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Guns and Crime
Guns as a Cause of Crime

Gun control advocates--those who favor additional legal restrictions on the availability of guns or who want to outlaw certain types of guns--argue that the more guns there are, the more crime there will be. As a Detroit narcotics officer put it, "Drugs are X; the number of guns in our society is Y; the number of kids in possession of drugs is Z. X plus Y plus Z equals an increase in murders."[1] But there is no simple statistical correlation between gun ownership and homicide or other violent crimes. In the first 30 years of this century, U.S. per capita handgun ownership remained stable, but the homicide rate rose tenfold.[2] Subsequently, between 1937 and 1963, handgun ownership rose by 250 percent, but the homicide rate fell by 35.7 percent.[3]

Switzerland, through its militia system, distributes both pistols and fully automatic assault rifles to all adult males and requires them to store their weapons at home. Further, civilian long-gun purchases are essentially unregulated, and handguns are available to any adult without a criminal record or mental defect. Nevertheless, Switzerland suffers far less crime per capita than the United States and almost no gun crime.

Allowing for important differences between Switzerland and the United States, it seems clear that there is no direct link between the level of citizen gun ownership and the level of gun misuse. Instead of simplistically assuming that the fewer guns there are, the safer society will be, one should analyze the particular costs and benefits of gun ownership and gun control and consider which groups gain and lose from particular policies.

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