handgun figure had more than doubled,rnto 325 per 100,000 persons. If Zimringrnwere right about the strong relationshiprnbetween the general handgun supplyrnand the murder rate, then the latterrnshould have increased significantly. Instead,rnit was essentially unchanged.rnYet Zimring insists that, without severernhandgun controls (whose diflicultyrnin implementation he acknowledges),rnAmerica is doomed to a homicide raternfar higher than other nations. He observesrnthat, while his crifics point out therndifficulties of banning handguns or therndangers of doing so (genocide in thern20th century has often been committedrnagainst groups which were first disarmedrnby the government), none of them directlyrncontest his claim that the Americanrnmurder rate cannot be sharply reducedrnwithout severe restrictions onrnhandgun ownership.rnYet America enjoyed a much lowerrnhomicide rate in the 1950’s, when therernwere very few handgun controls. Andrnother factors besides guns have a great effectrnon America’s homicide rate. For example,rnthere is extensive sociological evidencernshowing a direct link betweenrnillegitimacy and violent crime. If you gorndown to your local juvenile or adultrncourt and talk to the angry young menrnwho are there for committing a handgunrnhomicide over a trivial insult, you willrnfind that virtually all of them have grownrnup without a father. If we want to reducernall violent crime significantly, thenrnAmerica should aim to reduce the illegitimacyrnrate.rnWhile doing this will be (as Zimringrndescribes handgun control) “very difficult,”rnit may not be as difficult as banningrnguns. Reducing illegitimacy meansrnundoing several decades’ worth of socialrndecay. In contrast, Zimring’s handgunrnproposal involves creating a conditionlegallyrnenforced handgun disarmamentwhichrnhas never existed in the UnitedrnStates, and which is modeled on two ofrnthe greatest failures in American history:rnalcohol and drug prohibition.rnIf Zimring’s handgun ban works as hernhopes, then we will have fewer homicides.rnBut if my anti-illegitimacy planrnworks, not only will there be a sweepingrnreduction in all violent crime, includingrnmurder, but there will also be a great reducfionrnin the many other social problemsrnassociated with illegifimacy—suchrnas poor performance in school, psychiatricrndisorders, and broken homes.rn”Only if handgun controls are totallyrnineffective,” Zimring claims, could a responsiblernpublic official not considerrnwhether the difficulty of controllingrnhandguns is worth the saving of lives.rnBut Zimring does not address anotherrnpossibility: What if handgun controls,rnrather than being futile or only partiallyrneffective, are actually harmful?rnZimring attempts to evade the findingsrnin University of Chicago economistrnJohn Lott’s book. More Guns, LessrnCrime, which show that, when responsiblerncitizens are allowed to carry handgunsrnfor protection, violent crime ratesrnfall six to eight percent. Zimring arguesrnthat we can’t tell if Lott’s theory is true,rnsince there is not enough data. We don’trnknow, for example, if concealed handgunrnlaws actually lead to more peoplerncarrying handguns.rnIt’s true that, since we don’t know howrnmany guns are carried without a permit,rnwe can’t prove formally that more gunsrnare carried when permits are available.rnBut it’s common sense to believe thatrnwhen you legalize something, you getrnmore of it.rnIn any case, Zimring ought to removernthe plank in his own data before crificizingrnthe specks in Lott’s. Zimring’s andrnHawkins’ book is based on data from differentrnnations; but not only are therernhuge differences in the classificafion ofrncrime from one country to another, therernmay be huge differences in how oftenrnvictims report crime and in many otherrnvariables. In contrast, Lott relies onrncounty-level data from the United States,rnwhere interjurisdictional differences inrnreporting and recording are much smaller.rnLott’s statistical models, which userndata from 3,054 counties, cover 15 years,rnand account for dozens of variables, arernat least an order of magnitude more sophisticatedrnthan Zimring’s.rnAs for the evidence that the UnitedrnStates has a substantially lower rate ofrnhome burglaries because American burglars,rnunlike foreign ones, risk gettingrnshot if they break in while someone isrnhome, Zimring just ignores it.rnWhat about the other major prong ofrnZimring’s gun control strategy: limitingrnthe circumstances when deadly forcerncan be used in self-defense? Zimring’srnpoint is that the more force a societyrnfinds legally justified, the more force willrnbe used, even in unjustifiable circumstances.rnLaw-abiding Americans have arnmuch stronger legal right to shoot burglarsrnthan do people in most other developedrnnations. This is one reason, Zimringrnsuggests, that criminal Americansrnare more ready to believe that deadlyrnforce is the right response for both personalrndisputes and for crime.rnScholars have debated for decadesrnwhether socially legitimated violencern(war, the death penalty, boxing, self-defense)rnpromotes illegitimate violence byrnsetting an example that violence is good.rnEven if this hypothesis is true, the fact remainsrnthat cracking down on homeownersrnand other crime victims is immoral.rnIf criminals draw the wrong lessons fromrnthe justifiable defensive acts of crime victims,rnthen society should punish therncriminals, not the victims.rnAll souls are equally precious in thernsight of God, but not all lives are equallyrnprecious in the sight of a just legal order.rnThe ability of honest Americans to knowrnthat the risk of home invasion is very lowrnshould not be sacrificed so that morernburglars will live. A Zimring-style criminalrnjustice system would doubly encouragernburglary, by reducing law enforcementrnaimed at such lesser felonies andrnby removing one of the major currentrndeterrents to burglary: the armed homeowner.rnZimring claims that this move wouldrnmake Americans less worried aboutrncrime, because homicide is what mostrnfrightens Americans. Here, too, Zimringrnis wrong. On a given Saturday night, thernaverage American family can feel securernat home, knowing that there is little probabilityrnthat a criminal will try to enter. Atrnthe same time, the family may know thatrna mile away in the parking lot of a bar frequentedrnby ne’er-do-wells, one thug mayrnend up killing another thug. It would berna tragic mistake to attempt to save thugrntwo from thug one by placing the innocentrnfamily at greater risk of being attacked.rnSuch a policy would not increasernthe public’s feeling of security,rnnor would it be just.rnIt is Zimring’s refusal to considerrnmorality and justice—his refusal to basernhis policies on the fact that non-aggressorsrnhave a greater right to life and safetyrnthan do aggressors—which prevents hisrnerudition and scholarship from aiding inrnthe development of appropriate firearmsrnpolicies.rnDavid B. Kopel is an adjunct professor ofrnlaw at the New York University Schoolrnof Law and research director with thernIndependence Institute in Colorado.rnAPRIL 1999/47rnrnrn