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[Copyright 1995 Washington Times. Originally published as Washington Times July 6, 1995 at A16.With permission.

Control the Guns or the Criminals?

By Walter E. Williams

Liberals produce one specious argument after another to foster greater government control over our lives. One of them is their seemingly plausible argument that gun control and an outright ban of certain weapons will reduce crime. T. Markus Funk exposes some of that nonsense in his article "Gun Control and Economic Discrimination" in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (Winter 1995).

Funk points out that murder rates in "gun-controlled" areas such as Mexico and South Africa are more than twice as high as those in the United States. Countries such as New Zealand, Israel and Switzerland have household gun ownership rates comparable to ours yet have much lower rates of crime and violence than we do. Among the 6 million Swiss, there are an estimated 2 million guns, including 600,000 fully automatic assault rifles, and their murder rate is 15 percent of ours.

Liberals tell us registration and waiting periods will reduce crime. According to Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms estimates, 90 percent of violent crimes are committed without a handgun. Of those committed with a handgun, 93 percent of the guns used were obtained through unlawful means. Registration and waiting periods are of little value in deterring criminals. What's more, a 1986 study revealed that 20 percent of the guns seized by Washington, D.C., policemen were homemade.

The liberal vision sees the world in reverse, and the gun issue is no exception. It is estimated that there are up to 2.5 million instances a year where guns are used for self-defense and stop a crime. In most of these cases, gun owners fire warning shots or threaten perpetrators by pointing or referring to their guns. In 1980, there were an estimated 8,700 to 16,600 non-fatal, justifiable woundings of criminals by civilians. In 1981, there were 1,266 justifiable homicides by civilians using guns against criminals. By comparison, police officers killed only 388 felons in 1981.

Nearly 60 percent of convicted felons surveyed said, "A criminal is not going to mess around with a victim he knows is armed with a gun." Seventy-four percent of convicted burglars said the reason they avoid burglarizing houses when people are home is because they fear being shot. In Orlando, Fla., after the police department set up a program to teach women how to use firearms, the rape rate dropped 88 percent. In Kennesaw, Ga., the city passed an ordinance requiring households to have a gun. Within seven months, the burglary rate fell 89 percent.

As a result of liberal laws and court decisions, the police cannot and will not protect us. People have a natural, or God-given, right to protect themselves. Americans know this, and that's why a 1979 survey revealed that 73 percent of Americans said they'd refuse to comply with handgun prohibition.

Protection against criminals wasn't exactly what the framers had in mind when they gave us the Second Amendment. Their vision of a citizen militia was "the able-bodied men in a township or country,"such as today's Michigan Militia. In Virginia's ratifying convention, George Mason warned that if government ever controlled the militia, the government could "gradually increase its power by totally disusing and neglecting the militia." And Patrick Henry repeated this fear, saying, "The militia, sir, is our ultimate safety. ... The great object is that every man be armed. ... everyone who is able may have a gun."

While criminals endanger our liberties, the greatest threat comes from the organized power of the U.S. Congress and its minions--this the framers knew well.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., and a syndicated columnist. Readers may write to him c-o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, Calif. 90045.