Can Gun Control Work?

Article excerpt

Can Gun Control Work? by James B. Jacobs Oxford University Press * 2002 * 304 pages * $27.50

Can Gun Control Work? is a first-rate addition to the literature on gun control. The book is not an attempt to advocate either side of the debate. Instead, it is an analysis of whether various types of control can achieve their stated objectives, especially reducing violence and crime. Jacobs concludes that gun control cannot work, by which he means it cannot effectively keep firearms out of the wrong hands or reduce crime to any significant degree.

This is an unusual piece of scholarship, especially in the literature on gun control. It argues strenuously that controls are unlikely to have the effects hoped for by their advocates. Yet Jacobs is not a gun devotee. It appears that he is saddened by his conclusions, that he would prefer to live in a world without guns, and that he perceives guns to have far more negatives than positives. However, Jacobs consistently concludes that essentially all currently envisaged types of gun control fail to have the desired effects.

The book begins by identifying the problem for which gun control might be the "solution." Jacobs concludes that the key problem is violent crime, rather than suicides or accidents. Suicide is a quantitatively important issue, but suicides are not a critical factor creating a demand for gun control. Accidents with firearms are a cause for concern, but these incidents are rare and mainly affect persons who have "assumed the risk" of being around guns. Jacobs dismisses the notion that society should pass gun-control laws, knowing they will be minimally effective, simply for the sake of "doing something."

After outlining the question to be addressed, Jacobs reviews the history of gun control in America. This is an excellent summary for those new to the subject and a useful review for others.

Jacobs then discusses the impediments to further gun control. One is the second Amendment and the widespread belief among gun owners that it guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms. Jacobs suggests that even under an individualist interpretation of the amendment, there is still scope for regulation of firearms. But he sees the technical implications of the Constitution as less relevant than long-standing hostility to gun regulation on the part of a substantial fraction of the country. …