Whaddaya Know? Gun Control Actually Works–Even in America!

One of the more frustrating aspects of American policy discussions is that evidence from other countries is effectively barred. America is said to be “exceptional” and American problems are said to require “American solutions.” This is quite convenient for big business interests when it comes to, say, universal healthcare: we’re not allowed to consider what works in Canada, Japan or Great Britain because we must supposedly have uniquely American solutions.

It is also conveniently presumed that America has its own sets of problems that other countries do not have. For instance, ask a Republican why the United States can’t have social safety nets as generous and effective as they do in other countries, and you’ll usually hear racist claptrap about our “demographics” (as if European nations do not also have large, difficult-to-assimilate immigrant populations) or nonsensical and irrelevant objections about our larger number of people.

And so it is with gun control. No amount of evidence of the effectiveness of gun control in foreign countries is allowed in our exceptionalist conversation. Instead we only endlessly argue intra-American evidence in which conservatives can denigrate the efficacy of gun control laws in certain poor areas–despite the fact that they are easily evaded by bringing in guns from outside the area–even as they attempt to hail the “success” of lax control laws by pointing to lower crime rates in incongruously more affluent and rural areas.

It’s a convenient argumentative restriction that allows conservatives to get their way by ignoring the mountains of evidence from other countries demonstrating how wrong they are about everything, including gun control.

Fortunately, there’s new purely American evidence for the beneficial power of gun control that conservatives won’t be able to so easily sidestep through parochial special pleading:

In the early ’90s, gang shootings gripped Connecticut. Bystanders, including a 7-year-old girl, were getting gunned down in drive-bys. “The state is becoming a shooting gallery, and the public wants action,” an editorial in the Hartford Courant said at the time. So in the summer of 1994, lawmakers hustled through a gun control bill in a special session. They hoped to curb shootings by requiring people to get a purchasing license before buying a handgun. The state would issue these permits to people who passed a background check and a gun safety training course.

At the time, private citizens could freely buy and sell guns secondhand, even to those with criminal records. Connecticut’s law sought to regulate that market. Even private handgun sales would have to be reported to the state, and buyers would need to have a permit.

Critics scoffed at the plan. They argued that a permit system would hassle lawful citizens, while crooks would still get guns on the black market. If the problem was criminals with guns, why not clean up crime instead of restricting guns?

Now, two decades later, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley, say that Connecticut’s “permit-to-purchase” law was actually a huge success for public safety.

In a study released Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, they estimate that the law reduced gun homicides by 40 percent between 1996 and 2005. That’s 296 lives saved in 10 years.

Yes, even comparatively minor gun control measures work to save hundreds of lives. Even in a small state here in the U.S.

You don’t even have to look outside our borders anymore to realize what should be common sense.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.