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The case for armed citizens

| Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, 2:30 p.m.

It seems obvious: Restrict gun access, and people will be safer. But theory and practice don't always match.

Too often, gun bans or background checks don't stop criminals and instead disarm law-abiding citizens, particularly poor minorities. This only makes life easier for criminals.

There are already 300 million guns in circulation. With 3-D metal printers, more people will be able to make weapons that are indistinguishable from those purchased in stores. It would be almost impossible to remove those weapons from circulation.

Getting rid of them would require a door-to-door campaign by law enforcement officials, and even that would be of limited effectiveness.

It's also not clear that it would help. When countries like England, Wales, Ireland and Jamaica banned guns and handguns, they saw a subsequent increase in murder rates. Even these nations, which have relatively easily monitored and defendable borders, have faced fivefold or sixfold increases in murder rates after guns were banned.

Some think background checks are the answer. After each mass shooting, President Barack Obama has called for background checks on the sale of guns through private transfers. But these new rules wouldn't have stopped the attackers. Since at least 2000, all of America's mass shooters obtained guns without going through private transfers.

As I show in my book “The War on Guns,” there is no evidence that expanded background checks reduce rates of violent crime, including mass shootings, suicide, murder of police officers or domestic violence against women. (Gun-control groups contest this claim, but they compare states with and without background checks, not states before and after background checks are imposed.) Meanwhile, other law-abiding citizens are left in a lurch.

People who have been mistakenly stopped from buying guns are forced into a costly appeals process. These “initial denials” affect certain racial groups more than others. Hispanics are more likely to share names with other Hispanics, and the same is true of blacks. Because 30 percent of black males are forbidden to buy guns because of their criminal records, law-abiding black males are especially likely to have their names confused with those of prohibited people.

Other gun laws, like gun-free zones, can create targets for mass shooters. Since at least 1950, every one of Europe's public mass shootings has occurred in a place where citizens are banned from carrying guns.

In America, there have been only four exceptions to that rule.

In late 2013, Ronald Noble, then secretary-general of Interpol, proposed two ways of preventing mass shootings: “One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves (should be) so secure that in order to get into the soft target, you're going to have to pass through extraordinary security. (But) you can't have armed police forces everywhere.”

He also suggested that it is essentially impossible to stop killers from getting weapons into these “secure” areas. He concluded by asking, “Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past, with an evolving threat of terrorism?”

The answer is an emphatic yes.

John R. Lott is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and author of “The War on Guns” and “More Guns, Less Crime.” He wrote this for the Dallas Morning News.

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