Gun control and crime rates

For two such different places, Kennesaw, Ga., and Morton Grove, Ill., have a puzzling amount in common for anyone trying to make sense of gun control.

The two towns passed first-of-a-kind laws this year - Morton Grove a handgun ban, and Kennesaw a requirement that all households be armed. Police chiefs in both towns last week reported that burglaries are down since the ordinances were passed.

The situation fuels strong pro- and anti-gun arguments that try to make connections between gun ownership and crime rates. Does the threat of being confronted with a gun-toting victim discourage criminals? Does a ban on handguns eliminate their use in crimes? Or is there any connection at all?

A recent study for the US Justice Department by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, concluded that research has not flushed out enough information to provide ''an adequate basis for policy formulation.''

''Important policy decisions are being made in what amounts to an information vacuum,'' the report states, concluding that there would be more evidence for making good laws if police departments and court systems kept more retrievable and uniform data on crime.

James Wright, who headed the study, admits that he went into the project as a gun-control advocate, but came away unconvinced that the current efforts to control guns are achieving what they are meant to.

''Some people think at worst it (a gun-control law) can't do any harm. But I believe it could do harm . . . for example, I might like to know what people would likely use to commit violent crime (if they were intent on committing the crime and had no guns) . . . could it possibly be worse?'' (The study cited research that shows handguns are much less deadly than rifles - implying that if handguns were banned, and criminals resorted to long guns, the murder rate could be higher.)

Dr. Wright's says, ''If our goal is to reduce the rate of violent crime, guns are probably not the place to attack the problem.''

He says 85-to-90 percent of violent crime is committed by heroin addicts and that to help them would go farther with less opposition than controlling guns.

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