Can poor people be trusted with guns? Overwhelmingly, Republicans thinks so. But while Democrats fight against taxes on the poor and oppose voter photo IDs because they impose too much of burden, they seem to be doing everything possible – from fees, expensive training requirements, and photo IDs -- to make it next to impossible for the poor to own guns.
Indeed, legislation in at least 17 states around the country is aimed specifically at making it more costly to own a gun. Democrats are voting in mass against exempting the poor from fees when it comes to guns. New Yorkers aren't alone facing everything from registration fees to buying liability insurance.
That's too bad, because many law-abiding citizens, particularly minorities in crime-ridden neighborhoods really do need a gun for self-defense. There is little doubt that the people who are most likely to be victims of violent crime – again, overwhelmingly poor blacks in urban areas -- are also the ones who benefit the most from owning guns. Research, including my own, has demonstrated this.
While police are the single most important factor in reducing crime, the police themselves recognize that they almost always arrive at the crime scene after the crime has been committed. But criminals are deterred by the possibility that victims have guns. And if indeed a criminal does strike, threatening to shoot is the safest course of action, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey
But Democrats seem to think that waiting for police to arrive from a 911 call is good enough for the poor.
Next week Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) will introduce legislation that will ban the production of inexpensive guns in the United States. While it is true that some criminals use these guns, these smaller, lighter handguns are also ideal for self-defense. And of course they are particularly helpful for poor would-be victims who can't afford more expensive guns.
Just a few weeks ago, the Obama administration made the extremely unusual move of lobbying state House members in Colorado for a bill that would charge people a fee when they purchase a gun. Democrats voted down Republican amendments that would have exempted poor people from paying the fee and capped the fee at a maximum of $25.
In Maryland, Democrats have also refused to exempt poor people from fees for their new gun licensing proposal. The $25 fee is the least of costs facing poor people. Getting a license will require 16 hours of training is something that could easily cost over $300. Do Democrats seriously think that poor people are going to be able to afford these training costs?
The bill passed this week by the Maryland state Senate appears to allow only one office in the state for filing for the license -- the current state police headquarters in Pikesville, Maryland. Kempton, Maryland in the western part of the state is a 4 hour drive away from Pikesville. Crisfield, Maryland in the east is over 3 hours away. Do Democrats seriously think that poor people are going to be able to afford this travel?
If you want to see the impact of these fees and training requirements on the ability of the poor to defend themselves, people need to look no farther than Washington, D.C. and Chicago, where only two and three thousand people, respectively, have gone through the licensing process.
Despite major Supreme Court victories that technically allow people to own handguns, it is something clearly beyond the reach of poorer citizens. For Chicago, there is a $100 city license fee plus another $15 per gun. Illinois adds another state license, though that only costs another $10. Then there is the five hour training classes that frequently cost around $150.
While gun ownership nationally varies very little with income, there is a huge difference in Chicago: zip codes with a median family income of $120,000 have twice the handgun ownership rate as those with a median family income of $60,000 and those families are in turn twice as likely as those at $30,000.
The impact of fees and training is no different with concealed handgun permits. Texas has four times Indiana’s population, yet it has issued only slightly more permits, 584,000 versus 450,000. The difference is not because Texans like guns less. It is simply that Texans have a more difficult time getting permits. The fee for getting a 5-year permit in Texas is $140, but only $65 in Indiana. Similarly, Texas requires 10 hours of training and Indiana doesn't require any.
Massachusetts shows the possible fate of increasing the costs of gun ownership. Since its licensing law went into effect in 1998, the number of registered gun owners in the state has plummeted from 1.5 million to just over 200,000 today. Meanwhile Massachusetts’ murder rate soared from 70% of the average rate for its neighbors to 130 percent.
Democrats want poor minorities votes, they just don’t want them to be able to defend themselves. Apparently, Democrats believe that the right to self-defense is something that only belongs to the wealthy.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.