Monday, April 30, 2012

Part I: The Crime Report examines guns and crime

Ted Gest of The Crime Report recently wrote about the ambitious plans of the new Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School.  The institute is assessing the state of knowledge on crime and justice in the U.S. from 1975, projecting to 2025.

Last week, the institute, with support from the Robina Foundation and National Institute of Justice, assembled eight leading scholars to discuss key issues in the field: guns-Philip Cook; policing-Lawrence Sherman; rehabilitation-Frances Cullen; sentencing-Michael Tonry; race and crime-Jeffrey Fagan; deterrence-Daniel Nagin; drug policy-Peter Reuter; youth violence-Franklin E. Zimering. 

Starting today, and over the next several weeks, we will take a look at the work of all eight experts as reported by Gest for The Crime Report. Gest is President of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington-based contributing editor of The Crime Report.

Philip Cook, Duke University

Cook separated knowledge on guns into four subjects: weapon type, how big the gun violence problem is, access to firearms, and whether widespread gun ownership deters crime.

On the first issue, the wide availability of guns in the U.S. "intensifies criminal violence," he said.
In a variation on a well-known slogan, Cook said, "Guns don't kill people--they just make it real easy."

On the extent of the problem, Cook noted that the annual gun-death toll in the U.S. approximates the number of motor-vehicle deaths, when suicides are included. Guns are the leading cause of death for young black males.

The social cost "goes well beyond the immediate victims," he said, noting that in places with high rates of gun violence, it can terrorize communities, reduce property values, and be a drag on economic development. Wide availability of guns can contribute to a rise in murder rates but not robberies and assaults.

Firearms may not be so easily available to criminals as is widely believed, he said, citing research showing a 'very high transaction cost." Law enforcement and the courts, not new government regulations, offer the best hope for reducing gun violence, in Cook's view.

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