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Why Gun Storage Laws Would Do More Harm Than Good

For RealClearPolitics, John R. Lott, Jr.

Politicians began calling for greater gun control shortly after the shooting at Oxford High School last Tuesday.

“Michigan’s laws are woefully inadequate,” Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald (pictured) announced at a press conference. “We [Michigan] don’t have a safe storage law. We’re not legally required to store your weapon in a safe manner. You can bring your children along [gun ranges]Their parents. … We don’t have strong enough laws.”

While we all desire to help in times of tragedy, more lives are lost than saved when everyone is forced to lock their guns.

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The primary purpose of gun storage is to avoid accidental gun death in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Michigan averaged less than two accidental gun deaths a year for those under 18 from 2010 to 2019. That’s about half the rate of such deaths nationwide.

This disparity must be a puzzle for gun control advocates since a significantly larger percentage of Michigan households have guns and the state doesn’t have the gun “safety” laws that other states have enacted.

However, politicians and the media now believe gun locks can help to prevent juveniles from committing mass shootings in public places. Few shootings involve guns taken from parents. In 2012, Adam Lanza stole his mother’s gun, even though she kept it in a safe.

However, he was just 20. Nikolas Cruz was 19, when he shot 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, High School, Parkland. In his case, it would not have mattered if a new law required locks to be installed in homes where someone younger than 18 years old lives.

Since 2000, including Oxford, there have been four U.S. mass public shootings by juvenile killers in any venue. Red Lake attack, Minnesota 2005: This was actually committed in 2005 by a 17-year old who shot and killed his grandfather, an Indian reservation Police officer. He then took his own weapons.

Jaylen Fryberg (15 years old), who was involved in the Marysville shootings, Washington, committed these crimes by stealing the gun from his father. Jaylen’s illegal possession was made against him through a permanent restraint order. What legal way would he have kept the illegally-possessed gun? It seems unlikely gun locks could have prevented these attacks.

Unfortunately, mandating gun locks can have unintended consequences.

According to my research, which has been published in the Journal of Law and Economics and elsewhere, such laws make it more difficult for people to defend themselves and their families successfully. As a result, criminals became more emboldened to invade people’s homes.

In states that have these laws, there were 300 additional murders each year and 4000 more rapes. The number of burglaries is also significantly higher.

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If you want to see the importance of deterrence, consider so-called hot burglaries, where residents are at home when criminals strike. In the United Kingdom, the rate of burglary is twice that in the United States. 59% of all break-ins are committed by hot burglaries.

The U.S., however, has an alarming 13% burglary rate. Surveys of American convicted burglars from both countries show that American criminals spend twice as long fixing up a house before breaking in. Because they don’t want anyone to be home, it keeps them away from being shot.

Similarly, American burglars frequently comment that they avoid late-night break-ins because ‘‘that’s the way to get shot.” These are concerns that British burglars don’t share, given that nation’s strict gun laws.

In the same vein, it’s not surprising that crime rises when governments prevent people from defending themselves. Indeed, every place in the world that has banned guns has seen an increase in murders.

Locking up guns would have stopped all four mass shootings by under-18s since 2000. There would have been 21 more deaths and 19 more people injured. There are many other methods these murderers could have used to obtain weapons. But for the sake of argument, let’s accept this number.

You can also add the number of gun-related deaths each year and conclude that they would have been prevented. However, the actual number of people who are killed in an accident would only be about a third because mandatory locks were placed in all 50 states.

In truth, gun-lock laws didn’t even reduce accidental gun deaths among children or teenagers. In law-abiding families, there are very few accidental gunshots. In reality, the majority of accidental gunshots that lead to minor deaths are committed by adults with criminal history. Many people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have a criminal record.

Unless you send your child to play at a violent criminal’s home, your child is exceedingly unlikely to get shot at a gun owner’s home. Checking for criminal records is more sensible than learning if they have guns.

There are many news reports about school shootings, including the horrific deaths and injuries. It’s a right thing. But we don’t hear about the deaths that occur because people can’t readily access a gun to protect themselves and their families. These deaths are just as horrible.

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The national media rarely covers instances where young children use guns to save someone’s life. I found 11 cases that got local news coverage where a juvenile used a gun to save someone’s life. On June 30, a 12-year-old Louisiana boy used a hunting rifle to stop an armed burglar threatening his mother’s life during a home invasion.

On Feb. 13, after two masked men broke into a North Carolina house and shot a 73-year-old woman in the leg, another 12-year-old shot the intruders in self-defense, causing them to flee. In St. Louis on June 16, a 13-year-old shot his father as he was choking his mother. And the news media also misses the vast majority of defensive gun uses.

The discussion on what could really affect schoolchildren’s learning is absent: Allowing teachers and staff to carry weapons at school. Twenty states allow this under a variety of rules. These laws have been around for decades in certain states.

The Crime Prevention Research Center, of which I am the president, has released a report looking at school shootings of all types in the United States from 2000 through 2018. There has never been one case where someone was injured by gunshots at schools with armed teachers, except for those involving suicides or gang violence. This is often happening in the very early morning hours.

Another school was attacked in Michigan. Teachers and staff were left defenseless. It is almost impossible for uniformed security personnel to do their job, even if they are there. They can either wait until the officer leaves the scene before they attack, or simply shoot him first.

After the officer is shot, shooters can go after anyone else. Having armed teachers carrying concealed firearms takes away that tactical advantage and even makes the officer’s job much safer as the attacker must worry that another unidentified person might be able to stop him when he shoots the officer.

The laws which save lives are the ones we need. What we don’t need are any more laws that leave people defenseless.

RealClearWire permission granted this syndicated version.

Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recently of “Gun Control Myths.” Until last month, Lott was the senior adviser for research and statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy.

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