Study examines gun laws and crime


August 31, 2001

Guns sold in states with laws requiring both the licensing and registration of handguns are less likely to be used in crimes committed in that state, according to a Johns Hopkins University study released Thursday.

The study, conducted by the university's Center for Gun Policy Research, analyzed data collected by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms on guns recovered from crimes committed in 25 U.S. cities over a two-year period. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It divided the cities into three categories : cities in states with both licensing and registration laws, cities with either licensing or registration laws and cities that did not have licensing or registration laws.

The study found that in cities with both laws, 33.7 percent of guns recovered from crimes were originally purchased from in-state dealers, compared to 84.2 percent in cities with neither law.

In cities in states with either licensing or registration laws, 72.7 percent were purchased in-state.

Study co-author Jon Vernick said the study shows the combination of licensing and registration laws make it harder for criminals to get firearms.

"One thing we think is striking about the study is that although there is a big difference between cities that have both licensing and registration and the other two categories, there's a much smaller difference between cities that require either licensing or registration, but not both, and cities that have neither one," Vernick said.

Blaine Rummel, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the study proves gun laws work. He supports a national licensing and registration law.

"The licensing and registration system in the state is inhibiting the flow of criminals within the state's borders. So what happens is criminals must go out of state to states that don't have licensing and registration," he said. "So you have to go through hurdles, which means that less criminals are getting guns, which means you can infer that there is a drop in crime."

But David Kopel, research director of the Independence Institute and a former assistant attorney general for the state of Colorado, said it may be inaccurate to assume that restricting gun ownership reduces crime.

"Before you take the data from this study and say 'we should leap out to say this proves we should have national licensing and registration' it would be useful to know one of the things they didn't look at, which was. 'Does licensing and registration also depress gun ownership by law abiding people?" Kopel said.

"Are the cities that have these restrictive laws ... also cities where you have fewer people able to protect themselves from crime?"

Vernick said the study only looked at in-state gun sales, not the laws' effects on crime or gun crime.

"It's very, very, hard to figure out the reason crime goes up and down or that crime itself is higher or lower in one place or another," he said. "The reason is that there are so many factors that could effect why crime goes up and down over time or why it goes up and down from place to place."

Gun Control Advocate Is Shot, Killed at His Home
Los Angeles Times


October 13, 2001

A federal prosecutor who also was a leading figure in the national gun control movement died early Friday after he was shot at his home, apparently with a gun fired through a window as he worked at his computer, authorities said.

Thomas C. Wales, a white-collar crime prosecutor who had mobilized one of the nation's most far-reaching gun control initiative campaigns, died within hours of the 10:40 p.m. Thursday shooting.

Police said they had not identified a motive but said it was clear that Wales was "intentionally targeted." They said a man was seen running through a neighboring yard shortly after the shooting. The attack came only a few days after a break-in at the Seattle offices of CeaseFire, the gun control organization that Wales headed as president.

"What the thinking is now is it was a professional job. People knew what they were doing. They staked out his house. Tom was working at a computer downstairs in his home, and somebody looked through the window with a gun and shot him. They never entered the house," said a CeaseFire spokesman, who asked not to be identified because of fears for his own safety.

He said members of the group have been frequent targets of death threats. "It happens on an ongoing basis -- death threats to people like Tom and the executive director. They happen pretty regularly, mainly on the phone."

Wales, 49, was a proponent of an unsuccessful 1997 ballot initiative that was one of the most far-reaching gun control measures in the country. He was controversial among right-wing militants supportive of gun ownership rights, and also attracted attention from extreme anti-Semites.

In a gun ownership Internet discussion group in 1997, one participant ominously referred to "Tom Wales, yet another arrogant, gun-banning Jew, out in the open, unafraid."

Police were joined by the FBI in the investigation. They said they were conducting parallel inquiries that would include Wales' work in gun control and his work as a federal prosecutor.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft opened his news briefing Friday with the report of Wales' death, saying : "We have no knowledge of motive or any further details. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Tom's family."

In the upscale neighborhood of Queen Anne where Wales had lived for several years, neighbors had reported hearing gunshots.

"I saw a man walking rapidly down the street and getting into a car," neighbor Emily Holt said.

Wales, who also was a member of the Seattle Planning Commission, had two grown children and was divorced.

Gun control activists said his work in Washington was a mobilizing force for handgun safety education and background checks at gun shows across the nation.

"The death of Tom Wales is a terrible loss to our movement," Michael D. Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement.

Luis Tolley of West Los Angeles, western director for the Brady group, said CeaseFire was a small group until Wales became involved in the mid-1990s, "and thanks to his leadership, really built that organization. Now, Washington CeaseFire is probably one of the strongest state gun control groups in the country."

Wales left his job with a New York law firm and came to Seattle in 1983 "because he wanted to do something that was more civically oriented," said a longtime friend who asked not to be identified.

The gun lobby spent $3 million in 1997 in a successful campaign to defeat Initiative 676, which would have required an estimated 1 million handgun owners in the state to be licensed, to pass a test or take a safety course, and ban the sale or loan of any handgun without a trigger lock or equivalent safety device.

As recently as July, Wales helped organize an informational picket at the National Rifle Assn.'s national gun show, held July 7 in Puyallup, Wash. "We simply cannot sit on the sidelines while the NRA comes into our state and promotes a gun show where weapons will be sold without background checks," he said at the time.

As an assistant U.S. attorney, Wales had prosecuted a wide range of major business crimes and bank fraud, including a 1997 fraud resentencing case against Raymond Gray, the former board chairman of Home Savings and Loan.

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