October 17, 2000

Experts Debate Gun Control at Cornell

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Two experts engaged in a heated debate regarding “Gun Control: Do guns create or inhibit crime?” last night in the Anabel Taylor Hall auditorium.

Prof. John Lott, law, Yale University author of “More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control” spoke first, stating the benefits of guns in preventing violence, citing examples of citizens using them to stop crime.

“These stories rarely get local, let alone national news coverage,” he said. “We have to be concerned about not only the newsworthy bad events, but the events that weren’t able to become newsworthy because they were stopped.”

Lott attacked popular “myths” about gun use, beginning with the belief that passive behavior is the correct response when confronted by a criminal.

“For women and the elderly, by far the safest action is to have a gun,” he said, adding that most do not have the strength to punch an attacker as a form of self-defense.

The idea that the high rate of gun ownership causes a high homicide rate is also a myth, according to Lott, who explained that Switzerland, where all males between 18 and 52 are required to own a machine gun, has a lower homicide rate than the U.S.

He also disagreed with the concept of safe storage laws, which would require a gun to be locked in the home.

“If you pass these laws, what types of households are likely to obey them?” Lott asked, pointing out that criminal households will not change their behavior. He advocated getting rid of old laws, such as registration requirements, which are ineffective because criminals “virtually never register their guns and virtually never leave their guns at the crime scene.”

Richard Aborn, former president of Handgun Control Inc., a member of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and a Brady Bill lobbyist, responded to Lott’s arguments, asserting that guns create crime and should be controlled.

“The issue of gun control is not about the choice of everybody having a gun or nobody having a gun,” he said. “It’s not how to stop citizens from having guns, but how do you stop criminals from getting guns?”

Aborn explained that drug traffickers within the U.S. buy guns in bulk amounts in southern states with weak gun laws and drive the guns to states with stronger laws. He called the Brady Bill, which requires background checks on all gun buyers, an “effective intervention,” but not enough.

As part of his “Four P’s” of prevention, policies, process and punishment, Aborn advocated safe storage boxes and the “one gun a month bill.”

“If you limit the number of guns to one every 30 days, you cut the heart out of the economic project,” he said, noting that bringing one gun from the south to New York City is not worth the gas money.

“I do firmly believe [gun control] is beginning to succeed,” Aborn said, citing that the overall rate of violent crime being committed with guns is dropping. “The challenge is to keep that drop permanent.”

In his rebuttal, Lott asked Aborn, “Can you point to one academic study that shows a relationship between the Brady Bill and reduction of violent crime?”

Aborn replied that he could not relate the bill to the crime rate, but that he did have a study relating it to drug trafficking.

“The question is, you take each regulation at a time and you try to see what’s the cost and what’s the benefit,” Lott concluded.

Following their speeches and rebuttals, the panelists fielded questions from the audience.

One student asked, “If someone wants to kill another person but doesn’t have a gun, won’t they just find other means?”

“It’s no doubt that guns make crimes easier to be committed, but they also make it easier to defend [oneself],” Lott said.

The core issue, Aborn concluded, is not whether we are allowed to carry guns, but that criminals should not be able to obtain them.

“I think people were entertained and informed,” said Joshua Farber ’02, mediator and president of the Cornell Political Forum, which sponsored the debate.

“I thought Lott had more convincing statistics, and unbiased statistics, than [Aborn],” said Lansing resident Lew Gentsch.

“I have my own opinion, but it’s really nice to sit down and see both sides at once,” said Aaron Stupple ’02. “It seemed to be an equal amount of facts for both sides.”

Archived article by Heather Schroeder