The controversy over gun control laws is not new, nor is it confined to the United States. Consider Cesare Beccaria, an 18th-century economist, writer and founder of the classical school of criminology (1738-1794). Concerning arms control laws, he wrote1

False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils, except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are of such a nature. They disarm those only who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.

"Most gun control laws make no distinction between law-abiding citizens and lawbreakers."

Most gun control laws make no distinction between law-abiding citizens and lawbreakers. They imply that anyone possessing a gun is likely to use it to break the law, so they typically attempt to limit possession to those who are able to justify their specific need for a gun to government officials. Controls, especially as administered by ordinary people, give little consideration to any benefits of gun ownership or to the possible need of law-abiding persons to resist criminals. As in the case of efforts to control people's use of illicit drugs, there are good reasons to doubt government's ability to control the possession of guns, even with intrusive infringements on liberty.

Advocates of gun control laws contend, among other things, that the easy availability of firearms " particularly handguns " leads people to kill friends or family members during disputes or fights, that guns bear much of the responsibility in cities with high murder rates and that guns used for defense are often turned against the user. They maintain that the high rate of serious crime is related to the freedom to buy and own firearms.

Echoing those beliefs, the Journal of the American Medical Association and C. Everett Koop, a former U.S. Surgeon General, have called gunshot wounds and deaths a public health epidemic. They have called for the licensing of all gun owners, requiring them to meet qualifications similar to those for drivers' licenses. Others, of course, would go much further.

© 1996 NCPA