Heartland Institute Experts React to President Obama’s Gun Control Proposals

Published January 16, 2013

President Barack Obama today urged Congress to pass a host of sweeping new gun laws as part of his $500 million plan that he says will decrease gun violence, especially in schools, in the wake of the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The president also signed a 23-point executive order that included allowing doctors to ask if patients have guns in the home and the launch of “a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.”

The following statements from public policy experts at The Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank – may be used for attribution. For more comments, refer to the contact information below. To book a Heartland guest on your program, please contact Director of Communications Jim Lakely at [email protected] and 312/377-4000 or (cell) 312/731-9364.

“There was less violent crime in this country in the 1950s, before background checks, waiting periods or age limits to buy firearms, and before licensing of gun dealers and the existence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. So if easy access to guns is a major cause of violence, why was there less violence in those days?

“The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows a rate of 4.0 homicides per 100,000 population in 1955. In 2011, the homicide rate was 20 percent higher at 4.8. And that 2011 rate was the lowest since 1963. The homicide rates were higher in the 1940s than in the 1950s, and were as high as 10.2 in 1980. So homicide rates have gone up and down with and without gun control laws. No one knows for sure why violent crimes occur with more or less frequency. But we do know from the long history of crime rate reporting that swings in violence have occurred irrespective of gun laws.

“As criminologist Grant Duwe, author of ‘Mass Murder in the United States: A History,’ recently told the Associated Press, the number of mass shootings in this country actually peaked in … 1929.”

Steve Stanek
Research Fellow, Budget and Tax Policy
The Heartland Institute
Managing Editor, Budget & Tax News
[email protected]

“Everyone agrees that shooting schoolchildren is a very bad thing and therefore agrees with the president that something should be done to reduce the likelihood of further Newtowns.

“A serious public policy debate, however, would take place over time and consider such issues as (1) whether protection of schoolchildren is best handled at the state, local, or national level; (2) whether the answers to school violence in general lie in treating causes or symptoms; (3) what the causes of such violence are; (4) whether different solutions would better fit different locations than a one-size-fits-all national policy; (5) whether enough is being done to enforce existing laws against murdering people and unlawfully using weapons; and (6) what the experience of the 1994-2004 ‘assault weapons ban’ has been. The governmental body that is best suited to do that is the legislature, not an ad hoc month-long commission headed up by Vice President Joe Biden.

“The facts remain that most accidental, even homicidal, deaths in this country do not involve guns; that most gun owners in this country obtain and use their weapons lawfully, including for self-defense and home protection; and that prohibition of gun ownership is no more likely to prevent unlawful shootings or murder than Prohibition of alcoholic beverages stopped people from drinking or the war against drugs has stopped people from using marijuana or cocaine. After all, Cain killed Able with a rock, as David did to Goliath.

“We shall see how the president’s plans pan out in practice, but he should wait for Congress to act. The specter of executive action raises potentially serious Constitutional questions that may actually undermine what the president – and the nation – would like to see happen here. In the meantime, we can all stop and share a moment of prayer or silence for the children who died in Newtown and their families.”

David L. Applegate
Policy Advisor, Legal Affairs
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]

“President Obama’s attempt to disarm the law-abiding comes wrapped in the tragedy of Sandy Hook, but not one point out of his 23-point plan released today would’ve prevented it. This is rank political posturing, not serious policy based on the real data about mass murder. Thankfully, the court rulings of the past several years limit the president’s ability to push gun policies as far as he would like, and we are instead treated to a mix of meaningless talking points and bureaucratic letters, which have never stopped a mad man bent on murder and never will.”

Benjamin Domenech
Research Fellow, The Heartland Institute
Managing Editor, Health Care News
[email protected]

The Heartland Institute is a 29-year-old national nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. For more information, visit our Web site or call 312/377-4000.