The widespread availability of guns in America affects crimes in far more complicated and surprising ways than is generally known. Guns in the hands of crime victims have primarily violence-reducing effects, whereas guns in the hands of criminals have both violence-increasing effects and, more surprisingly, some violence-reducing effects as well. The implications for crime control policy are that gun control efforts should focus narrowly on depriving criminals from guns, because disarming victims and prospective victims would have predominantly crime-increasing effects. It would therefore be unwise to try to reduce gun availability among criminals by reducing it in the general population in the hope that this would reduce the flow of guns from noncriminals to criminals via theft. However, even the narrowly focused disarming of criminals will not necessarily have exclusively violence-reducing effects; criminal-centered gun control efforts will succeed only if the crime-increasing effects of guns in the hands of criminals are stronger than the crime-decreasing effects.
The control efforts most likely to minimize criminal gun use are those that operate most directly on the last links in the chain of possession of guns, just prior to a criminal using the gun to commit a violent crime. Thus, efforts to intercept guns while carried through public spaces on the way to a crime scene are more likely to be effective than efforts to restrict manufacture, importation, or retail sales of guns, because the causal chain resulting in criminal gun use is so much shorter and direct from gun carrying in public to use in a crime. Thus, one of the more promising approaches to reducing gun crime is improving the ability of police officers to detect concealed gun carrying and increasing their inclination to make arrests for unlawful carrying of firearms.
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