville, Colo., and Dallas had no homicides.

• By comparison, Cincinnati had 17 homicides that year.

• From 1870 to 1885, the five Kansas railheads of Abilene, Caldwell, Dodge City, Ellsworth and Wichita had a total of 45 homicides, or an average of three per year - a lower homicide rate than New York City, Baltimore and Boston.

Sixteen of the 45 homicides were committed by duly authorized peace officers, and only two towns, Ellsworth in 1873 and Dodge City in 1876, ever had as many as five killings in any one year.

With a few legendary exceptions, law enforcement officers in the Old West were rather ineffective. Still, there were few robberies, thefts or burglaries in western towns, primarily because almost everybody carried or possessed firearms and was willing to resist. "The citizens themselves, armed with various types of firearms and willing to kill to protect their persons or property, were evidently the most important deterrent to larcenous crime," said one author. Unlike "Gunsmoke's" Matt Dillon, the much-heralded western peace officer actually faced fewer problems than his counterpart elsewhere. The westerner, said one student of the era, "probably enjoyed greater security in both person and property than did his contemporary in the urban centers of the East." "It's a fairly recent idea that guns aren't a good thing," says Jon Weiner, a professor of history at the University of California. "The image of the lone man defending his homestead . . . is deeply embedded in the American psyche."

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