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Gun Control Misfires in Europe

Gun Control Misfires in Europe
Sixteen people were killed during Friday's school shooting in Germany. This follows the killing of 14 regional legislators in Zug, a Swiss canton, last September, and the massacre of eight city council members in a Paris suburb last month. The three worst public shootings in the Western world during the past year all occurred in Europe, whose gun laws are exactly what gun-control advocates want the U.S. to adopt. Indeed, all three occurred in gun-free "safe zones."

Germans who wish to get hold of a hunting rifle must undergo checks that can last a year, while those wanting a gun for sport must be a member of a club and obtain a license from the police. The French must apply for gun permits, which are granted only after an exhaustive background and medical record check and demonstrated need, with permits only valid for three years. Even Switzerland's once famously liberal laws have become tighter. Swiss federal law now limits gun permits to only those who can demonstrate in advance a need for a weapon to protect themselves or others against a precisely specified danger.

The problem with such laws is that they take away guns from law-abiding citizens, while would-be criminals ignore them, leaving potential victims defenseless. The U.S. has shown that making guns more available is actually a better formula for law and order.

The U.S. has seen a major change from 1985 when just eight states had the most liberal right-to-carry laws, which automatically grant permits once applicants pass a criminal background check, pay their fees, and, when required, complete a training class. Today the total is 33 states. Deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell on average by 78% in states that passed such laws.

In Europe, by contrast, violent crime is rising. Many factors are responsible, but it's clear that strict gun control laws aren't helping.

In 1996, Britain banned handguns. The ban was so tight that even shooters training for the Olympics were forced to travel to other countries to practice. In the six years since the ban, gun crimes have risen by an astounding 40%. Britain now leads the U.S. by a wide margin in robberies and aggravated assaults. Although murder and rape rates are still lower than in the U.S., the difference is shrinking quickly. Dave Rogers, vice chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said that, despite the ban, "the underground supply of guns does not seem to have dried up at all."

Australia also passed severe gun restrictions in 1996, banning most guns and making it a crime to use a gun defensively. In the subsequent four years, armed robberies rose by 51%, unarmed robberies by 37%, assaults by 24%, and kidnappings by 43%. While murders fell by 3%, manslaughter rose by 16%.

And both Britain and Australia have been thought to be ideal places for gun control because they are surrounded by water, making gun smuggling relatively difficult. By contrast gun-smuggling is much easier on the Continent or in the U.S.

Another inconvenient fact is frequently ignored by gun control advocates: Many countries with high homicide rates have gun bans. It is hard to think of a much more draconian police state than the former Soviet Union, with a ban on guns that dated back to the communist revolution. Yet newly released data show that from 1976 to 1985 the USSR's homicide rate was between 21% and 41% higher than that of the U.S.

Many French politicians complained during their presidential election that the shooting in Paris meant "It's getting like in America, and we don't want to see that here." Americans may draw a different lesson from the evidence, and hope that they don't become more like the Europeans.

Mr. Lott is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2000).



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