Locking guns won't do anything to save lives

Locking guns won't do anything to save lives
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After Friday's attack at Santa Fe High School, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick forcefully told people of their “responsibility” to lock up their guns. We all want to do something, but everyone locking up their guns will cost more lives than it saves.

Santa Fe High School had received an award for school safety but it was helpless to stop this latest nightmare. We need to rethink school safety.  Despite this year’s attacks, deaths from school shootings have actually declined over the last few decades. Still, that doesn't take away at all from the seriousness of the problem we face.

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Lt. Gov. Patrick was just giving people advice. By contrast, gun control advocates always want to use laws to force their solutions on others. Since the Santa Fe killer apparently took his father’s guns, a number of gun control advocates have proposed to hold parents like him criminally liable; any gun owner would face criminal charges for leaving his gun unlocked or failing to keep it under his immediate possession.

 

Other shootings have involved guns stolen from parents. In 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza stole his mother’s gun and subsequently killed her. She kept the gun in a safe, so a new law wouldn’t have mattered there. Since 2000, there have been two additional mass public shootings in the U.S. where a juvenile killed at least four people.

Gun control advocates claim that gunlocks will also reduce children’s accidental gun deaths. Unfortunately, the problem is more complicated. Mandating that people lock up their guns can have unintended consequences.

According to my research, published in the Journal of Law and Economics and elsewhere, requiring individuals to lock up their guns in certain states made it more difficult for those people to successfully defend their families. Such laws emboldened criminals to attack more people in their homes; there were 300 more total murders and 4,000 more rapes occurring each year in the states with these laws. Burglaries also rose dramatically.

That is not particularly surprising given that crime rises when we impede people from protecting themselves. Indeed, every place in the world that has banned guns has seen an increase in murder.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, accidental gunshots nationwide claimed the lives of an average of 59 children annually over the ten years from 2006 to 2015. This is a tragic number, but so too is the much larger number of cases where people aren’t able to protect themselves and their families from criminals.

Even if locking up guns could have prevented all three of the mass shootings since 2000 that were committed by juveniles, that these killers couldn’t have obtained weapons in other ways, there would have been 24 fewer deaths and 16 fewer people who were wounded. One could even add in all of the accidental gun deaths and assume that those would have been prevented, too. But, even then, we are talking about just a fraction of those who die in one year from the mandated safe storage of guns.

The locks didn’t even reduce accidental gun deaths among children or teenagers. Relatively few accidental gunshots take place in law-abiding, normal homes; most accidental gunshots resulting in the deaths of minors are fired by adult males in their mid-to-late 20s who have criminal histories. Many are drug addicts or alcoholics. Gunlocks aren’t designed to stop adults from firing their own guns.

Unless you send your child to play at a criminal's home, your child is exceedingly unlikely to get shot at a gun owner's home. It makes much more sense to find out if your neighbors have violent criminal histories than if they own guns.

We see news stories about the horrible deaths and injuries that occur in a school shooting. And rightly so. But we don't hear about the deaths that occur because people can’t readily access a gun to protect themselves and their families.

The threat of a felony will ensure that people keep their guns locked. But let’s pass laws that save the most lives. There has never been a shooting in any school that allows teacher and staff to carry concealed handguns. What we don't need are any more laws that leave people defenseless.

John R. Lott, Jr., Ph.D. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author more recently of “The War on Guns” (Regnery, 2016).