National Review: Pulling Chicago's Gun Ban Trigger

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Handguns gathered by police i

Handguns wait to be taken away by police. The American Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms although cities, like Chicago and Washington, have totally banned such weapons. John R. Lott Jr. of the National Review wonders if such bans work. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Handguns gathered by police

Handguns wait to be taken away by police. The American Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms although cities, like Chicago and Washington, have totally banned such weapons. John R. Lott Jr. of the National Review wonders if such bans work.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The Chicago gun debate finally shows signs of changing. With the Supreme Court's decision on the city's gun ban imminent, people might be beginning to understand that gun bans don't stop criminals from getting guns.

At a press conference two weeks ago, Mick Dumke, a reporter from the liberal Chicago Reader, asked Mayor Richard Daley what should have been an obvious question: "Since guns are readily available in Chicago even with a ban in place, do you really think it's been effective?" Daley's response wasn't very helpful. Picking up a very old rifle with a bayonet that had been turned in during one of Chicago's numerous gun buybacks, Daley blustered: "Oh, it's been very effective. If I put this up your butt, you'll find out how effective it is. . . . This gun saved many lives — it could save your life."

Reporters greeted Daley's outburst with a moment of stunned silence. But it wasn't Daley's answer that was important. The novelty is that a reporter actually questioned Daley on whether the gun ban had failed.

Even mainstream television news is questioning the gun ban. Take this report last week from Chicago's CBS-TV:

They are law-abiding citizens in Chicago, but they are so worried about their own safety, they say they might have to break the law. The last straw was the death of Chicago Police officer Thomas Wortham IV last week. That has some African-American families in Chicago considering doing something they never would have done before: carry a pistol. CBS 2's Jim Williams reports he grew up among those families and he's never [seen] anything like it. Many Chicagoans have been upset for some time about violence here, but Wortham's murder has touched a raw nerve in the black community. Now some want to do more than simply call 911 or march for peace in the streets. They want their own gun.

The very next day, many Chicago residents had found a new hero: an 80-year-old man, a Korean War veteran. The Chicago man found an armed robber, with a long criminal record, who had broken into his home at 5:22 A.M.:

The intruder, armed with a pistol, came in through a rear window and ran up a rear staircase, banging on his locked door before running downstairs and being shot in a confrontation with the older man. The intruder shot first before the veteran fired back and killed him, the son said and police confirmed. "Evidently, he missed," the son said of the intruder. "My father had no choice. It was him or the other guy."

A next-door neighbor stated what seems to have been the consensus among the neighbors who talked to the Sun Times: "It's a good thing they had a gun, or they might be dead." Yet the 80-year-old, who was robbed in a separate incident just a couple of months ago, has been left twisting in the wind while Chicago officials decide whether to prosecute him. They have already taken away his gun.

Murder rates soared in D.C. and Chicago after their gun bans were put in place. As shown in the just released third edition of my book More Guns, Less Crime, before the late-1982 ban, Chicago's murder rate was falling relative to those in the nine other largest cities, the 50 largest cities, the five counties that border Cook County (in which the city is located), and the U.S. as a whole. After the ban, Chicago's murder rate rose relative to all these other places. Compared with the 50 most populous cities, Chicago's murder rate went from equaling the average for the other cities in 1982, to exceeding their average murder rate by 32 percent in 1992, to exceeding their average by 68 percent in 2002.

Chicagoans might not know that every place in the world that has banned guns that we have crime data for has also experienced an increase in murder rates, but they do know that Chicago's ban hasn't worked.

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