Thomas Sowell’s latest column is up at National Review. If you’ve ever read any of Dr. John Lott’s books, you’ll know that his central argument is that allowing law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms has a net positive effect, when compared with restricting or banning gun ownership. How could that be? What good effect could there be to allowing people to own guns? Well, that’s what Tom Sowell – a former pistol marksmanship instructor – is going to explain to us in his article.
We all know that guns can cost lives because the media repeat this message endlessly, as if we could not figure it out for ourselves. But even someone who reads newspapers regularly and watches numerous television newscasts may never learn that guns also save lives — much less see any hard facts comparing how many lives are lost and how many are saved.
But that trade-off is the real issue — not the Second Amendment or the National Rifle Association, which so many in the media obsess about. If guns cost more lives than they save, we can always repeal the Second Amendment. But if guns save more lives than they cost, we need to know that, instead of spending time demonizing the National Rifle Association.
The defensive use of guns is usually either not discussed at all in the media or else is depicted as if it means bullets flying in all directions, like the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But most defensive uses of guns do not involve actually pulling the trigger.
If someone comes at you with a knife and you point a gun at him, he is very unlikely to keep coming and far more likely to head in the other direction, perhaps in some haste, if he has a brain in his head. Only if he is an idiot are you likely to have to pull the trigger — and if an idiot with a knife is coming after you, you had better have a trigger to pull.
Surveys of American gun owners have found that 4 to 6 percent reported using a gun in self-defense within the previous five years. That is not a very high percentage but, in a country with 300 million people, that works out to hundreds of thousands of defensive uses of guns per year.
Yet we almost never hear about these hundreds of thousands of defensive uses of guns from the media, which will report the killing of a dozen people endlessly around the clock. The murder of a dozen innocent people is unquestionably a human tragedy. But that is no excuse for reacting blindly by preventing hundreds of thousands of other people from defending themselves against meeting the same fate.
Although most defensive uses of guns do not involve actually shooting, nevertheless, the total number of criminals killed by armed private citizens runs into the thousands per year. A gun can also come in handy if a pit bull or some other dangerous animal is after you or your child.
This is an important article that expresses the central argument for allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families from criminals.
It’s worth noting that both Thomas Sowell and John Lott are economists, and economists use quantitative methods to evaluate policies. It would be great if everyone who talked about policies like gun legislation argued from logic and evidence, like economists do. We need to ask what effects and incentives are created for all groups of people when policies are adopted. And that’s what economists do.