On Friday, a federal District Court judge tried to indirectly reinstate the D.C. handgun ban. Judge Ricardo Urbina, a Clinton appointee, wants to make it so difficult for people living in DC to use a handgun defensively that few will get one.
Last September, a Washington Post reporter, Christian Davenport, found out just how difficult it still is to get a handgun in D.C. even after the Supreme Court struck down the city's handgun ban. Excluding the price of the gun, the reporter spent $558.69 in various fees to get through the approval process. But that was only part of the cost. It took him "a total of 15 hours 50 minutes, four trips to the Metropolitan Police Department, two background checks, a set of fingerprints, a five-hour class and a 20-question multiple-choice exam."
So when do these types of regulations constitute just as much of a ban on handguns as an outright ban? A dollar tax solely on newspapers would clearly be struck down as unconstitutional. The power to regulate can destroy both the First and Second Amendments. Despite the costs, about a thousand people may have gotten handgun permits. That is only about 0.2 percent of adults living in D.C. The big change from the 2008 Heller decision might have simply been that D.C. law now requires that gun owners (primarily those owning long guns) only have to store their guns locked and unloaded if minors might have access to them. And it is probably this change that helps explain why D.C.'s murder rate fell by 25 percent the year after the handgun ban was struck down as unconstitutional.
Judge Urbina justifies the regulations using the same reasons that D.C. originally tried to use to justify the ban based on public safety. But for the regulations ruled on by Judge Urbina, the evidence clearly shows that freedom and safety go together. More guns mean less crime. Rules that make it very costly and difficult for people to register handguns for self-defense, disarm law-abiding citizens relative to criminals and make crime more likely. It isn't too surprising that every place in the world where guns have been banned and crime rates are available to study have seen an increase in murder rates.
After the Supreme Court struck down the handgun ban and gunlocks in 2008, the D.C. Council enacted strict new handgun laws. On Friday, the judge found D.C.'s new handgun laws constitutional because "the Council provided ample evidence of the ways [the different gun laws] will effectuate the goal of promoting public safety." The problem is that D.C. really didn't provide "evidence," and merely made claims that the gun laws work. The court ruled that those claimed benefits outweighed the constitutional rights lost from the regulations.
Yet, the available evidence contradicts the safety argument.
Gunlocks -- The Supreme Court was right in the Heller decision. It ruled that a locked, unloaded gun "makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional." Empirical work shows that gunlock laws have failed to reduce accidental gun deaths for children. Instead, they have cost innocent lives as law-abiding citizens have become more vulnerable to criminal attack. Just as higher arrest or conviction rates or longer prison sentences can deter criminals, so can more self-defense. Gunlock laws not only embolden criminals to attack people in their homes. These laws also increase the probability that the criminal will be successful.
Limiting the number of bullets that a gun can hold to 10 -- This was one of the restrictions that had been in the Federal Assault Weapons ban that lasted from 1994 to 2004. But despite a large academic literature on Assault Weapon bans, there hasn't been a single refereed study by either criminologists or economists that such laws reduce violent crime.
Handgun registration -- After the decision on Friday, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson claimed: "Because law-abiding citizens register their guns, it makes it easier for the police to identify and arrest the criminals." Despite the inaccuracies show on television shows, registration doesn’t work to solve crimes. In theory, if a gun is registered and it is left at the scene, it could theoretically be traced back to the owner. But guns from crimes are virtually never left at the scene of the crime. When they are left at the scene, it is primarily in cases where the criminal has been seriously wounded or killed. Then, of course, the weapon is not needed to catch the perpetrator. Moreover, in the few cases guns are left at the scene, they are traced back to somebody else because the criminals never bothered to register their guns.
In spite of the statements in “The Bill of Rights” that "Congress shall make no law" or "shall not be infringed," courts don't view constitutional rights as absolutes. Courts now ask whether the benefits from the law outweigh the constitutional rights lost -- so-called "balancing" tests. With high levels of "scrutiny" usually reserved for “The Bill of Rights,” courts must also find that the laws are "narrowly tailored" to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Public safety is surely an important governmental interest, but the evidence shows that gun control laws either produce no benefit, or actually increase crime rates, nevermind that these laws are the only way to reduce crime. Indeed, every location for which crime data is available has seen an increase in murder rates after gun bans have been imposed. D.C.'s gun laws can't meet these constitutional tests as they don't even reduce crime, let alone meet the other constitutional tests.
What is worse is that these laws divert money from law enforcement activities that work. The thousands of hours spent by police to register guns are time that police could have put to solving crimes. That diversion of resources is the real threat to public safety.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a FOXNews.com contributor. He is an economist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010), the third edition will be published in May."